Prof. Adam Hardy is an architect and architectural historian, and professor of Asian Architecture at the Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University. Born in High Wycombe, United Kingdom, in 1953, Hardy was educated at Royal Grammar School and later at Trinity College, Cambridge. While his PhD focused on temples in Karnataka between the sixth and thirteenth centuries, his research interest lies in the history of South Asian architecture, especially that of the Indian temples, over a wide span of period. Hardy is one of the few architectural historians who has enquired into the phenomenon of the temple through ancient texts, using his sketches as a tool to analyse and explain. Hardy has always been interested in the relationship between theory and practice in architecture, and in 1996, to facilitate the integration of academic research with creative practice, he started PRASADA (Practice, Research and Advancement in South Asian Design and Architecture).
Hardy is currently engaged in a number of projects across India, including designing a new temple in Hoysala style of architecture in Karnataka. He has to his credit books such as Theory and Practice of Architecture in Medieval India: Bhoja’s Samaranganasutradhara and the Bhojpur Line Drawings, The Temple Architecture of India, The Temple in South Asia, Architectural History and the Studio, and Indian Temple Architecture: Form and Transformation: the Karṇāṭa Drāviḍa Tradition, 7th to 13th centuries.
Following is an edited transcript of the video interview with Prof. Adam Hardy conducted by K.T. Ravindran on September 2, 2019.
K.T. Ravindran (KTR): It was a pleasure meeting you after so many years. Thank you for making time to be with us today. We will be getting into a conversation about your professional life, sometimes interestingly touching on the fringes of your personal life as well. Could you tell me how you first got interested in India specifically, and then in the temple architecture of India?
KTR: Not even in your history classes . . .?
KTR: You visited Benares . . .
AH: I visited Benares. I visited the American Institute of Indian Studies, which was there, for photos of temples. Not for anything spiritual. But I was interested in mandalas and all that stuff. I even had some Jungian dreams about going to these centralised buildings and trying to find my way to the centre. So that kind of thing probably drew me to Indian temples and, yes, they were exotic.
KTR: That is one thing that we share—I’m also a Jungian.
AH: There we are. So that was a starting point. Of course, if you are getting into it through Stella Kramrisch, (Ananda) Coomaraswamy and all those kinds of people, in those days—I am talking about the seventies—we could believe there was a sort of ‘Spirit’—that there was this thing called India and somehow you could reach that thing. Of course, now in the post-modern age we can’t really say that.
KTR: When you say ‘Spirit’, what do you mean by that?
AH: Well, I was putting it in heavily inverted commas, to say that we have to be cautious of such things. But I don’t think we should throw away the possibility of grasping some kind of whole. Now the whole of Indian culture—that is a big ask. It is a big whole! But when it comes to my particular window into such a thing, which is architecture, I have always thought that it is important to look at the big picture—through history, across the wide area, while not trying to say it is all the same. There are principles, which jump out at you, which not everybody talks about, and those things are worth talking about. It is like a huge jigsaw puzzle and there are always parts to discover, even in familiar buildings as well as in things that are still coming to light, where you are sketching out and then filling in the details of this amazing whole. Which, of course, is an architectural whole—looking at the building as a whole, looking at traditions as a whole, and how they interrelate, and then these things relate to other branches of religion, culture, philosophy and all the rest.
KTR: Religion and philosophy, particularly. I also saw in the papers that you have written on the typologies of Nagara and Dravida styles. Your departure point was reference to Stella Kramrisch, where she talked about the relationship between the western Maharashtra architecture to that of the Pratihara style, that you study through . . .
AH: Yes, Nagara, Dravida . . .
KTR: That is a distinction that you have made. Her parallel was between the two geographical positions.
AH: Yes, I think she and a lot of other people that . . . (James) Fergusson had already made this division into what he called Indo-Aryan and Dravidian, using those racial terms. So, broad divisions have been recognised for a long time. I see them as architectural languages, a kit of parts, with certain ways of putting those parts together. But I am moving away from emphasising too much only those two. I think they [Nagara and Dravida] are the widespread ‘media’ or ‘languages’ through which temples have been created for a long time.
KTR: This was between sixth and thirteenth centuries.
