Documenting music for The British Library – The musical pillars of a medieval Indian temple


In the 1990s and 2000s, I recorded & documented disappearing musical traditions from South and Southeast Asia for The British Library.

British Library Audio Project Cataloguer Jim Hickson has written a wonderful article about one of my recordings from India – music performed not only in a temple, but also on a temple.

The Shri Vijaya Vittala Temple sits among the breath-taking and sprawling ruins of the ancient city of Hampi, in Karnataka, India. Dedicated to Vittala, a manifestation of the god Vishnu and his avatar Krishna, the temple began construction sometime in the 15th or 16th centuries but was never finished – the city was destroyed in 1565.

The impressive temple is famous for many reasons, including a giant stone shrine in the shape of a chariot, which is pictured on the ₹50 note. It is also known for its 56 musical pillars.

Each of the temple’s eight main pillars are surrounded by seven smaller pillars. When these small pillars are struck with the hand or a wooden beater, they ring in a clear, bell-like tone. Not only that, but each pillar in a set is tuned to a different note, meaning that together they sound a scale on which music can be performed.

Read the full story The musical pillars of a medieval Indian temple here.

Photos by Aroon Thaewchatturat.