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Art Comparison Essay, Research Paper

Comparison between The Vishnu Temple of Srirangam and The Royal Abbey of St. Denis

People are in many respects unique animals: they can create culture as no other animal can. As an aspect of this culture, they construct images for worship and admiration as well as icons for pleasure and practice. The former represents religion, and the latter art. In the various expressions of religion such as rituals, ceremonials, shrines, magical cults and worship, art is necessarily included.

Both the temple and the cathedral represent a combination of religion and art; and their roots go back to a very remote past, in fact to the earliest stages of men s career on earth. People have built temples and churches of different kinds and worshipped in them in some manner since that time.

The Temple of Srirangam is situated in the southern tip of India and is the largest temple complex in all India. It is surrounded by seven rectangular enclosures, a sacred symbolic number. The temple has been enlarged many times over thousands of years and its original date of founding is unknown to archaeology. It is being estimated that most of the temple complex standing today was constructed between the 14th and 17th centuries.

The Abbey of St. Denis has originally been founded in the 7th century by the Frankish King Dagobert in honor of Denis, the patron saint of France. In the 12th Century, a Benedictine monk named Suger started a renovation of the Carolingian Abbey Church that would turn out to be a major event in the history of architecture. Gothic was born.

The Srirangam temple was meant for the welfare of the nation. It preserved cultural and spiritual values among the masses. This also meant emotional integration of the nation. In short, this temple was a sacred religious institution where all the faculties are utilized for mutual harmony and welfare. Though it was built for the benefit of the whole community, it was also an expression of the devotion and piety of the ruler. It was thought that by building a temple the patron would always have peace and wealth.

As royal abbey, St. Denis was a symbol of royal power, and what was done to it added to the glory of both the Monarchy and France. Thus its renovation was a political as well as an architectural and religious event. Abbot Suger was in a position to recognize this fact and never hesitated to identify the best interests of the King, France, the Church and God. He was also never short of advancing and glorifying himself.

The temple of Srirangam is a symbolic presentation of the various forces of nature – worldly as well as divine. The temple is the focus for all aspects of everyday life in the Hindu community – religious, cultural, educational and social. Both the temple and the abbey represented a place where God may be approached however the temple of Srirangam was much more designed to dissolve the boundaries between man and the divine than the royal abbey of St. Denis.

The Hindu temple developed over two thousand years and its architectural evolution took place within the boundaries of strict models derived solely from religious considerations. Therefore we can assume that the architect of the temple of Srirangam was obliged to keep to the ancient basic proportions and rigid forms.

Abbot Suger s approach was quite different. After being promised, that [] through this memorial we should earn the prayers of succeeding brothers for the salvation of our soul; and through this example we should arouse in them a zealous commitment to the proper maintenance of God’s church [] , he pursued the economic advantage of St. Denis with energy, imagination and opportunism. His own self-esteem played a considerable part in the rebuilding of the abbey. He thanked God for having him granted the honor of reconstructing St. Denis and made allowances for money to be spent on a celebration in memory of himself in the abbey. He had four likenesses of himself placed in the abbey and had thirteen inscriptions in his own honor engraved in stone.

Sources of wealth for the temple of Srirangam consisted mainly of donations from royal patrons and private individuals. These were received in the form of money, valuable objects, livestock or income from grants of land, including whole villages and their inhabitants. Donors gave grants to the temple wishing for religious merit and increase the possibility of their ultimate salvation. Although Hindus believe that whatever wealth they have is God given and should as such be used in good works, there is also the desire to record a pious act in the form of an inscription or to have a portrait of the donor made in sculpture or painting.

Great importance is attached to the establishment of the temple s ground plan because it functions as a sacred geometric diagram of the essential structure of the universe.

It is intended to lead from the temporal world to the eternal. The principal shrine should

face the rising sun and so should have its entrance to the east. The temple of Srirangam

essentially consists of a square-chambered sanctuary topped by a tower. It has several attached halls and is enclosed by walls within a rectangular court. In the square inner sanctum the second deity of the Hindu gods, Vishnu, is located. The brightly painted statues within the sanctum represent the many incarnations of Vishnu. They are more than just an extraordinary expression of art; these sculptures function as three-dimensional storybooks of Hindu mythology. Similar in purpose to the stained glass windows of the Abbey of St. Denis, these beautiful sculptures were intended to visually communicate religious myths to the population.

Unlike the pyramids of Egypt the temple of Srirangam and the Abbey of St. Denis were not built by slave labor. The workers were devotees, inspired by a love of God, not fear of man. Abbot Suger kept a detailed account of the rebuilding of his church, although he mentions no artists are architects who worked on the projects. Instead, he credits himself, with inspiration from heaven, for creating both the new gothic style, and stained-glass windows.

St. Denis s layout was based on dimensions taken from the old building, but the building procedure at St. Denis followed geometric, not arithmetic, concepts. Originally, the church had two towers, but the northwestern one has since been destroyed.

Suger created a double aisled ambulatory at his Abbey, with the outer aisle being part of the radiating chapels. In this way, all of the chapels became fused together, creating a divine space underneath new gothic vaults and bathed in stained glass.

The abbot was fascinated by the religious implications of light. For him light was necessary for the worthy glorification of God and thus he built accordingly. In his writings, Suger equated Divine Light with the light that shimmered through the stained glass windows of the abbey. The costly stained glass and the rich art works were not, argued Suger, ostentatious displays of wealth but an attempt to raise the worshipper from mundane thoughts to approach the glory of majesty.

Structural invention plays a large part in Gothic architecture but it was not built for its structure. It was built for its symbolic content, for what it was intended to mean. Suger was not after emotionality; he wanted something rational, clear, calm and complete. He found it in his beloved Abbey of St. Denis.

People need religion. They seek spiritual answers to material questions and feel a deep need to express their love for God. Love requires an object of adoration. Despite their differences, both the Abbey of St. Denis and the temple of Srirangam are not just great works of architecture but special cultural centers to infuse purity, to instill values and to satisfy spiritual needs. Bright is the noble work; but, being nobly bright, the work should brighten the minds, so that they may travel, through the true lights, the wise Abbot Suger proclaimed.

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