AH: Yes, between sixth and thirteenth centuries, and then they go on with various revivals, survivals—there is a lot of continuity after that. But it is also interesting to look at what goes on in between, using those languages, mixing them . . .
KTR: Was your PhD work focused on this?
AH: My PhD work was on the temples in Karnataka from sixth to thirteenth centuries, trying to show how we need to see that as a whole tradition and not [compartmentalised as] early Chalukya, Rashtrakuta, late Chalukya, Hoysala . . . these dynastic labels. There is this continuous transformation which happens through the tradition and it happens in other traditions as well. They never start from nothing. But the architects, having created a system, draw out the possibilities that are inherent in it and create new forms out of the existing forms. And typology is important here, because, although typology always sounds like a dry discipline that people impose on phenomena, in Indian temple architecture it is there from the start with these wooden thatched temple types—very simple temple forms made out of wood. These become monumentalised—made into stone or brick—and then new types are created by combining existing types. The earlier types become the aedicules, the images of temples, the building components out of which new forms are created. That is one of those common principles which you find using different forms, but using that idea that the temple is a house for the god made out of little houses for gods—you have one god with many manifestations or aspects or subordinate gods if you want to see it like that. So, the temple is made out of lot of smaller temples. Once you recognise what those components are, then you see the composition, the correlation, that is a combination of types to make new ones. That is an endlessly inventive game. The fact that there’s this particular pattern of evolution, where one form emanates out of another, and then another out of that, and another out of that and so on, doesn’t mean that it is kind of pre-destination. It is very creative, but there is a certain inherent formal structure and system, and they [the architects] go through the whole range and they explore everything . . .
KTR: One question regarding how typology is looked at in your writings that I have is, in your work, there is less emphasis on spatial typologies and there is more emphasis on the physical or the materiality of the form.
AH: The physical, external form, the materiality. Yes.
KTR: Whereas in most traditions, the philosophy or the underlying whole as in Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Jainism or Buddhism—the underlying whole has an expression also in the spatiality of the temple. But that seems to be less discussed in your work. Is that deliberate?
AH: I would argue that is not me. That is the subject. And my argument comes both from looking and, more recently, from the text. It is true that later temples developed amazing spatial complexes and organisations, but this idea of the type, the temple being the image of a type, the picture of this building with the god inside, I think that is essential from the start, and this combination of the types to make these really complicated, beautiful sensuous forms—to me that is what is special. And it is spatial. Inside the shrine you’ve got the garbhagriha which is with the god at its centre, but that’s not some extraordinary architectural space. It is spatial, interpenetrating volumes, [that are] emanating from this centre. So, you have space and you have time. But it is not like a Gothic cathedral, an enclosed interior space.
KTR: If you look at, for instance, the early Jain shrines, they are actually, I would argue, an interpretation of the concept of shoonyata (void) as an extraction of material rather than as a construction of material. That is directly how conceptual frame translates spatiality. The idea of shoonyata is pervasive in almost everything but perhaps was most central to the Jain thinking and thereby as a corollary also in Buddhist thinking, I’m calling it thinking, but it is much larger than that, it is the essence of the religion, which then is translated into form. So, in the case of Shiva temples, you have, for instance, this idea of gamanam (movement), in which there is the movement of the plan form in a clockwise direction, by adding elements in the corners which create a sense of movement in the form. But these are all expressed primarily in plan form rather than by material form.
AH: By early Jain temple, are you talking about cave temples?
KTR: Yes, all others are celebrational—Thirthankaras and not of the centre concept.
AH: Yes, which are like the Hindu temples with different iconography. Then you have early Brahmanical temples, which are also caves, as well as Buddhist. And of course, there’s this amazing interiority in those spaces. But I don’t think the exterior manifestation principle is denying the possibility that it might be a void from which these forms emerge. I think those patterns are there, and [this] embodies a perception about the universe and creation and nature and growth. And then the philosophical interpretation that you put on it is open to thinking, you know, that it all comes from nothing, you know, [or that] god is imminent in the material, or god is in the beyond or . . .
KTR: Or it becomes many?
AH: Certainly, the idea that it is from one, which you can think of as formless, without form, nishkala, and it is coming into shakala, into form. The formal patterns are so rich and suggestive as well as highly structured that they allow you to think about all these philosophical ideas.
