This film is held by the BFI (ID: 13938).


Hindu temples at Benares and Belur and the mythology associated with them.

Three holy men sitting on a raised stone platform n front of a large temple. Shots of the temple buildings, showing carvings (98). Priest tolling a bell (103). Procession in honour of goddess Kali seen leaving a temple. MCU doors, worshippers leaving. Procession files out with acolytes bearing an idol of Kali on their shoulders. MCU idol made of gold and precious stones (209-218). Huge stone effigy on hillside of Nandi the Bull at Mysore, worshipped as a force for reproduction. Acolytes parade around effigy in ritual incantation. LS Bull. MCU procession passing round base of effigy (263). Animals in Hindu mythology. Paintings of Kali riding a tiger (273); Laksmi, Goddess of Wealth, with Krishna, Shiva, Ganesa, elephant-headed God of Learning (313). Statue of the Demon of Mysore holding s snake (332). Temple to Durga, another name for kali. Temple is of red stone, at Benares. Pan shots of temple (370). At certain times of the day the priests perform ceremony feeding the sacred monkeyus living in the temple which are worshipped as descendants of the god Hanuman. Priests, seen, one with flute, monkeys scrambling around in temple (423). Temples of Belur recently reclaimed from the jungle. Various shots of the buildings. Carvings seen. Acolyte walking through temple ringing bell to scare evil spirits (483). Pan shots of carvings illustrating Hindu legends (552). CS some of the carvings (571). Holy men sitting on temps steps, meditating (610). MCU temple doors, doors open, altar to Shiva seen (624). Dancer seen performing Shiva's Dance of Destruction (824). The Taj Mahal at Agra seen in moonlight. The story of the Taj Mahal related over various shots (936). The End (939ft).



Temples of India is one of a number of travelogue films made by the company World Window in the late 1930s. The company was the brainchild of the wealthy husband and wife team F.W. Keller and E.S. Keller. Inspired by the results of their own amateur travel films, the Kellers sought out a film crew to make professional travelogues, beginning with a series of films shot in Europe and then later filming in Asia (Cardiff, 1996, 50). The team that the Kellers put together included director and editor Hans Nieter, who would later produce and direct the drama documentary Seven Years in Tibet (1956), and the renowned cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who pioneered the use of Technicolor in these documentaries. Temples of India also employs the talents of the seasoned film composer Ludwig Brav, and the choreography of the Menaka Indian Ballet. World Window was formed specifically to produce these ten-minute documentaries, which were distributed in Britain and America by the American company United Artists.

The temples documented in this film include those at Benares and Varanasi, as well as the reclaimed temple at Belur. Also featured is the Taj Mahal, designed by an unknown architect, and built as a mausoleum for the Muslim ruler Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal.

Hinduism is nevertheless the principal religion covered in the film. This faith differs from religions such as Christianity and Islam. The religion has no founder; it is not prophetic; it is not creedal; there is no system of theology, moral code or concept of god that is central to it; there is no single authoritative scripture; and it is not sustained by an ecclesiastical organisation (Wightman, 1998, 261). Practices among adherents vary widely; religious observance can include both ‘strict puritanical ritualism’ and ‘wild, inebriated cults and blood sacrifices’ (Michaels, 2004, 4). The India of Hindus has consequently been cast as the ‘other’ a land that is identified with ‘despotism, imagination, superstition, and irrationality’ in contrast to the ‘democracy, reason, and science’ of the west (Flood, 2003, 3).

There has been much scholarly debate regarding the British influence on Hinduism, centred on the extent to which the colonisers codified and unified what was a disparate collection of faiths (for a summary of the positions see Viswanathan, 2003, 23-44). The term ‘Hinduism’ is itself of fairly recent origin, being coined by the British in the late eighteenth century to refer to people in India who were not of the Muslim, Sikh, Christian or Jain religions (Flood, 2003, 3). And it was British Orientalists who, in their desire to posit the faith as a precursor to Christianity, sought in Hinduism ideas of monotheism, a salvational scheme and notions of the afterlife, which they located and disseminated via discovered Sanskrit texts (Viswanathan, 2003, 25-26). Consequently, Hinduism was accommodated by British authorities, offering a contrast to what Viswanathan terms as the ‘systematic effacement of indigenous practices of religious worship in certain African societies’ (Viswanathan, 2003, 26). There were, however, British factions who were opposed to the faith. The attitude of some missionaries can be represented by Alexander Duff, who stated that ‘Of all the systems of false religion ever fabricated by the perverse ingenuity of fallen man, Hinduism is surely the most stupendous’ (Killingley, 2003, 513). Utilitarians also disliked the religion: James Stuart Mill’s, History of British India (1817) features a condemnation of Hindu culture. This varied British influence had unforeseen results: during the nineteenth century many Indians came to adopt the term ‘Hinduism’, using it as a marker of national identity (Flood, 2003, 3). Subsequently, the religion became one of the means by which Indian nationalists could articulate their separatist aims (Viswanathan, 2003, 26-27).



