Volume 70 Numbers 4, June 2019

The Contemporary Hindu Temple: Fragments for a History

Edited by: Annapurna Garimella, Shriya Sridharan and A. Srivathsan.
Binding: Hardcover
Specifications: 152 pages, 125 illustrations
ISBN: 978-93-83243-27-3
Dimensions: 305 x 241 mm

Contemporary Hindu temples raise aesthetic, economic, political and philosophical questions about the role of architecture in making a place for the sacred in society. This book presents the Hindu temple from the perspectives of institutions and individuals, including priests, building practitioners and worshippers, to consider what it means when the temple is no longer at the centre of Indic life, but has instead become one among several important sites of social praxis.

The Contemporary Hindu Temple takes as its subject the multiple forms of architecture, design and sociability that Hindu spaces of worship encompass today. The essays cover shrines located in urban and rururban India, where Hindu temples are being maintained, resuscitated or newly constructed at a rapid pace. The authors of the essays in this volume take the contemporary as a moment in which historic structures, modern renovations, evolving religiosities and new design and construction practices intersect and converge. This centres the temple in a landscape of automobility, wireless connectivity and economic reformation, at the crossroads of informal acts of insertion, formal planning and governmentality, or as an architect-designed structure consciously being pushed toward the fresh horizons that a changing society offers. By focusing on a variety of structures, large and small, on expansive forms of encroachment, and on incremental acts of negotiation and seemingly insignificant processes, small feelings and pieties, this book nuances and expands our understanding of the Hindu temple today.

Annapurna Garimella is an art historian and designer. Her research focuses on late medieval Indic architecture and the history and practices of vernacular art forms in India after independence. Her most recent book is about a collaboration between a Rajasthani miniature painter and an expatriate American photographer and is titled The Artful Life of R. Vijay (2016).

Shriya Sridharan teaches at the Department of Art and Art History at Santa Clara University, California. She has a PhD in Art History from Binghamton University, State University of New York. Her research focuses on contemporary Hindu temples, looking at their art-historical and religious meanings, building practices and spatial uses.

A. Srivathsan is an architect and urban designer, and currently the Academic Director, CEPT University, Ahmedabad. His research and writing include the themes of temple towns, urban history and planning. As an architecture critic, he frequently writes on contemporary architectural practices.

Contents

Annapurna Garimella

Temple Renovation and Chettiar Patronage in Colonial Madras Presidency
Crispin Branfoot

Resilient Monuments and Robust Deities: Renewing the Sacred Landscape and Making Heritage Sites in Contemporary Bengal
Pika Ghosh

Sri Govinda Dham: Devotion in Grievance
Baishali Ghosh

Vrindavan and the Drama of Keshi Ghat
John Stratton Hawley

The Contemporaneity of Tradition: Expansion and Renovation of the Vedanta Desikar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai
Shriya Sridharan

Svayambhu in the Park: Temples in Jayanagar, Bangalore
Annapurna Garimella

New Iconographies: Gods in the Age of Kali
Vaishnavi Ramanathan

The Contemporary Political Economy of Traditional Aesthetics and Materiality
Samuel K. Parker

Sacredness Outside Tradition? Dilemmas in Designing Temples
A. Srivathsan

Introduction
Garimella, Annapurna
Vol. 70 No. 4, June 2019; ISBN: 978-93-83243-27-3, pp. 6–21

This book seeks to contribute to the study of contemporary temples by defining the term "contemporary" as a viewpoint to examine ancient as well as recently built temples and to tudy the Hindu temple from the perspective of formal and informal institutions and individuals. One question the contributors seek to address is the notion of sacrality and space-how is the experience of the divine made possible in the contemporary temple? This volume contributes to existing studies and attempts to demarcate fresh horizons for future studies.

Temple Renovation and Chettiar Patronage in Colonial Madras Presidency
Branfoot, Crispin
Vol. 70 No. 4, June 2019; ISBN: 978-93-83243-27-3, pp. 22–35

In the early 20th century, British archaeologists were outraged by the number and scale of temple renovations taking place across the Tamil country in south India. The community singled out as responsible for most of these projects were the Nattukottai Chettiars, a group of merchants and moneylenders who became very wealthy within the colonial economy of British India and Southeast Asia. This essay examines these renovations of old temples and the construction of new ones to demonstrate the continuity of Hindu temple construction into the 20th century and explore the motivation of these pious patrons at the time of the "Tamil Renaissance".

Resilient Monuments and Robust Deities: Renewing the Sacred Landscape and Making Heritage Sites in Contemporary Bengal
Ghosh, Pika
Vol. 70 No. 4, June 2019; ISBN: 978-93-83243-27-3, pp. 36–47

This essay explores how the beliefs and practices articulated among various constituencies of the living community at Bishnupur contribute to sustaining the town’s reputation as one of West Bengal’s major Vaishnava sacred sites and pilgrimage centres since the 17th century. Here, Krishna had chosen to embrace a lineage of local kings and community, and to animate the landscape with his presence. Drawing from ethnographic and visual analysis, the author attends to some of the dynamic negotiations between buildings, icons and human participants in this narrative.

