Temple mandapam in the US museum - rebuilt from Madana Gopalaswamy temple, Madurai (1935-40)

Hindu temple hall, Philadelphia museum, USA.thehindu.com

Above image: Hindu temple mantapam: Philadelphia Museum , PA. Rebuilt between 1935-1940. Parts of damaged hall at Madurai Gopalaswamy temple, Madurai were shipped to the US in 1912 by an American lady Mrs. Adeline Gibson............................. 

Have you ever heard of a small temple mandapam with all its stone sculptures, etc., was  shipped to USA  and reassembled in a famous museum? Yes, it did happen in the early part of the 20th century and the structure belonged to a temple in Madurai. 

This is not fiction and  it is difficult to digest the historical facts that are relevant to the present. It is absolutely tough to believe that every part of the mandapam  lying around the temple was removed carefully in peace meal and shipped to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA and meticulously put them back to create the hall as it would have stood in Madurai. The parts were fixed just like fixing the jigsaw puzzles. A time consuming and tedious job for the person who arranged for the transport of the damaged mandapam to the US.

Madana Gopalaswamy temple, Madurai TN 

Madana Gopalaswamy temple, Madurai  masalabox.co.in

Madana Gopala Swamy temple, Madurai  temple.dinamalar.com

Above image: Located close to Meenakshi temple on Melamasi street,Madurai, God Madhana Gopalaswami blesses the devotees with his alluring flute in his hands, pressing his right leg as Viswaroopa Kanna. the garbhagriha - sanctum is below the Ashtanga Vimana. His consorts are Rukmani and Satyabhama. Sri Krishna Jayanthi is a major festival here. .............................

According to the Hindu article dated May 25, 2022 the person was one Mrs. Adeline pepper Gibson of Philadelphia and it is believed parts of a Madurai temple mandapam could have been  sold to that American lady in 1912.  The lady who was a military nurse, while travelling across India, saw the  parts lying around   Madana Gopalaswamy temple dedicated to God Vishnu. Presumably  driven by interest in antique stuff and unique artistic stone work, the lady  bought the parts associated with the hall including the ornate carved pillars and had them shipped to her city  in the US.  

While on duty in France she died there on January 10, 1919 and the onus fell on her relatives to receive the consignment and they gave them  to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in August 1919 in  memory of  Mrs. Adeline. 

The mandapam in the US museum was recreated after detailed study of the original mandapam and related research papers. Credit goes to  one  W. Norman Brown (1892-1975) the curator of the museum and  the chair of Sanskrit at the University of Pennsylvania, who prepared a report after his visit to Madurai in  November 1934.

His painstaking work on a monograph, 'A pillared hall from a temple at Madura in the Philadelphia Museum of Art' (a copy, it is stated, is available at the famous Connemara Library, Chennai) was based on the findings of G.J. Dubreuil (1885 -1945),a French archaeologist who specialized in Southern Indian artifacts. According to him the hall is supported by  16 eight-foot simple columns, 14 compound columns, with features like friezes and lion capitals,. normally associated with other Hindu temples. Further studies confirmed that the mantabam in the US museum was from the same Vishnu temple at Madurai. 

From the monograph we stand that the temple came up in the 16th century during the Nayak rule under Viswanatha Nayakar (1529-1564). As for the parts of the mantapam scattered near the temple, the report says it might have been razed to the ground by the Muslim conqueror in the same century. 

In the US  museum the mantab (Artha mantaba) rebuilt between 1935 and 1940,  is complete with various parts - 12 monolithic composite pillars with large sculpted figures, 16 square-based pillars carved with 10 lion brackets, 10 drop brackets, two non-figural cluster pillars and eight slabs carved with scenes from the Ramayana, thus imparting the interior ambiance of a Hindu temple..

Credit goes to the late  Dr. Stella Kramrisch (1896-1993) who  created  a separate Asian Art section in the museum. She studied Sanskrit, Indian art and culture at the University of Vienna, taught in India and  published scholarly works on Indian arts.

The Philadelphia Museum pamphlet boasts: “It is also the only place outside of South Asia where visitors can experience, from original pre-modern elements, the monumental synthesis of sculpture, structure, symbolism and story that make Hindu temple architecture one of the world’s greatest artistic legacies.”

Credit: Main source - The Hindu.