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‘Temples of India’ is a fascinating way to understand science of Geometry and Architecture

Tarun's books 'Holy Cow and the Other Indian Stories' contains small chapters that answers simple questions about India

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NEW DELHI, August 12: It’s unusual to come across a person who is indigenous to both pen and camera- more so when photography grew out of a casual remark. Tarun Chopra is one such person and what he has managed with his 12th book, “Temples of India – Abode of the Divine”, is to also trace the evolution of temple building with major architectural trendsetting examples.

To this extent, “Temples of India” (Prakash Books/pp 360/Rs 1,295), with its plethora of photographs, illustrations, ground plans as well as sections, is a valuable resource for both experts and laypersons to understand the fascinating science of geometry and architecture as temple-building evolved over some 2,000 years.

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Lingaraja Temple in Orissa. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Lingaraja Temple in Orissa. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Ten years in the making and based on painstaking research of the ancient texts of Shilpa Shastra and Vaastu Shastra, as also interactions with temple priests, the effort is quite an eye-opener.

“I visited the temples of varied faiths. It somehow compels you to think if there is a God, He has to be one for all. He cannot be different for each religion. The realisation then dawns that there is one Supreme cosmic power which itself has no religion,” Chopra told IANS in an interview.

A 48-page introduction makes for a handy primer on subjects like the oral tradition, Vaastu Shastra, Vaastupurushamandala (the metaphysical plan of a building), the legend of Vaastupurusha, temple builders, traditional building rites and rituals, the main architectural features of a Hindu temple, iconography of the temple, proportional measurements of an image, and temples as the markers of energy zones.

This sets the tone for Tripping On the Divine: a visual documentation of the evolution of most prominent temple styles spanning more than 2,000 years.

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“Very few places in the world offer this vast a canvas of art and architecture. This book is not based on the temples of religious importance; rather the temples illustrated in it are purely on their architectural merit. Many of them have unique qualifications to be first of their kind in the Indian subcontinent and in the world. Some temples are the stepping stones of architectural styles and initiated temple styles that evolved for the next 1,000 years,” Chopra writes.

Most of the 28 temples featured are A-listers — Sanchi, Ajanta, Ellora, Elephanta, Kanchipuram, Shravanabelagola, Khajuraho, Trichy, Madurai and Hampi, to name just a few. There are also some not too well known, at least for readers in North India. Among them are Teli Ka Mandir in Gwalior Fort, Gangaikondacholapuram (a smaller replica of the Brihadeshwara Temple in Tanjore), Darasuram (Tamil Nadu) and Aihole (Karnataka).

The bulk of the temples are located in South India and Chopra explained it thus: “Due to waves and waves of invasions that North India experienced at the hands of idol breakers, the temples in this region bore most of its brunt. Since the temples down south were relatively protected due to geographical distance, there is a wide variety of architectural styles that still exists today.”

“Temples…” is a logical extension of Chopra’s 11 previous books, most of which have India as their theme.

“My bestselling book ‘Holy Cow and the Other Indian Stories’ contains small chapters answering simple questions about India, why cows are on the road, why we get stamped so many times at the airport, the chaos that exists on the roads.. ‘India Exotic Destination’ illustrates the places frequented by visitors, while ‘Soul of India’ is a photo book that illustrates the beauty of the land through portraits, landscapes, street life and the like,” Chopra said.

“I am a photographer and writer devoted to making books on India. My endeavour is to take out books that are easy to read and assimilate. As a photographer, I have been commissioned to do various projects both in India and abroad,” he added.

All this grew out of a casual remark: “Why don’t you start taking pictures since you travel so much?”

What is rather unusual about “Temples…” is its standard format rather than the large coffee-table format generally adopted for such books — and the publisher said this was with a purpose.

“We decided to go with a smaller size to make the book handy for the buyer. Typical coffee tables are larger in size, but the sales of these books are down for the last few years, mainly because of the internet. A lot of images and data is now available on the net, but also because it’s hard to carry large books because of weight limitations or the general bulkier nature of the book.

“We wanted the readers to be able to enjoy ‘Temples of India’ while they travel through India and visit these temples,” Megha Parmar of Prakash Books told IANS. (IANS)

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Shankaracharya: A remarkable genius that Hinduism produced (Book Review)

The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara's philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.

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He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita
He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita.

Title: Adi Shankaracharya: Hinduism’s Greatest Thinker; Author: Pavan K. Varma; Publisher: Tranquebar Press; Pages: 364; Price: Rs 699

This must be one of the greatest tributes ever paid to Shankaracharya, the quintessential “paramarthachintakh”, who wished to search for the ultimate truths behind the mysteries of the universe. His genius lay in building a complete and original philosophical edifice upon the foundational wisdom of the Upanishads.

A gifted writer, Pavan Varma, diplomat-turned-politician and author of several books including one on Lord Krishna, takes us through Shankara’s short but eventful span of life during which, from having been born in what is present-day Kerala, he made unparalleled contributions to Hindu religion that encompassed the entire country. Hinduism has not seen a thinker of his calibre and one with such indefatigable energy, before or since.

Shankara’s real contribution was to cull out a rigorous system of philosophy that was based on the essential thrust of Upanishadic thought but without being constrained by its unstructured presentation and contradictory meanderings.

He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita. He wrote extensive and definitive commentaries on each of them. Of course, the importance he gave to the Mother Goddess, in the form of Shakti or Devi, can be traced to his own attachment to his mother whom he left when he set off, at a young age, in search of a guru and higher learning.

The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara's philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.
Shankara wrote hymns in praise of many deities but his personal preference was the worship of the Mother Goddess.

Against all odds, Shankara created institutions for the preservation and propagation of Vedantic philosophy. He established “mathas” with the specific aim of creating institutions that would develop and project the Advaita doctrine. He spoke against both caste discriminations and social inequality, at a time when large sections of conservative Hindu opinion thought otherwise.

Shankara was both the absolutist Vedantin, uncompromising in his belief in the non-dual Brahman, and a great synthesiser, willing to assimilate within his theoretical canvas several key elements of other schools of philosophy. He revived and restored Hinduism both as a philosophy and a religion that appealed to its followers.

Also Read: Hinduism: The Nine Basic Beliefs that you need to know

Varma rightly says that it must have required great courage of conviction as well as deep spiritual and philosophical insight for Shankaracharya to build on the insights of the Upanishads a structure of thought, over a millennium ago, that saw the universe and our own lives within it with a clairvoyance that is being so amazingly endorsed by science today. The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara’s philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.

Shankara wrote hymns in praise of many deities but his personal preference was the worship of the Mother Goddess. The added value of the book is that it has, in English, a great deal of Shankara’s writings. Unfortunately, most Hindus today are often largely uninformed about the remarkable philosophical foundations of their religion. They are, the author points out, deliberately choosing the shell for the great treasure that lies within. This is indeed a rich book. (IANS)