Project Overview

Opposites or Complements?

Faculty Sponsor

Padma Kaimal (


Art and Art History


The Kailāsanātha temple complex in Kāñcipuram (southeastern India) provides a rare opportunity for looking the ancient past in the face. Built at the turn of the eighth century CE by a king of the Pallava dynasty, his son, and at least one Pallava queen, this cluster of buildings then enjoyed an accidental mix of intervention and neglect for fourteen centuries that left them as little altered as structures so old could be and still survive (ch.1). Their eighth-century traces present a precisely coordinated set of complementary dyads between reincarnation and transcendence, royal and divine, word and image. Angular figures of Śiva, goddesses, and other deities articulate renunciation and dominance in deep shadows when they face to the north from every structure in the compound. The same gods are interactive, even flirtatious, gentled by fecund energies and bathed in warm light when they face to the south. Together they make visible the concepts of amangala and mangala, distinct but intertwined flows of existence that kings and gods could govern (ch.2). Pairing royal and divine as well as childless and fecund, sculptures of Śiva Śomaskanda with his wife and chubby son permeate the east-west axis of the temple complex, nestled in its most intimate spaces, where they are also side by side, face to face, or back to back with royal couples who have no son (ch.3). Pairing also manifests through twinned cues to movement in clockwise and counterclockwise circumambulation. Architecture, inscriptions, and sculpture hold these paths in dialog, framing them as mirror images of each other, opposite yet identical (ch.4). Counterclockwise movement, though now proscribed, proves especially rewarding around the compound’s central shrine (vimāna). As an inscribed poem narrates the story of the king’s lineage and deeds, sculptures above tell other stories about the gods. The distance between those verbal and visual narratives could melt away, however, to people initiated into Tantric knowledge (ch.5).

Student Qualifications

Any of the following experience would be highly desirable, but none are required: - course work in the history or art history of India - work with Photoshop, Prezi, and other visual imagery software - good writing and editing skills - experience with the Prefocus/Focus research process - previous travel to India

Number of Student Researchers

1 student

Project Length

8 weeks

Applications open on 01/15/2017 and close on 02/07/2017

<< Back to List

If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (