UC Davis Summer Abroad


Status: Not Offered in 2018

Palaces of the Gods—South India


Professor Archana Venkatesan

Archana Venkatesan

Comparative Literature & Religious Studies


Archana Venkatesan has been at UC Davis since 2007. Her research combines textual, performance and visual culture, and this is reflected in the courses she teaches for the Comparative Literature and Religious Studies Programs. Archana grew up in South India, and has travelled widely in the region.

Every time I return to Tamil Nadu, I see it anew through the eyes of students. In the summer months, it's hot and humid. But along the coast, a cool breeze brings with it the special fragrance of the sea. There are lush paddy fields as far as the eye can see, and nestled here and there are those jewel-like temples, early experiments in south Indian temple architecture, the harbingers of the grand towers that dominate today's Tamil landscape. But even before these stone palaces to the gods, exuberant in design and teeming with images of gods and kings, poets were wandering this same landscape singing with passion of their love for gods, kings and women. They recreated the world they saw in their poems--verbal icons--lovingly crafted and detailed as any perfectly cast image in stone. In this course, students will explore the intimate relationships between text and image in south India, and will watch the places of which the Tamil poets of the 5th-9th century sang come alive.

A Message to Students and Parents

My research interests are in the intersections of text, performance and visual culture in medieval south India. So, I get to travel a lot around south India, particularly Tamil Nadu, visiting famous temples and lesser known ones. There is something quite magical about the moments when texts that you’ve read or read about suddenly come alive through song and dance, through sonorous recitation. It’s this world to which I want to introduce students. Most visitors to India enter temples and are impressed by the extraordinary architecture, and are struck by the vivid colors and the sensory stimulation of religious practice. In our course, students will begin to understand how temple spaces functions, the various uses to which they are put, and come away with a deeper appreciation for these monumental structures.