Faith and Community: An Account of Religious Sites in Somvār and Rāstā Peṭh

This blog post is an account of my work as a research assistant to Borayin Larios from 5th to 20th February 2020 for the project “Rhythms and Religions in Old Pune.” The geographical demarcation of our project is the area comprised of Somvār and Rāstā Peṭhs. In just a 0.7 sq.km radius we located 169 religious sites. Our goals for these two weeks were to mark all the religious sites in the area on Google maps and to interview the locals regarding the historical and contemporary significance of these sites. Since this project is in its incipient stage, we wanted to be as open-minded as possible, so as to let our observations in the field guide us. Our main methodological approach was ethnographical and thus inductive: our interviews were unstructured, and we engaged in participant observation and also visually documented the sites through photography. A key element of our work was mapping each of the sites on the Google map. Since these maps are open to the public to view on this blog, one can use them to identify the shifts and transformations of these religious sites in the next few years or those sites that may end up disappearing. The previous blog post on this page explains in further detail why mapping is significant for this project. Our participant observation included engaging with and observing the ritual activities at religious sites in order to attempt to understand the significance of these actions.

            Throughout the duration of our fieldwork, there was consistently one question on my mind. Perhaps it is a question that does not make much sense in the South Asian context as it concerns the nature of “faith” and “belief”, but despite these being Eurocentric concepts that may not necessarily apply to the religious practices of Hinduism, I couldn’t help but wonder, how does one distinguish between belief in God or any other such being and the authority of the community, in the Indian context? I can think of four different possible outcomes to this question. (a) it could be possible that one believes in God and also obeys the authority of the community; (b) it is possible that one has no belief in God but practices religion because of the bind that it provides to the community; (c) it is possible that one has belief in God but does not answer to the authority of the community; (d) and it is possible that one does neither. Option (b) is a private issue that will not have any social consequences. Neither will option (a) cause any issues for the individual. On the other hand, if one follows options (c) and (d) and thereby rejects the authority of the community, one chooses to exclude themselves from being subject to the norms set by the community. Such a choice may lead to ostracization and the severity of the situation would depend on a case by case basis. I think that it is important to remember that what makes the Indian context even more complicated is that caste and gender restrictions already draw lines of exclusion within Hindu communities. For example, based on caste, persons could be not allowed to participate in communitarian events, or enter certain temples. They may even be denied food or water based on their caste. Menstruating women face such discrimination as well. Such involuntary exclusion is based on the community’s dictates that are primarily determined by the traditions of the area in concern. This exclusion differs from voluntary exclusion in that the individual decides to not abide by the community’s norms. I will say more about this in the last section of the blog post.  

            If a physical space is saturated with signs and symbols that reflect the community’s belief system, then it is likely that the individual and the community share a strong bond. This was definitely the case in the area of Somvār and Rāstā Peṭhs. I would even go so far as to call it a sacralised space, a term employed by Henri Lefebvre to describe a community’s “representational space.” (Levy: 1997, p. 39) The “members obey social norms without knowing it – that is to say, without recognizing those norms as such. Rather they live them spatially: they are not ignorant of them, they do not misapprehend them, but they experience them immediately.” (p. 39) I found this to be true irrespective of the kind of religious space that I was in during fieldwork – while most temples sported an orange flag (with or without an Oṃ symbol), most mosques and dargāhs would have on display green flags of different sizes. Besides this, the area also had many billboards that announced festivals, pūjās, or other such celebrations. Images 1 and 2 are examples of some of them.

Image 1: Billboard announcement for the celebration of Gaṇeśa’s birth by Pratap Mitra Maṇḍaḷ. Photo by Borayin Larios.
Image 2: Billboard announcing Śivājī Jayantī celebrations organized by Naṭarāj Mitra Maṇḍaḷ. Photo by Borayin Larios.

