The archaeology of ritual in Gupta India: Udayagiri and the establishment of the gods

Project team

  • Michael Willis, project leader

Department of Asia 


  • Dr. Meera I. Dass, INTACH Bhopal, India

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • The British Academy, London

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Udayagiri is a large sandstone mountain located a few kilometres from Vidisha in central India. It is the only surviving site connected with the Imperial Gupta dynasty (c. 320-500).

Udayagiri was an ancient centre astronomical activity from at least the second century BC. When the Gupta kings conquered central India they re-worked Udayagiri dramatically, adding a host of sculptures, inscriptions and water-features. This changed the site from a simple place of celestial observation into an astro-political node where the movements of the heavenly bodies were conflated with the political trajectory of the Gupta kings. This helped the Guptas establish a new form of kingship in which they represented themselves as imperial sovereigns and, simultaneously, the foremost devotee of Vishnu, the deity who was regarded as the living embodiment of time and of the cosmos.


The main aim of this project has been to produce a monograph. This was completed in 2007, and published in 2009:

M. Willis, The Archaeology of Hindu Ritual: Temples and the Establishment of the Gods, (Cambridge, University Press, Cambridge, 2009)

Further information 


M. I. Dass and M. Willis, 'The Lion Capital from Udayagiri and the Antiquity of Sun Worship in Central India’, SAS 18 (2002), pp. 25-45.

M. Willis, ‘The Archaeology and Politics of Time’, in H. T. Bakker (ed.), The Vakataka Heritage (Groningen, 2004). To order this publication please visit 

Udayagiri, central India. View of the passage used for astronomical observation

Udayagiri, central India. View of the passage used for astronomical observation.