Introduction to Indian Art and Architecture

Home/ Introduction to Indian Art and Architecture
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSUS1HS4384

Semester and Year Offered: Winter Semester

Course Coordinator and Team: Dr. Aparna Kapadia , presently coordinated and taught by Dr. Venugopal Maddipati

Email of course coordinator:


: This course is a broad introduction to South Asian/Indic Art. The course will not only introduce students to a wide array of works of art and architecture in the region, it will also encourage students to develop interpretative descriptions of these works by building on a variety of historical sources. How can one draw out reciprocal tensions between art objects and the particular social and historical contexts within which their creation was imbedded? This question will constitute the wider backdrop of our course, which will cover Indic, subcontinental artistic and architecture heritage over 4500 years from the time of the Indus Valley Civilization to the present day. The course draws upon Vidya Dehejia’s emphasis on histories that emphasize visual and material evidence, dedicatory inscriptions engraved in stone monuments, and copper plate charters chronicling donations of territory, and architectural artifacts. The course substantially engages with how histories grounded in visuality or in a visual culture, intersect with such diverse concerns as community and state formation, the exercise of sovereignty and power, religiosity, patronage, travel, colonialism, populism and nationalism. In this course, we will not only examine how visual artifacts such as paintings, sculpture and architecture may have been produced for specific audiences at specific points in time in India, we will also be examining how those very artifacts, and their likenesses resonate in a larger social, geopolitical and temporal spectrum.

Course Outcomes:

  1. To expose students to the widest range, temporally, of aesthetic developments in South Asia.
  2. To develop critical skills related to reading and interpreting visual material, and its embeddedness in political, historical and cultural contexts.
  3. To engage with art history, both as a distinct field in its own right, and also as a field that comes into conversation with other disciplines such as political science and the environmental humanities.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

  1. Introduction. The Course will begin with a reading of Michael Baxandall’s“Patterns of Intention,” in which he explores the ways in which writers and art historians develop their descriptions of art works and images This initial reading will prepare the grounds for the ways in which students will engage with works of art in a South Asian/Indic context.
  2. The course will subsequently be divided into the following sections (chronologically) reflecting certain religious, political and cultural developments. The divisions are also broadly in keeping with Vidya Dehejia’s Indian Art (London: Phaidon, 1997), which will serve as course-reader, along with more specific readings on the side.
  3. Indus Civilization: In this section we explore the emergence of a new culture of producing artifacts ranging from steatite seals, pottery to bronze figurines in the Indus valley region, the concept of a Bronze age culture, and the emergence of Indus urbanism. We will subsequently also examine the emergence of Black and Red ware culture, Painted Grey Ware and Ochre Colored Pottery ware in a later time. We will also briefly delve into the emergence of the Epics and the Puranas.
  4. Starting Mauryan Art: In this section we examine the emergence of Mauryan sculpture, while simultaneously also examining the concept of dynastic patronage, and also questions related to Ashokan notions of universality, politics and religion in a post-Alexandrine age. We will seek parallels between Ashokan patronage and patronage in the Achaemenid courts from an earlier time. We will study Ashokan Columns/Pillars, The DidarganjYakshas and Patna Yakshas and the Vajrasana at Bodhgaya, among other artifacts. We will also begin to discuss the emergence of Buddhist biographies, particularly through an examination of Sculpture.
  5. Starting: Early Buddhist Art 1: In this section we will explore Shunga patronage of Buddhist monuments, and also the Andhra Satavahana period. We will examine the distinctive ways in which the style of representation at Sanchi changes from the Bharhut style. We will also cover the Buddhist iconism vs Aniconism debate, as presented by Susan Huntington and Dehejia. We will cover the Shungas: Bharhut Stupa Railings and the Great Stupa at Sanchi.
  6. Early Buddhist Art 2: In this section we will continue with the patronage of Buddhist art, particularly in cave sites and also finally conclude with a section on the Bodhgaya railing, passing through Lomas Rishi, Bhaja, Karli and the Buddha Image. We will also arrive at the Kusanas and the emergence of The Mathura School and the Gandhara School. We will also explore the more explicit forms of Mahayana Buddhism and the implications of this emergence on the evolution of the Buddha image.
  7. Starting Hindu and Jain temples of North and South India: In this section we will examine the emergence of the patronage of temples, the debates surrounding the emergence and evolution of Shikharas,Udayagiri Rock-cut Sanctuaries, Temples of the Gupta Period (319-550): Sanchi, Nachna, Deogarh. Kailashnath Temple, The South Indian temple: Brihadeshwaralaya, and finally Khajuraho.
  8. (Field Visit to a site lasting 3 to 4 days)
  9. Starting Indo-Islamic Art and Architecture:In this section we will begin by exploring the artistic patronage of theGhurids while also observing continuities with artisanal traditions both synchronically, that is, through space in Afghanistan and Delhi, and also diachronically, that is, through time, from the pre-Islamic period. We will study The Jhompra Mosque, Ajmer, The Quwwat al-Islam Complex, Delhi, Tomb of Ghiyas al-Din Tughluq, Delhi.
  10. Continuing Indo-Islamic Art and Architecture: In this section we will examine the growth of Sultanate patronage, the emergence of the Lodhi mosque style, Sharqi patronage, Suri period patronage, The Mughal Empire: Humayun's tomb, Fatehpur Sikri, The Akbarnama and the Harivamsha, Akbar's tomb, Tomb of Itimad al-Daula, Jahangir Nama, Documentary and Allegorical Paintings.
  11. Colonial Art and Architecture: In this section we will examine the latter period of Mughal dynastic patronage, the emergence of the ‘Company School’, the Bengal School, Late Mughal Painting, Late Mughal Architecture, The Indo Saracenic Style Colonial Photography and Colonial Art. Colonial Memoirs and Growse in Bulandshahar, and finally Colonial Modernisms.Calender Art and popular culture. EB. Havell will also be discussed.
  12. Beginning Modern and Contemporary Indian Art and Architecture: In this section we will examine Modernism in India. We will focus on key Indian artists of the period including Rabindranath Tagore, Amrita Sher-Gill, Jamini Rai; Indian art on the eve of independence. How was a modern, secular nation state created through the mediations of art and architecture, through the establishment of museums and other public buildings?We will try and answer this question and also seek an overview of contemporary Indian art, modern temples and memorials, History and memory in modern public spaces. We will also engage in case studies of Akshardham temple and the Ambedkar Memorial Park, Noida.

