Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 30-31 (Dec 1997) p. 33.

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The Construction of 'Mule' in Indian Temple Architecture

D Ajay 7. Sinha

A group of stone temples built in the eleventh century in Karnataka, south India, has puzzled viewers practically from the period of its making till the twentieth century, when it was given a name and a genealogy within the history of Indian temple architecture. Since the 1920s, these Karnataka temples have been called Vesara, which the modem Sanskrit lexicon translates as 'mule', and which art historians have taken to mean an architectural hybrid, created by mixing features of south and north Indian temples. Both the acceptance and rejection of this identity of Karnataka temples has engaged scholars, whose conflicting views suggest a tension between archaeology and text-based scholarship in the period when canons of art history were formed.

As in Orson Welles's 1941 film. Citizen Kane, Vesara has acquired its identity in and through the narrative of its observers. It is this narrative visibility of Vesara in current history writing that is of concern here. I understand canonization to be a hardening of the discourse on visibility; it is complete when visibility is confused with identity. Unlike the film, however, whose archive ends with the film itself, art-historical narratives, and the particular language and assumptions I broadly construe here as the discourse of Indian temple architecture, have also brought into existence physical stone remains from a different era. As I examine the canonization of art history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the construction of Vesara in it, I also want to open up a margin between the discourse of temple architecture and the voices embedded in the stone remains, whose growing cacophony has inevitably come to surround the discourse. Analysing the canon, I will also note a resistance these stone remains offer to modem (and perhaps postmodern) constructions of their history.


Vesara, as a category of stone temples, develops at the meeting point of archaeology and text-based studies of ancient Indian architecture—a combined legacy of the British


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