Search results

Start typing

Eastern Encounters pattern
Eastern Encounters

Drawn from the Royal Library's collection of South Asian books and manuscripts

CAT. NO. 70

Elevation of one of the Gopurams of the Temple at Srirangam

Company School (Tamil Nadu), <i>c</i>.1800

Inks and watercolour over graphite pencil on watermarked European paper | 78.4 × 57.4 cm | RCIN 930166

This pen-and-ink drawing depicts one of the colossal brick gopurams (‘entrance towers’) of the Sri Raganathaswami temple complex at Srirangam dating to the sixteenth or seventeenth century. Its ten storeys taper towards the barrel-vaulted roof, each covered in high-relief painted plaster sculpture, the vivid colours of which are not captured here.[231] Statues of Vishnu stand either side of the projecting porches on each storey, and winged figures representing Vishnu’s mount, Garuda, sits on each end of the upper storey, just under the roofline. At the centre of the gable is a cobra head representing Sesha, the great snake whose hood curled up to protect Vishnu when he fell into a deep trance, a motif which is repeated across the temple’s decorative carving scheme.

The drawing was completed as part of the first major survey of southern India by Colin Mackenzie and his local assistants (see also cat. no. 69). An engineer in the Madras army, Mackenzie’s surveys of the dominions of Hyderabad (1792–8) and Mysore and its environs (1799–1810)[232] led to his promotion to first Surveyor General of Madras in 1810 and then Surveyor General of India in 1815.[233] His project involved gathering oral histories of the sites which were translated into English by members of Mackenzie’s staff, many of whom were Brahmins drafted from the chancery of the Nawab of the Carnatic, fluent in Telugu, Marathi, Kannada and English. Several of his draughtsmen were the ‘Indian-born’, orphaned sons of European Company officers, educated at the Madras Orphan Asylum before being apprenticed at the East India Company Surveying School in Madras.[234]

The result of the surveys was an assortment of nearly 2,000 watercolour topographical views and pen-and-ink drawings of plans and elevations such as these. After Mackenzie’s death, the collection was handed to Horace Hayman Wilson, an Orientalist scholar in Calcutta and is now mainly divided between the India Office Collection in the British Library, the Asiatic Society of Calcutta and the library of the Royal Asiatic Society in London. These drawings did not, however, receive a wide audience at the time and it was a different, less accurate study that was to represent Hindu architecture to the British in the nineteenth century. Influenced by European Orientalist classifications of India and its people, Ram Raz’s Essay on the Architecture of the Hindus published by the Royal Asiatic Society in 1834 attempted to illustrate a ‘Hindu’ building tradition based on ancient Sanskrit texts, despite the fact that many of the buildings he depicted, including the temple at Srirangam, had been designed and built within a wider, syncretic Indo-Islamic context.[235] Basing his drawings on those of European architectural treatises, Ram Raz's studies of temples depicted them bereft of almost all the sculptural decoration seen in the drawings commissioned by Mackenzie, rather emphasising their columns in an attempt to establish orders comparable to those of classical Greek and Roman architecture.

  • [231] For these see Branfoot 2007, pp. 53–61.

    [232] The Mysore survey took place after the British capture of Seringapatam in 1799, in which MacKenzie, as a Company Officer, took part.

    [233] For Colin Mackenzie see Howes 2010, Howes 2009 and Dirks 2009. George III's collection of military maps included two by Mackenzie. See RCINS 735001 and 735003.

    [234] Howes 2010, pp. 12–13.

    [235] See Desai 2012 and Cohn 1996. 

The income from your ticket contributes directly to The Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity. The aims of The Royal Collection Trust are the care and conservation of the Royal Collection, and the promotion of access and enjoyment through exhibitions, publications, loans and educational activities.