            In her paper, “Tradition in Transition,” Srinivas argues that a “return to an ethnographically driven understanding of religion in India is paramount to examine the complex role of religion in post-modern India.” (Srinivas: 2004, p. 59) Her fieldwork for the paper was conducted in three neighbourhood temples in Malleswaram, Bangalore. The research was conducted over a period of twenty-three months. (p. 57) This paper was a precursor to a book that she wrote fourteen years later titled The Cow in the Elevator: An Anthropology of Wonder (2018). In this book, her physical area of research stays the same – Malleswaram, Bangalore. The book re-evaluates the experience of ritual in terms of the wonder it produces. Unlike previous theorists of ritual, such as Victor Turner, she considers the effects of ritual to spill out into everyday life. The production of wonder, and its experience through ritual, are not confined to the event of the ritual only, its impact is meant to transform the world of the participants.[1] In this blog post, for the sake of brevity, I will be employing just the theoretical tools from the paper “Tradition in Transition” and not Srinivas’ book. Here, she identifies three strategies employed by priests in Bangalore that signaled a shift from traditional ritual patterns and beliefs towards the incorporation of modern technologies and motifs. She finds that the priests have developed a “new grammar” to suit the era of capitalism. (p. 58) The first strategy was the use of technology in rituals, the second is the assimilation of national and/or international imagery into traditional alaṅkāra (dressing/adorning) of the deities, and the third is the “recycling” of traditional folk deities to suit the changes in the lifestyle of the urban middle class. (p. 57)

            Srinivas observed the second strategy in the Mahā Gaṇapati temple, in Malleswaram, Bangalore. On Independence Day, the priest, Kashi prepared Gaṇeśa’s alaṅkāra with the colours of the tricolour. For Srinivas, this dressing symbolized a conflation of the nation-state of India with the deity Gaṇeśa and by extension, Hinduism. (p, 68) With regard to the third strategy, the “recycling” of deities, Srinivas provides the example of a small lone temple that houses Amman, a local deity of Kālī. The temple was located at the very edge of Malleswaram. (p. 69) While Amman was initially worshipped to ward off the plague and cholera, over time, as these diseases subsided in the regions, the Amman temple began to be frequented by truck-drivers who stopped here to pray that they do not get into accidents on their long journeys.

 Brief Overview of Fieldwork

The purpose of invoking Srinivas’ strategies is to see to what extent they apply in Pune as well. By doing so, we will get a better understanding of the common trends in religious practices in urban India. Before doing so, I will provide a brief overview of our fieldwork. The Somvār and Rāstā Peṭhs were established during the Maratha and Peśvā rule in 1636 BCE and 1779 BCE, respectively. (Larios: 2018, p. 5) Peṭhs, or wards, in Pune initially came into being during the Nizāmśāhī rule. There are seventeen Peṭhs in total. In 1610 BCE, Marathi documents showed evidence of the existence of Śāhpur Peṭh, which is now known as Somvār Peṭh. (Kantak: 1990, p. 849) The 169 religious sites that we visited included the Succath Shelomo Synagogue, two churches, four mosques, eight dargāhs, two Śvetāmbara Jain temples, an Ayyappa temple, samādhis for Nāth yogis as well as for Gosāvīs, shrines dedicated to Akkalkoṭ Svāmī, and Sāī Bābā of Shirdi.

            Syncretism within Hinduism is evident in the area. Rigopoulos has observed that in terms of Hindu traditions, Maharashtra displays an inextricable blend of Vaiṣṇavite and Śaivite traditions. (Rigopoulos: 2015, p. 1) In Pune, one does not just find different strands of Hinduism, but also a strong Islamic and Christian culture. While Islam has been in the region since the time of Khiljī dynasty (1290 BCE to 1320 BCE), Christianity came with Western missionaries that found Pune suitable for the set-up of educational institutes. In fact, one of the oldest churches of Pune is found in our area of research, “Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception,” which houses a school as well. Image 3 shows the church within the school compound. The school was set up by a Portuguese missionary with the aid of the Peśvā administration, in the year 1792.[2] [3] In addition to this, Pune is home to Parsis and Jews as well, but it seems like both communities have declining populations in the region.[4]  The Succath Shelomo Synagogue was set up by Bene Israelis who claim to have come to India about 2700 years ago. During our fieldwork, we attempted to enter the synagogue, but we did not get permission to enter the building as the synagogue can only be entered by Jews. In image 4, one can see the main entrance to the synagogue.  Their population has dwindled from five thousand to three hundred in just a matter of a few decades. Pune is also home to a small population of Baghdadi Jews. They pray at the Ohel David Synagogue in Camp area. [5]

Image 3: The “Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church” within the compounds of the Ornellas school, Rāstā Peṭh. Photo by Borayin Larios.
Image 4: Succath Shelomo Synagogue, Rāstā Peṭh, set up by Bene Israelis in 1921. Photo by Borayin Larios.

