Anuradha Mukherji


The Holy Light: A Study of Natural Light in Hindu Temples in Tamilnadu, India, (7th to 17th Century AD)

Anuradha Mukherji, Master of Science in Architecture (Historic Preservation), Texas A&M University, August 2001


This thesis investigates how religious principles govern the treatment of light in sacred architecture, and how the development of building technology across time helped achieve the religious light requirements. Specifically, this question is applied to the study of treatment of natural light in three Hindu temples that were built between the 7th and 17th century AD in Tamilnadu, India. In pursuing this investigation the study addresses two major objectives. First, to understand the significance of religion in the treatment of light in sacred monuments around the world. Second, to understand the methods used to achieve the desired light quality in ancient south Indian Hindu temples.

The study developed two hypotheses on the basis of a literature review and a conceptual model. The first hypothesis says that the principles of religion govern the quality of light in sacred monuments. The second hypothesis suggests that accomplishment of light design technology is a function of time as expressed through building technology and building size.

To test the hypotheses and conceptual model, this thesis examined natural light systems in three Hindu temples built in Tamilnadu, a state in southern India. The three temples are the Shore temple built at Mahabalipuram by the Pallava dynasty (700 AD); the Brihadeshvara temple built at Tanjore by the Chola dynasty (1010 AD); and the Meenakshi-Sundareshwara temple built at Madurai by the Nayaka rulers (1660 AD). The study was conducted using multi-method analyses that included a qualitative analysis using established lighting design guidelines, and a quantitative analysis in the form of computerized daylight simulations.

The results of both analyses showed that though there are differences in the building size and techniques in each of the three Hindu temples, yet the quality of light inside the structures did not undergo much change. Also, though there was significant progress in the technology of lighting design from the 8th to the 11th century, due to changes in the political climate, there was no further progress on this aspect of south Indian temple design from the 12th century AD onwards. These results support the paper's hypotheses.

Due to limited prior research on the quality of light in Hindu temples, this study serves as a reference for architects and designers who are working to understand and preserve the importance of light in Hindu temples of south India. Furthermore, because there are no studies on the relationship between light treatment, building size, technology, and faith, this research contributes to the overall scholarship on history of sacred architecture.

Below are time-lapse animations created using computerized daylight simulation focusing on three different views of the temple. A computer model of the temple was created using AutoCAD, which was then imported into Lightscape to conduct the daylight simulations.


Geva, Anat & Mukherji, Anuradha. 2007. "A study of light/darkness in sacred settings: Digital simulations" in International Journal of Architectural Computing, vol. 5, no. 3, p. 507