Coda Temple, Community, and Heritage-Making

In: Mapping the Pāśupata Landscape
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Elizabeth A. Cecil
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The preceding chapters have explored the ways in which the creation of a Pāśupata identity was communicated through text and materialized in places. Examining the narrative mapping of the Pāśupata landscape in the SP, I proposed we read the text’s geographic imaginary as an effort to constitute a community and claim a place for that community in time and in space. In addition to articulating a powerful rhetorical vision, this imagined landscape served to stake a geopolitical claim. The previous case studies have considered the implications of that claim by mapping the patterned interactions between Pāśupata communities and Early Medieval India’s political and economic networks. This historical mapping looked beyond the textual horizon to consider the vernacular geographies that existed on the ground using inscriptions and material evidence from the built landscape (i.e. temples, monuments, and images). Finally, I examined the iconography of Lakulīśa, the ascetic teacher and emblem of Pāśupata identity and interpreted transformations in his material representation and display within temple spaces as recording significant moments in an ongoing conversation between Pāśupata communities and the polyphonic regional religious landscapes in which they were embedded.

In each of the preceding chapters, attention to place has been a central concern. By examining the inscriptions that record evidence of temple donation and maintenance, I have shown that endowing and constructing temples in Early Medieval India was one facet of a larger repertoire of practices centered around ritualized and often public acts of donation, commemoration, and memorialization. Donations were motivated by the desire to gain religious ‘merit’ which accrued to the donors and their family members, living and deceased, by virtue of these acts of piety. Thus, investments in places held salvific potential and donative records were often framed in soteriological terms. While augmenting the merit of particular donors, investments in temple complexes were not necessarily individual undertakings. Collective or corporate donations by trading diasporas, artisans, and guilds, created tangible links to places where community identities and connections could be expressed and renewed. The various motivations that informed these pious acts reflect different facets of the social function of temples as media through which a wide range of social relationships and senses of ‘belonging’ were affirmed and reaffirmed (i.e. kinship groups, community identities, political alliances, economic bonds, and so on). Finally, in addition to serving as material instantiations of interpersonal relationships, religious institutions also served to socialize space by marking the geographic center within the lived spaces of settlements and polities.

As has also become evident through the sources surveyed in the preceding chapters, commissioning a temple was not a singular act, but a process that was realized over an extended period of time. As monuments intended to last ‘as long as the sun and the moon should endure’ according to a common epigraphic trope, medieval temples required regular maintenance and temple complexes were periodically augmented and renovated. These repairs and additions were funded through various means—pious donations as well as taxes on trade goods, tithes, and revenues from real estate and agrarian land-holdings. Some of the inscriptions surveyed in the previous chapters—the Indragarh record, for example—explicitly mention such additions. In other cases, as at Kāman, we can observe the process ‘in action’ through records of donations made over extended periods of time. While a foundation inscription may name an individual donor, the task of maintaining the life of a temple required a collaborative effort. These examples show temples to be dynamic parts of equally dynamic religious landscapes that provided potential for merit making long after their foundations were laid.

Now some one-thousand years or more after their construction began, many of the early Śaiva temples I have studied are listed as protected monuments by the Indian government. These protected temples have become vital media for the expression of highly politicized representations of India’s ‘primordial’ culture and its enduring ‘national heritage.’ The marketing of these early temples as heritage has introduced global networks of transnational agencies (like UNESCO) and new flows of people and economies via tourism. While the source of certain socioeconomic benefits, heritage-making often involves fraught politics. I have witnessed the tensions between the values of local communities who want to continue to use, maintain, and worship within these monuments, and the machinations of state and government funded agencies, which often marginalize the role of these communities as the custodians of the nation’s tangible heritage. These debates about heritage-making take many forms, but the central issue, and the source of much of the conflict, converges around practices of preservation. Practices and modes of temple repair often put local communities at odds with these organizations and agencies since the very notion of what it means to ‘preserve’ is so deeply contingent. For heritage agents, the monuments are a symbol of the past conceived as a static entity, the integrity of which depends on its preservation as something unchanging and fundamentally distinct from the vicissitudes of the present. For many communities, however, the conception of the past that informs their engagement with material culture is more akin to purāṇa—i.e. something rooted in the primordial but, at the same time, renewable, able to be made and re-made. Albeit brief, this reflection on the complex materiality of the Pāśupata landscape opens up a space for new questions and considerations of the ways in which the value of the past inheres in material culture.

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