KTR: They do. My question was that you seem to be more focused on your research that is both temporal and through drawing. You are inquiring into the phenomenon of the temple through text. And I think you are one of the few people who have done it, I’m not just saying it like that, but if you look at the essence of how originally practitioners of the Padmashalis, who did the buildings, theirs was a very direct combination of text and drawing. That’s the method they used to bring the building into being. And it is interesting to see you are using the same rule to interpret the building.
AH: I came from it entirely from the drawing end, as an architect. When I started out, for many years, my research methodology (to use that high-flown phrase) was looking and drawing mainly, and internalising the architectural languages through looking, looking, drawing, drawing, understanding how it all works. And then I thought, well I don’t think these texts are very relevant because when you see references in books to the texts, they are often nonsense, they are often generalising [about] ‘the texts’, they don’t say which text, they don’t tell you where it says. And they either take the approach that these were written by brahmins, they are totally theoretical, they have nothing to do with architecture, which I tended to believe, or they say, ‘they tell you everything’, ‘they are very sacred, you have to follow them’, all that stuff, that you have to follow them verbatim. But these people who say that, they never show you how, or how it is done and how to follow them. So, for many years, I didn’t think . . . well, like a lot of people, I thought I would get a translation of Mayamata, and you think you are going to find the meaning of life, and you start reading, and you’re all ‘oh my god, what is all this?’, you know, you can’t make head or tail of it. Finally, about ten or fifteen years ago, I had a project with one Sanskritist—Mattia Salvini—working on it, and translating Samarangana Sutradhara. I worked with him on the text and I suddenly realised that if you have got those architectural systems in your head, and once you twig what kind of temple they are talking about . . . Samarangana is a text that has north Indian, south Indian and different traditions in it . . .
KTR: . . . with twelve different chapters dealing with . . .
AH: . . . different sorts of temples, a lot of them North Indian, but also other ones . . .
KTR: . . . you had referred to chapter 64 in your text quite extensively.
AH: 64 is . . . that is [on] Varata, yes, that’s the one I missed out of the book, which I wrote, called Theory and Practice of Temple Architecture in Medieval India, where I looked at the Nagara, Dravida and Bhumija temples. I missed out Varata, and then, later, I figured out what it is talking about. It is talking about the tradition you find in Chattishgarh, [ancient] Dakshina Kosala, that type of temple which is neither Dravida nor Nagara, has its roots in the milieu out of which both emerge, and thereby has a lot in common with both but is different. So that is Varata.
So, to come back to the relationship between the text and drawings and buildings, having that opportunity to work with a Sanskritist, I realised that, of course, it is not just the matter of translating the words, because if you don’t understand the architecture, it doesn’t make any sense at all. But if you look at the words and you realise what kind of temple they are talking about, you can slowly, slowly follow it through, and that’ll give you the plan and the elevation, and you can actually draw the design from the text. It is not a matter of knowing the words because the vocabulary is very fluid, it varies from text to text . . .
KTR: . . . and very cross-referential in many ways, unless you know the cross-references . . .
AH: Well, it is really contextual, you know. The same word can mean a lot of different things in different locations. Because they are not that bothered about the words, you know, it is like saying, the thingamajig is on top of the what is-his-name and the doodah is next to that, and if you know what they are talking about, you know what they mean by the thingamajig, and it’s this big and this grand and . . . So, you can work it out, but that doesn’t mean it is prescriptive and that it is like a formula, like you read the text and you turn it into a building. You have to know the tradition and you have to interpret, there are bits it leaves out, which you have to fill in, you also have to improvise because it only gives you the bones.
KTR: It gives you a conceptual frame, which can expand horizontally, spatially.
AH: Yes, and then you have to fill in the details, and you have to decide certain things, so it actually gives you the starting point which forces you to be creative, to do something you wouldn’t have done otherwise. Sometimes it is more than others, sometimes it is more standard. Sometimes the text itself, the person or people who wrote the text, are being very creative, and going through the permutations and the possibilities, and inventing amazing new designs in the temples.
KTR: That is how the evolutionary growth of architecture actually takes place, by pushing its boundaries . . .