The World Window travelogue films are driven primarily by Jack Cardiff’s Technicolor cinematography. The results are frequently admirable – in this film there are some stunning portraits of Indian architecture, including the Taj Mahal shot in blue moonlight, and the temple at Belur whose rich carvings are revealed with orchestrated tracking shots. There is also a dance scene which is beautifully lit and edited. Nevertheless, in each of the films the camera’s desire for exoticism and spectacle wins out over any attempt to present a rounded picture. This is particularly notable in this film about Indian religion. In its search for arresting images the subject matter gets lost: is this a film about Hinduism, as the introductory commentary would have us believe, or is it one about Indian temples, incorporating the non-Hindu Taj Mahal? The result is a film with an odd structure, moving from a study of deities (represented in various forms: idols, statues and tapestries), intermixed with a study of architecture, and penultimately the studio-based choreography of the ‘Dance of Destruction’. Correspondingly, the commentary is inconsistent. At times it attempts to provide a background history of Hinduism, at others it is driven by what is taking place on screen, and for the dance number it is almost entirely absent.

The influence of the cinematography should be borne in mind when addressing the filmmakers’ own particular take on Hinduism. This religion is mined for its alien and exotic worth. The commentary opens by stating that ‘of all the great religions in the world, the strangest is the weird faith of the Hindus’, followed by the statement that this is a religion into which ‘no white man is allowed to penetrate’. Nevertheless, the film does attempt to elucidate some of the ‘bizarre beliefs of Hinduism’. It does so by concentrating on some of its most dramatic, peculiar and ancient practices. Hinduism is cast as a monotheistic religion - ‘Every Hindu believes in one god, the supreme spiritual being’ - but we also learn that ‘the god of the Hindu can manifest himself in many forms’. The forms selected in this film are the bloodthirsty goddess Kali, who has demanded both human and animal sacrifice; the monkey-worshipping devotees of the temple at Benares; the ‘legends’ depicted in the ancient carvings at Belur; and Shiva, whose dance of destruction is played out in moodily atmospheric style.

The resultant film has some perplexing features. Although the account of Hinduism is partial and sensationalised, the filmmakers find in India much that they admire. On one level it can be described as a sympathetic portrait. This is a film that wishes to look good and as a result India is displayed in an alluring manner. The musical soundtrack is also well chosen, including the authentic Indian instrumentation that is provided for the dance. Hinduism itself receives the odd word of praise (Hindu legend is described as being ‘rich’ and ‘complex’) and the architecture is often strongly appreciated (the Taj Mahal is termed a ‘dream of beauty’). However, there is an odd contradiction in that, although this film is determined to present India as being utterly different from the west, it finds European inspiration in the parts that it most admires: the design of the Taj Mahal is accredited to a ‘Venetian jeweller’.

Richard Osborne (October 2009)


Works Cited

Cardiff, Jack, Magic Hour (London: Faber and Faber, 1996).

Flood, Gavin, ‘Introduction: Establishing the Boundaries’, in The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, ed. by Gavin Flood (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), 1-19.

Killingley, Dermot, ‘Modernity, Reform, and Revival’, in The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, ed. by Gavin Flood (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), 509-22.

Michaels, Alex, Hinduism: Past and Present (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2004).

Viswanathan, Gauri, ‘Colonialism and the Construction of Hinduism’, in The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, ed. by Gavin Flood (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), 23-44.

Wightman, Simon, ‘Hinduism’, in The New Penguin Handbook of Living Religions, ed. by John R. Hinnells, 2nd edn. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1998), 261-309.



  • INDIAN TEMPLES (Alternative)

Technical Data

Running Time:
11 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
Colour (Technicolor)
958 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Menaka Indian Ballet
BRAV, Ludwig
Production Company
World Window