            Some of the oldest temples in the area include the Rāste Vāḍā Datta Mandir, Śrī Datta Mandir, Kālārāma Mandir, Nāgeśvar Mandir, Triśuṇḍa Gaṇapati Mandir, Śrī Siddheśvar Mandir, Lakṣmī-Nārāyaṇ Mandir, and Lakṣmīśvar Mandir. On Google maps, we have marked these sites in brown to indicate structures that are more than two hundred years old. While a lot of these temples are majestic and awe-inspiring, they are not frequented as often as some of the more popular temples in Pune such as the Kasba Peṭh Gaṇapati and the Pune landmark Śrīmant Dagḍuśeṭh Halvāī Gaṇapati. Perhaps Nāgeśvar temple, is the only temple in the area that draws a big crowd. While the churches, mosques, synagogue, and some of the bigger temples had their own private properties, many of the Hindu structures were either wayside shrines or temples within residential compounds. These shrines or smaller temples are usually run by trusts or Mitra Maṇḍaḷs. Seven out of the eight dargāhs that we found were also wayside shrines. The sole exception was the Lāl Śāh Bābā Dargāh, which had a larger structure that could accommodate more people than the other dargāhs. Personally, I was most enamoured by the Triśuṇḍa Gaṇapati Mandir. This temple was built by Śrī  Bhimgirji Gosāvī Mahārāj during 1754 to 1770 BCE. (Kale: 1996, p. 125) The following two images are of the entrance of the Mandir and the deity housed within.

Image 5: Triśuṇḍa Gaṇapati Mandir, Somvār Peṭh. Photo by Borayin Larios.
Image 6: The statue of Gaṇapati from the inner sanctum of Triśuṇḍa Mandir. The name Triśuṇḍa  means “the one with three trunks.” Photo by Borayin Larios.

            Before continuing, I need to define the terms “wayside shrine” and “Mitra Maṇḍaḷ”. A wayside shrine is “a site that houses a worshipped object that is immediately adjacent to a public path, visible from it and accessible to any passerby.” (Larios and Voix: 2018, p. 6) We found plenty such shrines dedicated to saints, pīrs, Gaṇeśa, Dattātreya, Mārutī, Mhasobā, among other deities. The second is a Mitra Maṇḍaḷ. These are “friend associations or societies” (Larios: 2018, p. 4) that organize the public worship of Gaṇeśa during the Gaṇeśa Caturthī celebrations. This festival starts on the fourth day of the Hindu month of bhādrapada (August/September). Usually, these groups are male-exclusive and are either athletically inclined and/or politically oriented groups that represent a neighbourhood. (p. 4) Mitra Maṇḍaḷs do not just organize Gaṇeśa Caturthī celebrations – but also shown earlier, in Images 1 and 2, they also celebrate Śivājī Jayantī, Navrātri, and other such festivals. For the most part of everyday life, not much religious activity takes place at these Maṇḍaḷs. They usually end up being places for people to meet and spend time together during the evening.

Image 7: The Naidu Gaṇapati Mitra Maṇḍaḷ lies in a part of Rāstā Peṭh that is dominated by South Indians, particularly from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. Most Mitra Maṇḍaḷs in the area looked exactly like this. Some were smaller.