AH:And some of those ones were never built, just as some were built which were probably never written about in text. An interesting thing about the evolutionary growth is that the pattern I was talking about of emanating forms—of one to many, one form comes out of another, splits and—that you can observe through, across the centuries, through these traditions.
KTR: Especially in the sixth and thirteenth centuries, when actually you can see visibly the growth of a conceptual frame. I only understood that after I read your book. Thank you.
AH:Once you get to the later temples, the funny thing is, the beautiful thing is, growth is expressed as movement within the individual temple. In Karnataka, for example, you have movement expressed in the central shala element of a developed Karnata Dravida temple, a pattern reflecting stages of evolution of temple forms in that tradition. Or if you look at Nagara traditions, you have the dynamics of a developed Shekhari temple, which reflect the successive stages of that tradition and so on. So, you look at one of those temples, and the whole tradition is there—the earlier one is still there in the later one. One is coming out of another and it’s there as a dynamic pattern. When you look at the text, they aren’t doing architectural history, they aren’t going back and saying ‘this is ninth century, this is tenth century and this . . .’ They are written at a particular time, [for example] eleventh century. So, they [the texts] are of their time, but they have that same way of thinking, in terms of sequences that get more and more complicated, where one thing is drawn out of another. So, you don’t find exactly the same as happened in history but you find that same way of thinking, where they’ll tell you ‘here is the first temple, it is called such and such, it’s like this’, and then they’ll say ‘add this, and do this and this’, and so it goes on with the emanation. And they’ll also say sometimes, ‘take this one and then put such and such a type in the middle or on top’, and that is wonderful because it is just the kind of principle you would actually see people do. . . one thing becomes the top of another, and another one comes out. The way of thinking is the same, it is not that these are theoretical things divorced from practice, they are the same minds writing these texts as are designing the temples.
KTR: So, that unity between text and form which is so specific to architecture, I mean, I’m saying specifically to architecture because I know only architecture, I don’t know how in music, for instance, text and form correlate to in music or in dance, for that matter, is very close to architecture. Like, for instance, you almost got and performed now, describing the form of building and that is actually directly emanating from the form, text emanating from the form.
AH: I think these patterns which you can compare to dance—I think they are in the form. And, of course, it can be difficult to convince someone unless they see it or they feel it. You can do drawings with little arrows on or you can jump around.
KTR: But there is an actuality and a core from in which there is no deviation.
AH: There is, and I had the opportunity few years ago to do an animation with the British Museum, and I always thought drawing can show so much, but if can do an animated drawing, you can actually show that this pattern can be conceived and shown and if someone wants to say, no it is a different pattern, then you can do one in animation and show a different pattern, there may be other ways but they aren’t just abstract concepts, they are actually spatial and textural patterns you can show.
KTR: So, after you had arrived at this, what you can call dominant typologies of the Dravida and Nagara form. You have also talked about how it is varied between Dakshina Kosala and Uttara Kosala. Could you tell us the difference between these two forms?
AH: Dakshina Kosala, which I think is what the texts or at least what the Samarangana Sutradhara means by . . .
KTR: But isn’t Raja Bhoj who wrote the Samarangana Sutradhara from the sixth century?
AH: No, he's from the eleventh century. There have been various Bhojas. The most famous Bhoj, I think, is Raja Bhoj from Dhar. He had this big cultural project with many, many books ascribed to him, including this Samarangana Sutradhara. It doesn’t mean he sat down and wrote it.
KTR: It was written in his court.
KTR: The level of scholarship that is required to write a text like that—possibly a king never had access to that level of scholarship, it had to be sponsored.
AH: Neither is it one person—it is not even one person. There were these different traditions going on, and it was a time when they were becoming aware of these different traditions. It is the equivalent of what you have in Karnataka at that time in the eleventh century, where you have these miniature temples in the temple walls which is showing Dravida, Nagara, Bhumija . . . they are proud of knowing these traditions, they have their own traditions, they are proud of knowing the difference. And so, the Samarangana is the textual equivalent of that. Even the Nagara chapters in there are not all the same. You get the same temple names but for different temple designs in different chapters; they [the chapters] have different ways of thinking. The Bhumija chapter is really interesting. It is another kind of in-between Nagara and Dravida, very consciously, and the unique thing about Bhumija temples, those ones with the [vertical chains of kutastambhas—little shikahras on pillars—running up the tower]. They can be orthogonal or star-shaped. They are consciously including some Dravida [and Nagara] elements.
