Pillared Temple Hall

Artist/maker unknown, Indian

Made in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India, Asia

c. 1550


Curatorial Department:
South Asian Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of Susan Pepper Gibson, Mary Gibson Henry, and Henry C. Gibson in memory of Adeline Pepper Gibson, 1919

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The granite pillars, brackets, and slabs that form this temple hall (mandapa) come from the Madanagopalaswamy Temple, a sixteenth-century building complex in the south Indian city of Madurai. (The complex is dedicated to Krishna, an avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, and is still used for worship today.) The architectural elements installed here were purchased in 1912 by Adeline Pepper Gibson of Philadelphia while on a visit to Madurai. They are believed to have come primarily from a freestanding hall that once stood in front of the main shrine and was probably dismantled in the mid-nineteenth century.

The eight stone slabs between the pillars' lion brackets depict scenes from the Ramayana, the epic tale of the hero Rama, another avatar of Vishnu. The slabs were originally part of a larger relief series that ran around the inside of the hall and narrated the entire Ramayana. The life-sized figures projecting from the central-aisle pillars are deities and characters from both the Ramayana and another major Hindu text, the Mahabharata. These include Garuda (the bird-man vehicle of Vishnu) and Hanuman (the monkey-general of the Ramayana). A variety of small relief images of divine and human figures also ornament the pillars, including Krishna as a baby, a couple making love, royal donors, and even the temple architect with his measuring stick.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art Handbook (2014 Edition)

    The more than sixty carved granite elements that comprise this monumental space were collected by Philadelphian Adeline Pepper Gibson during a visit in 1912 to Madurai, a city in the south of India known for its wealth of Hindu temples. She found them strewn within the compound of a sixteenth-century Krishna temple called the Madanagopalaswamy, which remains active today, and purchased them from the temple authorities. Recent curatorial research shows that the pieces once formed a freestanding festival hall located in front of the main shrine. There devotees would have gathered to participate in a variety of celebratory rituals.

    Emerging from the pillars lining the hall’s central aisle are extraordinary oversize figures of deities and heroes related to the dramatic stories of the Hindu god Vishnu. Between delightfully fierce lion capitals, eight slabs installed at cornice level feature carved reliefs of scenes from the Ramayana story cycle, which tells of the hero Rama, one of Vishnu’s avatars. Many more slabs from this cycle remain at the temple in Madurai, demonstrating that the original hall interior boasted a rare complete rendition of the tale. Smaller images adorn the pillars, including a portrait of the temple’s architect-priest with his measuring stick.

    First opening to the public in the Museum’s original home at Memorial Hall, the temple hall debuted at its current location in 1940. As the only example of premodern Indian stone temple architecture outside South Asia, it provides visitors a unique opportunity to experience the extraordinary synthesis of sculpture, architecture, and symbol that characterizes the Indian temple form. Darielle Mason, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, pp. 50–51.