Sri Govinda Dham: Devotion in Grievance
Ghosh, Baishali
Vol. 70 No. 4, June 2019; ISBN: 978-93-83243-27-3, pp. 48–59

The essay describes how Sri Govinda Dham in Kanchannagar, Burdwan was the locus of claim, confrontation and reconciliation between the local Karmakar community and refugees from Bangladesh in the 1970s and 1980s. While this temple might not find a place in the lineage and legacy of temple architecture in South Asia, it is an archaeological account of ordinary peoples' emotion and memory. In this essay, the author discusses how the people of Kanchannagar historicize their grievances through devotion and how the architecture of this temple developed.

Vrindavan and the Drama of Keshi Ghat
Hawley, John Stratton
Vol. 70 No. 4, June 2019; ISBN: 978-93-83243-27-3, pp. 60–73

Among the beautiful ghats of Vrindavan, Keshi Ghat is iconic. Until recently, even in the hot season, the Yamuna's sacred waters could be counted on to touch the town there, but this is no longer so. Diminished by Delhi's demands and by agricultural and industrial use upriver, the Yamuna has receded from Vrindavan. In recent years government-sponsored projects have attempted to compensate for the loss with projects seeking modernization and "beautification". If they succeed, they will separate the classic structures of Keshi Ghat from the river forever. Here we survey such efforts and the opposition they have caused. We also hint at ISKCON's effect on the new Vrindavan-a projected 210-metre tower, among other things. But ultimately we want to follow pilgrim-visitors to Keshi Ghat itself. If they try to reach the Yamuna from there, they must climb over recently laid sewer pipes now shredded by the monsoon-gorged river.

The Contemporaneity of Tradition: Expansion and Renovation of the Vedanta Desikar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai
Sridharan, Shriya
Vol. 70 No. 4, June 2019; ISBN: 978-93-83243-27-3, pp. 74–83

This essay focuses on the expansion and renovation of the Sri Vedanta Desikar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai, in 2012-13. This temple dedicated to the 13th-14th-century acharya was first built around 300 years ago, according to temple authorities. This essay analyses the recent renovation project to note the continuation of traditional temple building practices, accommodation of contemporary materials, and highlights the project's focus on the spatial uses of worshippers. In doing so, it presents an alternative to the dominant study of Hindu temples as pre-modern Indian monuments, by framing them as contemporary built environments.

Svayambhu in the Park: Temples in Jayanagar, Bangalore
Garimella, Annapurna
Vol. 70 No. 4, June 2019; ISBN: 978-93-83243-27-3, pp. 84–97

The essay is a sthalapurana, or place history, of a park in south Bangalore where the emergence of a "self-born" (svayambhu) god in the 1990s-in this case, Ganesha-transformed the civic and political landscape of the Nehru-era planned space. The materials, the incremental expansion of the temple and the subsequent replanning of the park allowed for this svayambhu Ganesha to gain a temple of his own, as well as two ancillary shrines dedicated to other gods. The author analyses the temple, as it stands today, as a complex aesthetic and sacred experience that is embedded in the anxieties and desires of its publics, party politics, old and new media, especially the use of the smartphone, and the growing digital economic regime.

New Iconographies: Gods in the Age of Kali
Ramanathan, Vaishnavi
Vol. 70 No. 4, June 2019; ISBN: 978-93-83243-27-3, pp. 98–113

In this essay, the author traces the growth of temples in Chennai, focusing on the Lakshmi Kuberar and Dhanvantri temples and the concomitant change in traditional iconography manifested through these temples. Taking the case of the Adhyantha Prabhu icon, Ramanathan unravels the complex network between religious publications, icon-makers, artists, religious leaders and the lay public. At the heart of this lies man's desire for a god who understands and responds to the devotee's demands and this is ultimately realized in the new iconographies.

The Contemporary Political Economy of Traditional Aesthetics and Materiality
Parker, Samuel K.
Vol. 70 No. 4, June 2019; ISBN: 978-93-83243-27-3, pp. 114–131

This essay examines ethnographic evidence from South Asia indicating an ongoing cultural shift away from an older prioritization of the sacred and toward the increasing dominance of a radically individualistic, private property-oriented cosmology latent beneath the surface of manifest, neo-liberal economic values, practices, myths and institutions. The collection, fetishization and museumization of once-sacred temples and images (and the systems of what are now classified as "traditional" practice, through which they are produced and used) effectively urges us to pretend that they don’t really exist in the present except as some kind of inert, lingering “heritage”. These supposedly modernizing practices operate in hidden service to the glacial advance of a totalizing economic ontology, in which the actual substance of reality is ultimately reduced to economic values and self-interested motivations. For advocates of globalization and neoliberal economic priorities all this may seem as a welcome expression of universal Human Nature, however, for those who prioritize other values, such as dharma and moksha, these trends warrant a justifiable scepticism.

Sacredness Outside Tradition? Dilemmas in Designing Temples
Srivathsan, A.
Vol. 70 No. 4, June 2019; ISBN: 978-93-83243-27-3, pp. 132–149

This essay reviews select temples built by professional architects and points to the design dilemmas and how architects are perilously torn between tradition and modernity. While architects have enthusiastically embraced and invented new idioms in other spheres of building, when it comes to temples, they are hesitant and let historical forms dominate their imagination. A deep suspicion about the abilities and appropriateness of modern architecture to produce a Hindu temple seems to prevail even as its technologies, expertise and sometimes spatial configurations are implicated in continuation of tradition.