Assessment Details with weights:



Date/period in which Assessment will take place



Group Assignments (as indicated earlier in red). Group presentations to be followed by a written reflection on what has been learned.

The class will be divided into groups of 2 and these groups will make presentations on different instances over the course of the entire semester.



Mid-term Exam




Final Exam




Term Paper on a specific topic

To be submitted at the end of the Semester.



Class participation and attendance.




Reading List:

  • Vidya Dehejia, Indian Art, (London: PhaIdon Press, 2005)
  • Catherine Asher and Cynthia Talbot, India Before Europe, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).


  • Frederick Asher, "On Maurya Art," A Companion to Asian Art and Architecture, (Sussex: Wiley and Blackwell, 2015) pp. 423-445.
  • Vidya Dehejia, “On Modes of Visual Narration in Early Buddhist Art,” The Art Bulletin 72.3 (1990), pp. 374–392.
  • . Michael Baxandall, "Patterns of Intention," in Donald Preziosi (eds) The Art of Art History: A critical Anthology, (London: OUP, 1998) pp.45-54.
  • Gregory L. Possehl,“Revolution in the Urban Revolution: The Emergence of Indus Urbanization,” Annual Review of AnthropologyVol. 19 (1990), pp. 261-282.
  • Jonathan M. Kenoyer and Kimberley Burton Heuston, The Ancient South Asian World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005) pp. 35-72.
  • Catherine Asher, Delhi's Qutb Complex, The Minar, Mosque and Mehrauli, (Mumbai: Marg, 2018) pp. 1—20,
  • Sunil Kumar, "Qutb and Modern Memory," in The partitions of Memory: The Afterlife of the Division of India, ed. Suvir Kaul ( New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2001), 140-182.
  • S. L. Huntington,“Early Buddhist art and the theory of aniconism” Art JournalVol. 49 No. 4 Winter.1990pp.401-408,
  • Vidya Dehejia, “Aniconism and the Multivalence of Emblems” Ars OrientalisVol. 21 (1991), pp. 45-66.
  • Susan Huntington, The Art of Ancient India: Buddhist, Hindu and Jain, (Delhi: Motilal Banarsi Das, 2016)
  • Stella Kramrisch, "The Superstructure," in The Hindu Temple, Volume 1 (Delhi: Motilal Banarsi Das, 1976) pp. 177-220.
  • Readings:W.J. McKibben, "The Monumental Pillars of Firuz Shah Tughlaq," Ars Orientalis 24, 105-118
  • Finbar B. Flood, "Pillars, Palimpsests, and Princely Practices: Translating the Past in Sultanate Delhi," RES 43, (Spring 2003), 95-116
  • Perween Hassan, "Sultanate Mosques and Continuity in Bengal Architecture," Muqarnas 6 (1989), 58-74
  • Yuthika Sharma, “Art in Between Empires: Visual Culture and Artistic Knowledge in Late Mughal Delhi: 1748-1857,” PhD. Dissertation, Columbia University
  • ParthaMitter,“Port Cities of India: Their Planning and Architecture Circa 1640-1757”Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians Vol. 45, No. 2 (Jun., 1986), pp. 95-114
  • Tapti Guha Thakurta, "Wresting the Nation's Prerogative: Art History and Nationalism in Bengal,"Monuments, Objects, Histories, (New York, Columbia University Press, 2004)
  • Geeta Kapur,“Dismantled Norms:Apropos an Indian/Asian Avantgarde,” in When Was Modernism. Essays on Contemporary Cultural Practice in India.(Delhi: Tulika Books, 2000)
  • Rebecca Brown and Deborah Hutton, Asian Art, (Oxford:Blackwell, 2006).