Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Temple & Worship

Temple Consecration Rituals in Ancient India: Text and Archaeology by Anna A. Slaczka (Brill's Indological Library: Brill) The principal aim of this book is to study three important construction rituals of the Hindu tradition: the laying of the first stones, the placing of the consecration deposit and the placing of the crowning bricks. These rituals are described in numerous Sanskrit texts on architecture and religion, which date from ca. 7th  to 16th centuries CE.' It is therefore hardly surprising that the present study is based mainly on textual sources. The chief source is the Kasyapasilpa, a South Indian treatise on art and architecture and ritual, written in Sanskrit, usually dated 11th- 12th century CE. Three chapters from the Kasyapasilpa, which deal with the three construction rituals mentioned above, have been critically edited, translated and provided with a commentary. For this purpose, unpublished manuscripts of the Kasyapasilpa were collected in various Southern Indian libraries. In order to place the three chapters of the Kasyapasilpa in a broader context, the descriptions of the construction rituals given by cognate texts, some of them still unpublished, have also been studied.

The construction rites play an important role in Sanskrit texts on ritual and architecture. Nevertheless, this topic has thus far largely been neglected by scholars. This is particularly striking in view of the numerous publications, which have appeared on the outer appearance of temples, the technical aspects of temple building and temple worship. With the exception of Kramrisch (1946), whose inter­pretations should be treated with caution there has never been an attempt to study the construction rituals as a whole and to explain their function and meaning.

For those who want to arrive at an understanding of the construction rituals, textual sources alone are not sufficient. The texts are mainly technical treatises, which provide only a very limited interpretation for the actions they describe. Moreover, for the questions about the relation between the textual data and practice the answer has to be sought outside the textual sources. Have rituals, such as those described by the Kasyapasilpa and the related works, ever been performed? And if so, were the rituals performed according to the textual prescriptions?

In order to answer this question, Slaczka began a search for possible traces of construction rituals in various fields: Slaczka looked for direct accounts that mentioned the performance of such rituals and browsed through archaeological reports and museum catalogues guided by the thought that since the construction rituals are described by a great number of Sanskrit texts, there should be plentiful traces of these ceremonies on the Indian subcontinent. The search for written accounts, however, did not prove very fruitful, at least not for the period in which the texts originated. The study of archaeological remains, on the other hand, resulted in a mass of evidence and revealed a highly interesting pattern: there were very few material traces of construction rituals in India itself, while plenty of them were reported in other Asian countries. In fact, the search resulted in more than two hundred archaeological remains, all most probably testimonies of building rituals, of which only around fifteen actually originate from India. The remaining two hundred were found in Sri Lanka, Nepal and in the countries of Southeast Asia: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. The majority of them date from the 8th to the 14th CE. Many of the archaeological remains correspond with the lists of objects that may be placed in a consecration deposit according to the Sanskrit texts.

The situation is thus that a group of texts is available which provide descriptions of a set of construction rituals. However, it is not sufficiently clear where (if ever) their systems were employed or in vogue. At the same time, a considerable number of archaeological remains pointing to construction rituals in a large geographical area are available, but the ideas that guided their installation are not directly evident. Bringing the two sets of data together unavoidably requires reflection on the relation between the different regions involved, especially India where the texts have originated, and the diverse places in South and Southeast Asia. It should also be noted that the extensive geographical area in which the search for the traces of construction rituals was conducted roughly corresponds with what Sheldon Pollock has recently called the 'Sanskrit cosmopolis', the "most complicated — and as a totality least studied — transregional cultural formation in the premodern world". This area, stretching from Pakistan to Vietnam and from Nepal to Indonesia, was the place where the political elite cultivated, or was familiar with, Sanskrit and Sanskrit texts as is testified by numerous Sanskrit inscriptions. The presence of varying but still remarkably similar construction rituals, which is evidenced by the archaeological finds, may be seen as an additional characterising feature of the `cosmopolis', even if there are regional variations and continuities with rituals which precede the `cosmopolis'.

An interesting feature is that while the textual sources are nearly all Hindu, the material traces of construction rituals were discovered at both Hindu and Buddhist sites. Another theme of the present book is thus the relationship between these two groups, the common elements and the differences.

It must be stressed that just like the textual descriptions of the construction rituals, this wealth of archaeological (Hindu and Buddhist) material has also never been studied as an entity. The finds associated with building rituals have never been gathered and analysed as a group and the possible connection with the Sanskrit texts has hardly ever been suggested and certainly never examined. This is perhaps due to the fact that the majority of Sanskrit scholars do not study archaeological reports and very few archaeologists and cultural anthropologists working on Asia are actually familiar with Sanskrit, which demonstrates the importance of interdisciplinary study. Furthermore, a great deal of Sanskrit works on art and ritual has not been translated and many are still only extant in manuscript form. The archaeological data, on the other hand, are hidden either in very old reports in French or Dutch or in new ones, often written in the languages of Southeast Asia, which is yet another complicating factor in obtaining the necessary information. The precious few articles written on the subject concentrate primarily on a particular archaeological find or area and are thus often not representative for a full range of material.

