The early writers on Indian temple architecture compared the Indian idiom of High Medieval with the High Gothic in Europe of precisely the same period chronologically. The parallels they seem to draw, relate more or less to ideals, those concerning feeling for exuberance, craving for richness and hence total ornateness predilected in general in both the styles. The Gothic and the Indian Medieval as systems and otherwise stand far apart. That is so in matters as much of origin and basic conception as of organization of constituent elements and actual application of decorative motifs. The High Gothic, despite its emphasis on decorative, is still intensely architectural: the Indian High Medieval, on the contrary and in effect, is basically sculptural. The seeming concordance in matter of choice of elements, similar situations in point of application of decor, is, if not altogether accidental, explicable on the grounds that both ultimately drew Indian less though from the Helleno-Roman and West Asian sources, the Indian genius through the passage of centuries transformed the borrowals to a far greater degree than did the Gothic and its predecessor Romanesque or Romanic. Now this only reveals analogous positions both held in terms broadly of the spirit reflected and to some extent motives manifest in general though comparable terms. There is, in the known material, no exact parallel where the technique proper and the typical feelings of the real Gothic are mirrored in the Indian context, it may seem. This is, it must now be said, not altogether true and what is true is that the Indian Medieval, with an exception or two, has never been carefully surveyed, studied or analysed either, nor is the range of its many regional styles through which it is expressed, even half covered or correctly estimated. The later Kara styles are cases in point (1). They are the most neglected as perhaps the more misunderstood of all the medieval architectural styles in India. Yet they are, in some ways, the more interesting, as they were relatively the least conservative of all the medieval Indian styles in the sense they allowed a far greater freedom to experiment and as a result introduced many innovations, created compelling variations, conceived newer kinds of elaborations, and also produced mutants which must seem impossible in the context of the other regional styles of that time known to us in India. The interesting part of the Kara styles is that among other things and in some of their manifestations, they did arrive at a conception of ornamentation which, in motive and feeling, technique and application, approach even simulate in terms of Indian idiom it may seem what we call the Decorated Gothic.
The instances where the peculiar Gothic spirit and manner seem to incarnate or be captured in the Indian milieu, or, to be more precise, in the Kara country, are indeed very few, almost exceptional; but they are th ere all the same, and to these we may now turn.
The Kavara temple at Hirehaagali in the Kuntala country, founded in or slightly bef ore 1048 and thus of the period of Later Cukya emperor havamalla Smvara I, possesses fantastic wall decorations, unparalleled in all India of any time, early or late (2). The jagh (wall proper) of the vimna (sanctum) has, on its lower part, shrine-niches thrown in very high relief between the pilasters (fig. 1), which vaguely remind one of the niches in the interior of Tudor Gothic churches in England (3). But it is on the upper part of the wall, that an ornamentation strongly reminiscent of Gothic proper is present. The candelabra-formed brackets, very metallic in appearance, emanate and flow from the lotus rhyzomes below the capital of the pilasters, terminating in stylized lotus-cups supporting a plank-pedestal, now spanning, now stopping midway between the slender wall pilasters of great elegance (fig. 2). Lotus brackets are also encountered, now triplicated, above the makara-monsters resting on the abacus of the wall-pilasters of the Veugplasvm shrine at Magl (4), which represents a variation of the same idea (fig. 3). A form and conception such as this is somewhat paralleled in the capital in retrohoir of the Wells Cathedral, England, dated to 1360 (5).
We may next take up the case of the door-jamb decoration of the southern doorway of the Kallvara temple at Huvinthaagali, situated in the same locality as the last temple. Founded as it seems to have been in 1071 or a little earlier (6), in style it is similar to the buildings of the normal run of Cukyan idiom at its classical heights.
The decoration of the stylized lotus runner with tendrils thrown in half loops and the entire plant running over the bhyakh (outermost jamb: fig. 5, extreme right) invokes the memory of the carvings laid over the minor jambs interspersed in the recesses between the major ones in the famous West Portals of Chartres Cathedral, dated to c. 1145-1155 (7)
We may next consider the illustration of the vine entwining a corner colonnet on the wall of the Amitvera temple at Amritpura, a Hoysaa foundation of A .D. 1196 (fig 4 ). The vine seems almost detached from its matrix, the stalks very round and vivid, but not quite realistic in the way a Gothic creeper sometimes tends to be. Though not so delicately done or so much liberated out from the stone, the workmanship of angels and festoons carved on the springing of an arch in Lincoln Cathedral (8) seems to conjure up a similar pattern and manner in Gothic tradition.
The Kara examples we discussed are, with the exception of the Amritpura one, contemporaneous With the Romanic rather than Gothic which they seem to anticipate. Humbler in scale, limited in scope, and though confined to a smaller area, the Indian parallels we discussed do seem to emulate or anticipate what is proper for Gothic. The remoteness in terms of space, some differences in age Indian being somewhat earlier and lack of evidence of contact, direct or otherwise, between Romanic or Gothic Europe and medieval India preclude the possibility of borrowal at one end or the other. This is an instance in the history of art when Eastern and Western mind conceived and expressed in a way strikingly similar in ages more or less close and reflected a spirit and motives surprisingly identical.
- 1. Those which developed under the later Cukyas (also called Western Cukyas of Kalya) the Hoysaas of Drsamudram and other minor feudatory dynasties in Kara.
- 2. The Smvara temple at Lakmvata in Kuntala proper, rebuilt with its older material, had decoration somewhat like Hirehaagali, and is approximately of the same age.
- 3. This is the feature of the interior screens in Tudor Gothic Cathedrals. In the Indian context, the decoration involved is exteriorized.
- 4. The date of this shrine which is a trikcala, three-shrined structure, is problematic. An inscription of . 1131/A.D. 1209 mentions the building of the rika shrine for iva, Viu and Srya. But the stye of the temple is early and what is implied, perhaps, is renovation. These is an earlier inscription of A.D. 1116 of the time of Cukya Vikramadity VI referring to Sryanryaa temple, which, if related to this temple, may provide the upper limit of the building.
- 5. Cf. M. Hürlimann, English Cathedrals, London , 1961, fig. 93.
- 6. That is the date of the earliest grant to the temple. The style seems to accord with that date.
- 7. Cf. H. W. Janson, A History of Art, London, 1967, fig. 317. Also: A. K. Porter, Medieval Architecture, Its Origins and Development, II, New York, 1908, III.215. The carving on the horizontal bars above the central pier of the South portal of Amiens Cathedral also bears comparison: see M. Aubert, High Gothic Art, Baden-Baden, 1964, fig. on p. 7.
- 8. Cf . Hürlimann, op. cit., fig. 141. The example there is datable to the mid-13th century. My friend Michael Meister of Harvard University called my attention to the Gothic resemblance of the motif on the Amritapura example. The reproduction (fig. 4) here is by his courtesy. The other illustrations (figs. 1-3, 5) are reproduced by the courtesy of the American Institute of Indian Studies, Varanasi.