And that chapter is really the most coherent and rigorous, with a mathematical rigour, because I think they are developing the theory and practice alongside. It is unusual because most temple forms evolve gradually. But here they are inventing a new form, not out of nothing but combining existing things and inventing the theory at the same time. You have the drawings, that same Raja Bhoj . . . his temple, Bhojeswara, as it may be called, the Shiva temple at Bhojpur, unfinished, that comes from the same context as the Samarangana Sutradhara. For that part in the same study, I studied the same drawing on the rocks and then, well, they had never been redrawn. I measured them, they are quite big, and a little bit worn out, so I had to fill in the bits that were missing, so I could redraw the drawings and then you can compare [them] with the text. Some people said [the Bhojpur temple site] was an application of the text—it wasn’t. But it is the same way of thinking, you have drawings which are conceptual frameworks giving proportions, just like in the text. But you also have—it seems obvious when you know it—you also have working drawings which were the templates for the temples and these were full size: full- size columns, ceilings, mouldings—and from the drawings, you can actually construct the original design of the temple. What you see now is a stubby square thing. I figured it out from the drawings, that it was the garbagriha and then an ambulatory path around, walls around it and it was intended to be a huge, huge temple about . . . if you think about Brihadeshwara temple in Tanjore, the biggest medieval temple, and you put it next to this, and it was about half its height. He never finished it, of course. It was probably megalomaniac and far too ambitious; it was never done. But it would have been this huge thing.
KTR: It is possible that it was not his megalomania, but the scales that were used by the sthapatis, which actually would have interpreted itself into or grown, multiplied into a much larger form.
AH: It was ambitious enough, sure.
KTR: It is finally connected to the size of the linga.
AH: Indeed. Also, the size of the dam and the lake. There was this huge lake next to it, it was all interconnected, the irrigation, feeding the people and the army, creating this huge central power.
KTR:Actually, when you talk about the lake, I saw your newest adventure into enquiry into temples, which you have done in Telangana, because there is reference to Devunigutta with a large lake—a most astounding structure. [The recently discovered ‘jungle’ temple near Devunigutta in Telangana.] There are lots of things about you on the internet, there are images of you climbing perhaps, kind of six, seven metres up on the temple, that was in last January. I envy your youthful, adventurous spirit to have climbed that high on a temple that already looks like it is crumbling.
AH: It’s something that I started to do. Well, that temple is in a jungle. I have been lucky enough in the last ten years or so to have the permission to climb up to measure. You get a new tactile relationship. I never started with measurement, and I still think measurement is not the primary thing, it is the form, the imagery which is the starting point. But, of course, measurement has to come . . .
KTR: Measurement is so critical for the construction of the building. Everything is so correlated through measurement.
AH: Totally. So, I started measuring and comparing measurements, and then later looking at text and comparing. Often, they do correspond and often, they don't.
KTR: In this particular context, my question was about the presence of the large lake and temple together. Is that often a conjunction that one sees, if not a naturally formed lake, maybe a designed kund? So, that correlation between water or a structure which is kind of into the earth, and a structure that is built up, constructed up into the sky. That correlation is often very interesting.
AH: Yes, and the rulers were making tanks and temples as part of their duties, and the tanks were irrigating and providing fish, and the temples were ensuring prosperity and harmony and good harvest and all the rest. It wasn’t that one was practical and the other spiritual, they were both seen as one and the same thing.
KTR: There were many newspaper reports that came around in January 2019, where you were quoted as saying that this [Devunigutta] temple is also sixth century. What is the basis on which you said it is sixth century?