            Davar and Lokhare (2009) claim that dargāhs have a strained relationship with orthodox Islam. Their argument has emerged from their fieldwork in Maharashtra. Dargāhs are a common sight in South Asia, and I do not think that their argument is applicable to all dargāhs in general. The relationship between dargāhs and orthodox Islam must vary based on local factors. Davar and Lokhare observe that dargāhs are places of healing which today act as safe havens for destitute and marginalized sections of society. Their healing practices date back to approximately five centuries ago. These dargāhs tend to be quite syncretic, as they are open to everyone. (Davar and Lokhare: 2009, p. 62) Formal Islam frowns upon the esoteric practices that take place at these sites, argue Davar and Lokhare. The dargāhs that we found in our field differed from those described by these researchers in two ways. First, most of these dargāhs were wayside shrines and therefore they were considerably smaller than the other well-known dargāhs inside and surrounding Pune. Second, there hardly seemed to be any activity (ritualistic or otherwise) at these sites. However, this could possibly be due to the fact that we did not spend enough time at these sites and the data collection is still ongoing and therefore we do not have enough information. Probably during festivals and celebrations, we would have seen more activity at these sites. The dargāhs that we found were mostly located in proximity to a mosque or within a Muslim neighbourhood. The dargāh in image 8 can be classified as a wayside shrine, while image 9 depicts a larger dargāh with a building housing the main tombs. However, this dargāh is also adjacent to the road and some of the tombs are directly accessible to any passerby and are not gated.

Image 8: Mola Śāh Bābā Dargāh, Rāstā Peṭh, can be categorized as a wayside shrine due to its size and location. Photo by Borayin Larios.
Image 9: Lāl Śāh Bābā Dargāh has a larger structure than the other dargāhs in the area. It faces the Pensionwala Masjid in Rāstā Peṭh. Photo by Borayin Larios.

            As observed by Larios elsewhere, often wayside shrines (both Hindu and Muslim) and Mitra Maṇḍaḷs function as identity markers. (Larios and Voix: 2018, p. 9) This was most evident in times when the air is filled with communal posturing. (p. 12) Through the months of December, January, and the first half of February, Pune was an active site for anti-CAA/NRC protests. [6] [7] Despite conducting our fieldwork in the aftermath and during these protests, we did not observe explicit instances of communal posturing in Somvār or Rāstā Peṭh. We did not pursue the question of communalism explicitly during our fieldwork as we were more interested in finding out what these religious sites meant to the people that lived in the neighbourhood. In the future, we will be adding these important questions regarding communal politics to our questionnaire. One thing was clear though, the Muslims and Hindus – for the most part – lived in separate buildings. At the same time, the density of the population in the area is so high that one’s neighbouring building could end up belonging to another community. Often, mosques, dargāhs and Hindu shrines, are in close physical proximity and they even sometimes share boundaries with each other. For example, the Pensionwala Masjid shares its compound with the Ornellas High School, as well as the Nivaḍuṅga Mārutī Mandir. One of the trustees of the Mandir, Mr. Khole, informed us that it was the British who divided the land between the three communities and since then the arrangement has sustained without any communal issues. While a lot of Rāstā Peṭh leading to Nana Peṭh is home mostly to Muslims, most of Somvār Peṭh appears to be dominated by upper-caste Hindus, Marathas, Kunbis, and perhaps other OBCs. Lower castes and Dalits seemed to mostly reside in Bhim Nagar, close to Maṅgalavār Peṭh and other adjacent areas. Bhim Nagar is one of many of Pune’s slums that houses lower-caste settlements.[8] This caste configuration needs to be further examined and supported by empirical data. As of now, my observation has emerged from cultural indicators and not any exact figures.

            A large majority of the Hindu religious sites that we documented were dedicated to these four deities: Gaṇeśa, Dattātreya, Mārutī, and Mhasobā. In terms of frequency, Gaṇeśa temples and Mitra Maṇḍaḷs total up to forty-two sites; Mārutī has twenty-three sites dedicated to him; while Dattātreya has fourteen sites; and Mhasobā has eleven sites dedicated to him. Many of these shrines and temples overlap in terms of the deities that they house. For example, we would often find Mhasobā with Gaṇeśa, or Mārutī. We even stumbled upon a Gaṇeśa-Dattātreya idol, which is essentially a combination of both gods, in the basement of a residential building in Somvār Peṭh. (See image 10) Besides these four gods, Śiva temples in the area would also tally up to a high number. In addition to these gods, we found twelve shrines and temples dedicated to goddesses (devīs). Notable sites are the Tuḷjā Bhavānī Mandir and the Mandhardevī Kaḷubāī Devasthān. (See image 11) In general, most of the religious activity that we observed in the area was loosely structured. The focus was not so much on ritual as much as daily darśana followed by a quick pradakṣiṇā. Rituals primarily take place at festivals, ceremonies, or on particular days of the week. On Monday, people pray to Śiva; on Tuesday, they worship Gaurī/Pārvatī; on Thursday, they worship Dattātreya; on Friday, they worship Lakṣmī; and on Sunday, they worship Khaṇḍobā. (Rigopoulos: 2015, p. 8)