The second aim of this study is therefore to provide the reader with an as complete as possible description of archaeological remains that can be associated with the construction rituals. Hopefully, the gathered material may one day serve as a basis for future research in the areas of archaeology, temple architecture or ritual. Yet another goal is to bring these two sets of data — textual and archaeological —together in order to determine the relationship between the construction rituals of the texts and the practice of temple building as attested in archaeological finds. The analysis of the correspondence between the archaeological finds and the texts is an important contribution, thought inconclusive, A list of material traces of construction rituals is given in Appendix 4.

One may well ask why, given the abundance of manuals, only one text, the Kasyapasilpa, was chosen as the main textual source for the present study. My first encounter with the Kasyapasilpa happened by chance. However, the chief reason for continuing my work on it was that the Kasyapasilpa, being mainly an art treatise, is also connected with the genre of the ritual texts of Saiva orientation, the so-called Saiva Agamas. In consequence, the Kasyapasilpa pays more attention to ritual than many other works, which are purely treatises on architecture, and yet it also describes many architectural details. Secondly, in the situation when art and ritual texts are not edited or not edited critically, it seemed necessary to choose at least one text and to study it deeply, on the basis of various manuscripts, not on the basis of the often very unsatisfactory editions. The Kasyapasilpa, for the reasons given above, seemed to be the right choice, which (hopefully) resulted in a better edition of the three chapters of this highly interesting work.

In addition, a few words should also be said about the three rituals that are the core of the present study. Two of them, the placing of the first bricks and the placing of the crowning bricks, are analogous. They form a kind of a bracket in which the physical construction of a temple is enclosed. The first marks the end of the foundation works and the beginning, after the technical and ceremonial preparation of the soil, of the actual construction of a building. The second indicates the successful accomplishment of the work. In short, both rituals consist of a ceremonial installation of (four, five or nine) bricks or stones in the prescribed location — either in the lower part of the temple or in the superstructure. In the middle of the bricks a small deposit of precious stones and other items is placed.

During the third ritual - the placing of the consecration deposit (garbhanyasa) — a specially constructed box, usually divided into compartments, is placed either in the base of the building in the case of a deposit for an edifice, or in an indicated plot of land in the case of a deposit for a settlement.? The box is filled with objects of symbolic value. They mainly include various 'riches of the earth', such as minerals, grains, metals, precious stones, herbs and earth taken from different locations. Specific objects are prescribed for temples of particular deities or for residences of people belonging to a particular caste. The auspicious date for the performance of the rituals has to be set by an astrologer.

The descriptions of these three rituals vary among the texts with respect to detail, but the core remains largely the same: they all consist of smaller units and elements, some of which are confined only to a particular rite, while others might be employed on other occasions as well. The analysis of the structure of these three rituals on the basis of the Kasyapasilpa is followed by descriptions of these rituals in other Sanskrit texts.

While the first two ceremonies are referred to in the textual sources by quite obvious terms like prathamestakanyasa, 'the placing of the first bricks' and murdhestakanyasa, 'the placing of the crowning bricks' (or 'top bricks') respectively, the third rite bears the curious name garbhanyasa, which may be translated as 'the placing of the embryo'. The word garbha in Sanskrit may mean 'embryo', 'womb' or 'seed', but also 'the inside, interior of anything'. In architecture it occurs, for example, in the technical term for the main temple chamber in which the image of the principal deity is housed, the garbhagrha (the garbha-house'). The latter term was often, in my opinion misleadingly, translated as 'womb-house'. With respect to the garbhanyasa, there are indications that the term garbha, in a certain sense, reflects the nature of the ritual. The plausible interpretations of the term and the supposed function and meaning of the garbhanyasa and the other two construction rituals described in the Kasyapasilpa are discussed thoroughly.

At this point it should be noted that the prathamestaka, garbhanyasa and murdhestaka are not the only construction rituals described in the Sanskrit architectural and ritual treatises. Apart from these three, the texts also mention the placing of the consecration deposit for an image of a temple deity (usually referred to as ratnanyasa), the placing of the deposit consisting of six objects in the centre of the foundation (known as sadadhara in Kerala), the installation of the jars on the summit of the temple, and so forth. However, due to the limitations of time and space, it would have been impossible to extend the present study to all construction rituals described in the Sanskrit texts. Besides, the main textual source under consideration, the Kasyapasilpa, only provides a detailed description of the three construction rituals discussed above, that is, the prathamestaka, the garbhanyasa and the murdhestaka. The remaining rituals are thus only briefly mentioned in the present study, for example in Appendix 4 where the relation between all material traces of construction rituals and all available textual descriptions of such rituals is dealt with.

Finally, a few words about terminology in the present book, the items deposited in the course of the three mentioned rituals, namely the compartmented box with its contents, the stones or bricks and the objects installed among them, are referred to as `consecration deposits'. In a large number of publications, the archaeological remains associated with the building rituals are referred to as 'relics' and the deposit receptacles as 'reliquaries'. However, it should be remembered that 'relic' and 'consecration deposit' are, despite a certain outer similarity, two distinct conceptions and should not be confused. A short discussion on obvious, but not always accepted, differences between relics and consecration deposits is delineated.


Headline 3

insert content here