Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

All Streets Lead to Temples: Mapping Monumental Histories in Kanchipuram, ca. 8th - 12th centuries CE
by Stein, Emma Natalya, Ph.D., Yale University, 2017, 830; 10633265
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines the transformation of the South Indian city of Kanchipuram into a major cosmopolitan sacred center during the course of the eighth through twelfth centuries. In this pivotal five hundred-year period, Kanchipuram served as the royal capital for two major dynasties, the Pallavas and then the Cholas. Both dynasties sponsored the production of prominent sacred monuments built from locally sourced stone. These temples were crowned with pyramidal towers, adorned with sculpted and painted figures of deities amid groves and palatial landscapes, and elegantly ornamented with courtly Sanskrit and Tamil inscriptions. Over time, the temples functioned as monumental statements of power, sites of devotion, and municipal establishments where diverse social groups negotiated their claims to political authority and economic prosperity. In Kanchipuram, temples also played a crucial role in defining urban space by demarcating the city's center and borders, marking crucial junctions, and orienting the gods towards avenues, hydraulic features, and royal establishments. As religious monuments, they also fostered vibrant circuits of pilgrimage and travel that were integrated with a broader Indian Ocean network.

The dissertation argues that the construction of temples fundamentally shaped and reordered landscape. The four chapters, organized chronologically, address the expanding geography of Kanchipuram and its widening sphere of influence. The first two chapters trace the city's shifting contours and the emergence of a major pilgrimage route that led precisely through the urban core. The city was radically reconfigured around this new central road, which functioned as a processional pathway that created relationships between monuments both inside the city and beyond its borders. The third chapter reveals patterns of movement linking the city with its rural and coastal hinterland, and considers connections with Southeast Asia. Temples in more remote areas disclose links to Kanchipuram through their use of shared architectural forms, a standardized iconographic program, and inscriptions that detail economic and political ties to the urban hub. The fourth chapter focuses on colonial-era encounters with Kanchipuram and the city's role in the broader production of colonial knowledge. As a site of antiquarian interest and military history, Kanchipuram was subject to competing narratives about India. Whereas European officials and surveyors such as James Fergusson saw in the city's monuments India's past glory and inevitable decline, other travelers found no evidence of rupture or disrepair. I read these conflicting representations against the grain to expose Kanchipuram's continuity as a flourishing cosmopolitan center. The dissertation's goal is twofold. First, it documents Kanchipuram and maps its monuments spatially and chronologically in relation to each other, the city, and features of the natural environment. Second, it situates the temples within their ritual and civic functions as agentive establishments that both served and fostered a growing urban landscape.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Barringer, Timothy
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 78/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religious history, Art history, South Asian Studies
Keywords: Architechure, Hinduim, India, South Asia, Urbanism
Publication Number: 10633265
ISBN: 978-0-355-10557-5
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