This book was researched through personal visits to World Heritage sites in India and the monuments associated with them, to enjoy the depiction of human beauty in decorative sculpture and architecture and the narration of mythology therein.
A brief introduction to the principal religious groups who have made their home in this dynamic region leads into a description of the developmental stages of various architectural components and artistic styles in the different regions over the past 1500 years, from pre-historic cave art and ancient temples to the Taj Mahal, which was declared a World Heritage Monument in 1983. The fifth Mughal emperor, Shahjahan (1628-1657), built the Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
More recently, Christian churches such as those in Goa were built under Western influence. The author details the technological and artistic progress of Indian scultpture and Indian temple construction in the context of cultural and religious shifts throughout history.
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1. Religions of India
The four indigenous religions of India are Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Two more religions entered India to stay: Christianity, in the third century CE and Islam, in the seventh century. Akbar, the Mughal Emperor (1542-1605), tried to develop a new religion, Dean-e-elahe, by synthesizing Hinduism and Islam; but it died in its infancy. His successor Shah-e-Jahan and orthodox Muslims did not favor it.
Mankind has inhabited India for over half a million years. The natural barriers that kept India in comparative isolation, allowing it to develop its own civilization, were not impermeable. There was always some migration through Himalayan passes. People of the proto-historic Indus River Valley civilization were not the first to enter India, but not much is known about previous immigrants. The cultural remains of the Indus River Valley civilization that flourished from 2500-1500 BCE (with a peak period between 2250-1750 BCE) indicate worship of procreative forces. The phallus, representing the procreative aspect of the universe by which the endless cycle of birth, rebirth and death occurs, and ring stones representing vulvae - the door through which one is born and reborn, dating to the third millennium BCE, have been unearthed here. A life-size Neolithic statue of a man carved in 9500-7200 BCE, excavated in Turkey, shows a prominent erect phallus, indicating the importance accorded to procreative forces long before the Indus River Valley civilization.
Aryans, coming in small groups, completely displaced the Indus River Valley civilization by 1600 BCE.
Hinduism, the oldest religion of India, has its roots in the Indus RiverValley civilization and possibly beyond. Aryans migrating from Iran and surrounding regions brought gods of Iranian origin. Hinduism is not based on the idea of the revelation of a god conveyed by a messiah. Worship of natural forces was at the root of religions in the Indus River Valley civilization. Lacking any clear explanation of the origins of the universe, Aryans believed that there were two separate primordial worlds. One was a sacred world with the germ of life, characterized by a complete and undifferentiated unity inhabited by a group of gods called asuras. A god Indra was born outside this primeval world and he created the world we know by rearranging the existing matter. He caused the separation of sky and earth by propping up the sky with a pillar, and he released the cosmic ocean between the sky and the earth by slaying the demon guarding the imprisoned cosmic ocean. He acted as catalyst for the creation of all the identifiable individuals and distinct categories of objects and beings within the world. Along with Indra came devas, the gods of the Vedic pantheon. The constant struggle between the asuras and devas resulted in a constant menace to the existence and coherence of the ordered world. Some asuras joined the ranks of the devas. Others, personifying negative characteristics such as ignorance, in Puranas or ancient tales, were vanquished by the devas.
Vedas, Hindu sacred texts, were developed between 1500 and 800 BCE. They present a pantheon of 33 gods representing various forces of nature and personification of the sky, thunder, sun, fire, and rivers. Indra became the head of the council of gods, and was god of rain and of war - two of the most important factors affecting life. Agni became the god of fire; Surya became the sun god and Vayu the god of wind, amongst a multitude of minor gods. Some of these gods are prototypes or aspects of gods known in later Hinduism.
The function of these gods was to provide material blessing, and to focus worshipers...