Image 10: Gaṇeśa-Dattātreya idol in the basement of a residential building Somvār Peṭh. Photo by author.
Image 11: Mandhardevī Kaḷubāī idol at her Devasthān in Somvār Peṭh. Photo by Borayin Larios.

            Returning to Srinivas’ article, I find that all three strategies that she mentioned, are visible in Pune as well, but with some differences. In the temples that she visited the priests were the prime agents that implemented the strategies. In Pune, I found that priests (whether Brahmin or otherwise) were not necessarily present at each and every temple, and especially not at all times, but only at the time when rituals were performed. Perhaps one of the few priests that we did encounter was at the Praśneśvar temple, which is a Śiva temple near Shree Chhatrapati Shahu Garden. Besides that, prayers and rituals at the Hindu religious sites were carried out by non-professionals. We found that our area truly displayed popular religion at play. Often we would walk into Mārutī temples to find a group of women sitting together and singing devotional songs. (See image 12) There was little formalized or professionalized religion practiced here. With regard to the first strategy, that is, the use of technology in temples, I found that the extent of the use of technology on a daily basis was limited to lighting and speakers for music or announcements. At the time of festivals, such as Śivājī Jayantī, or Gaṇeśa Caturthī, technology is used in quite an extravagant manner where grand Paṇḍaḷs are organized by different families, trusts, or other such associations. (See image 13)  

Image 12: A group of women singing devotional songs to Mārutī at the Narpatgir Mandir, Rāstā Peṭh. Photo by Borayin Larios.
Image 13: A Paṇḍaḷ on Śivājī Jayantī in honour of IPS officer Ashok Kamte who lost his life during the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai. Photo by Borayin Larios. Above Kamte’s photography is a statue of Śivājī Mahārāj. On the left is an image of his mother, Jijābāī Śahājī Bhosale and on the right is a photograph of Śivājī. Above them is a statue of Tuḷjā Bhavānī. This was just one of about fifty Paṇḍaḷs that we saw on Śivājī Jayantī.

            With regard to the second strategy, we came across a fascinating Mārutī temple called “Bhārata Mātā Mitra Maṇḍaḷ.” (See images 14 and 15 below) This temple had two structures. While one was inside a private compound (in the midst of residential buildings), the other structure was just outside the wall that enclosed the first structure. The second structure that faced the main road was where the Mitra Maṇḍaḷ activities would take place. The Maṇḍaḷ housed a Gaṇeśa idol. While we did not get the opportunity to interview anyone here, the name of the temple was a strong and obvious reference to the imaginary territory of the ideal Hindu Rāṣṭra. Here too, like with the Mahā Gaṇapati temple in Malleswaram, we can see a direct conflation of the nation-state with Hinduism.

            Such conflation was visible at other sites as well. For example, two Mitra Maṇḍaḷs in the area had been named after Subhash Chandra Bose (1897-1945), the Bengali nationalist freedom fighter who preferred violent means over non-violence to attain independence from the British. Interestingly enough, while these Mitra Maṇḍaḷs have names that invoke nationalist imagery they did not employ any explicit symbols that do the same. Many Mitra Maṇḍaḷs and temple trusts have booklets printed which shows the amount donated by each of their patrons and often photos of each of their members resembling school yearbooks. If one goes through this, one can see which individuals and political parties, or cultural organizations have financed the Maṇḍaḷ or trusts activities. Many political parties, including those that are not traditionally right-wing, support temple trusts and Mitra Maṇḍaḷs.