AH: I think it is around sixth century. It is a unique temple that was discovered couple of years ago in a jungle, a small jungle but a jungle nonetheless, known to the local people but not to the outside world, and that is what is amazing in India, these kinds of things still get found all the time. And it is kind of a missing link between the wooden multi-storey structures which you see in places like Amaravati—depicted with thatched roofs, circular or octagonal, those kinds of multi-storey structures which were there—and the Dravida temple architecture which comes out of that, but which had formalised this into a language of masonry. You know, people will say these are copies of wooden buildings. They are not copies; they are transformations, they are already formalised, and this one, seems to me, to be a vision of a heavenly palace, very worn out, but beautiful. It seems to be between these wooden buildings and that formalised masonry language, where it’s almost more like a big sculpture, like piling up the stones to make this sculpture of this heavenly building. But the pillars and the roofs haven't got that formal rhythm which they later have.
KTR: It’s certainly one of the most intriguing buildings I have ever seen. I hope that will also become one of your study. I’m sure you will find in your enquiry into typologies, you will find altogether a new type of typology perhaps in this form. It is quite likely that you will.
AH: Corinna Wessels-Mevissen had written about the iconography, and I contributed a little bit [to her article] on the building. I think it is really another illustration of how Nagara and Dravida come out of this common heritage.
KTR: What is common in the heritage? Is the Shilparatna the common element?
AH: I am talking about the architectural heritage.
KTR: Or is it the artisanal heritage?
AH: Well, it comes through that. In terms of architectural language, it is the roof shapes, the wooden buildings, the dome forms, the barrel-vaulted roofs piled up, the eaves, the horseshoe-arched gates at the end of the barrel—all those things provide the starting point for both those architectural forms [Nagara and Dravida]. I’m talking about that kind of common element.
KTR:I would also like to ask you what is your current engagement? And, finally, what brings you to India now at this juncture?
AH: Well, I’m still working on the Hoysala temple—the new Hoysala temple in Karnataka which has been going on for some years—but I have done the drawings for that and, hopefully, when it's built, it’ll be there, hand-carved, not a copy, but a sort of an extrapolation from that tradition.
KTR: You mean, you are designing the temple?
AH: Yes, yes. I did the overall design a few years ago.
KTR: I’m sure that is like a point of arrival, that you can actually translate your research into a real thing.
AH: It certainly is. To me, it is not a different activity, because I come to the research with the eye of an architect, so I am . . .
KTR: Especially, also because you are inquiring through drawing as a medium.
AH: Yes. I am always interested in the process of creation—how did this thing come about? How did it get into that shape? So, I am looking at how it was designed and then searching for, recreating the designs from text or from ruined temples, you know, putting together the pieces. So, then, designing a new temple is not a different kind of activity, it’s not like ‘I'm a genius, here is my design,’ it’s trying to understand what was the tradition.
KTR: But you were also engaged in a way with Ajmer. I thought that was a current one as well?
AH: That’s finished. That was when I was looking at the—how do you reconcile the ritual and the religious needs with current conservation in Ajmer? And in another one in south India, which is looking at contested heritage, and the different viewpoints with temple authorities and consolation, religious needs . . .
KTR: Which temple is this?
AH: Looking at Madurai and other big temples, with DRONAH and SPA Bhopal. The one I have been doing on this trip, which is another project, which is coming to a close but there’s still a lot of stuff to explore and write—it is called ‘The Nagara Tradition of Temple Architecture: Continuity, Transformation, Renewal’. And it is looking at north Indian temples from cavemen up to now, from sort of fifth century to now, including the contemporary practitioners. And looking at texts as well as the buildings. So, Sanskritists working on the text, Aparajita Prccha, and various [other] texts of different dates since then, and looking at how the texts change as well as the buildings. Because when people say ‘the texts’ it is not the texts don’t evolve, they do. Just as buildings do, the texts do as well. They incorporate a bit of old text, but they also make new ones, they keep up to date with what architecture has done. So, it is interesting to look at the different periods when the Nagara tradition revived as well as inherited.
KTR: So, there is an iterative process with what is being built and what is being written?
KTR: So, finally I hope you will translate your skill to deal with both text and drawing, now you are converting that into a building, a new temple, the Hoysala temple that you referred, and I hope, finally, you will also convert that into a new text, where you can push the boundaries of the text as well, since they have a parallel evolution.
AH: You mean, not just a new book on the history of temples, but a practical one which people can use.
KTR: But it has to be sufficiently conceptual to be applied and to grow.
AH: I shall have a go.
KTR: Thank you very much, Adam. This was a wonderful discussion with you.
AH: My pleasure.