The Unfinished: Stone Carvers at Work on the Indian Subcontinent.

Author:Owen, Lisa N.
Position::Book review
 
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The Unfinished: Stone Carvers at Work on the Indian Subcontinent. BY VIDYA DEHEJIA AND PETER ROCKWELL. New Delhi: ROLI BOOKS, 2016. Pp. 280, illus.

This book is the result of a fruitful collaboration between the renowned art historian, Vidya Dehejia, and a specialist on stone carving, Peter Rockwell. It examines many of India's most famous rock-cut and structural temples at the sites of Ajanta, Ellora, Mamallapuram, Khajuraho, Bhubaneshvar, Halebidu, and Thanjavur. However, unlike most scholars who have examined the iconographical programs and architectural design of temples at these sites, the authors of this book focus on unfinished stonework. It is surprising--even to those of us who feel that we know these monuments intimately--that a significant percentage of their architectural and sculptural elements remain today in an incomplete state. In many cases, these elements appear to have been abandoned in mid-creation. Why is this the case and what can we learn from studying these unfinished expressions? Throughout the book, the authors chisel away at these questions and provide new and valuable information regarding the processes and techniques of stone carving employed at these sites. At the same time, they challenge our understanding of what it means to identify monuments as either "complete" or "unfinished," especially when we consider their ritual usability.

The book is organized in two parts. Part one contains five chapters that provide the interpretative lens for examining the "why" of unfinished monuments. Important contributions include an innovative classification system for identifying India's unfinished stonework (chap. 2) and its application to monuments at Mamallapuram and the western caves (chapters 2 and 3). In chapter 4 the authors examine dedicatory inscriptions associated with these sites in order to develop more nuanced perspectives regarding the impact of donative activity in the excavation process. Chapter 5 continues with an analysis of epigraphical material, though here it shifts to the many sculptors' names found on the structural temples at Khajuraho. Rather than serving as a visual statement of pride for the artists, the authors surmise that the inclusion of names may have functioned as a way to keep track of work performed and payments due.

Although chapter 5 concludes part one of the book, its emphasis on the agency of artists serves as a nice transition to part two, which highlights the tools, teams, and...

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