Akshardham Temple in New Delhi: Conjuring ‘Heritage', ‘Strengthening' Community

Tuesday, 12 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Saswati BHATTACHARYA, Lady Shri Ram College for Women, India
This paper seeks to demonstrate how some of the modern religious sects attempt to create a social, cultural, and political identity that personifies its uniqueness on one hand and stresses on a continuity with the past on the other. In the lives of contemporary societies religion is thus strategically used as a political and social act. In the newly built Akshardham temple complex in New Delhi, a religious discourse is created through images, texts and architecture that curiously simplify contestations within Hinduism to produce a seamless narrative of Swaminarayanis and the legacy of Sahajanand Swami in the deistic realm of a Hindu India. Remaining true to the league of grandiose that is the hallmark of the BAPS, this temple project may be interpreted as a powerful attempt to re-claim heritage in a time and space when as a sect it is mostly identified with the Gujarati diaspora. It focuses our attention on the strategic use of religion to promote a position or diminish the assertions of others. It raises the uncomfortable questions of a co-option of the political and economic capital of one religious sect in further creating, strengthening and managing the discourse of Hindu heritage. Moreover, the blurring of boundaries of faith and tourism, of politics and market, of religious solitude and exhibitionism is what makes Akshardham a unique sociological space that may be worth exploring from a critical theory standpoint.