Image 14: Bhārata Mātā Mitra Maṇḍaḷ, Rāstā Peṭh. Photo by Borayin Larios.
Image 15: The Mārutī statue inside the temple. Photo by Borayin Larios.

            The strategy of “recycling” gods is found here, in Pune as well. In his PhD dissertation, Jeffrey Brackett argues that while Mārutī’s “career” began as an important village god, he has now become an everyday urban deity. One of the reasons for this development is that the worship of Mārutī does not demand long, elaborate rituals. (Brackett: 2004, p. 75-76) Mārutī devotion in Maharashtra can be traced back to Rāmdas Swami (17th century). He popularized in Maharashtra, myths about Śani and Mārutī. (p. 58-59) Today, people worship Mārutī to ward off Śani’s evil eye. Brackett observes that Mārutī becomes a god that even the Brahmins of Pune worship. (p. 80) In fact, at some point during Peśvā rule, the number of Mārutī temples being built by Chitpavan Brahmins was higher than the number of Gaṇeśa temples being built by them. (p. 80) This is striking because many of Pune’s Chitpavan Brahmin’s kuladēvatā is Gaṇeśa. Another instance of such “recycling” is the use of the pastoral god Mhasobā as a means to prevent people from littering in a particular spot. (Larios: 2018, p.9) We met a member of the “Heritage Cell” of the Pune Municipal Corporation that confirmed that this does seem to be a common practice in Pune. Mhasobā is a horned buffalo deity, of pastoral tribes in Western and South India. He is often identified as a form of Śiva or Paśupati. (Drury: 2004, p. 285.) I would argue that since Mhasobā is such a commonly worshipped god for most of Maharashtrians, especially Marathas (O’ Hanlon: 2002, p. 155), it makes sense to use him as a marker for not littering. Most people out of respect and fear of the deity would perhaps avoid littering in that spot.

Image 16: This depiction of Hanumān comes from an episode of the Rāmāyaṇa, wherein Hanumān brought back the entire Droṇagiri mountain on which the magical sanjīvani plant grew. Only this plant could save Lakṣmaṇa’s life after he had been injured in battle by Rāvaṇa’s son Indrajīt. We found this wayside shrine just outside Nāgeśvar Mandir in Somvār Peṭh. Photo by Borayin Larios.
Image 17: Mhasobā at a Rickshaw Stand in Somvār Peṭh. Photo by Borayin Larios.

Faith and Community

One of the first few wayside shrines that we had documented was an idol of Tuḷjā Bhavānī in a residential part of Somvār Peṭh. During the first week of fieldwork, we had assumed that the idol was a representation of Yellammā, another name of goddess Reṇukā typically worshipped in Karnataka, but on the second last day, we had a conversation with a local man, who informed us that the idol was a representation of Tuḷjā Bhavānī and not Yellammā. We had stopped to photography a small Mhasobā that was behind the Tuḷjā Bhavānī shrine as we had not noticed it before. While we were going about our usual business of photography and mapping, we realized that a man nearby, sitting on his motorcycle had been watching us. By this point, we were accustomed to such looks and knew that often, moments like these were an invitation for conversation. We began talking to this man. His name was Rajesh and he was from Hubli, Karnataka. His family had been in Pune for at least sixty years now. Our conversation with Rajesh was the most impactful interview for me because it confirmed for me my understanding of the relations between an individual’s faith and their community.

Image 18: A wayside shrine for Tuḷjā Bhavānī in Somvār Peṭh. Photo by author.

            We asked Rajesh about how the Tuḷjā Bhavānī and Mhasobā shrines happened to be in this residential area. He responded by pointing to the adjacent building and said that the Mhasobā had been excluded from the property when the erstwhile Wada had been turned into a modern building. The Tuḷjā Bhavānī idol had been brought for a pūjā by the neighbours but had been kept outside of the building ever since. He expressed great disappointment in the way people have begun to treat the physical idols of deities. He argued that deities are taken out of their rightful places through the process of replication. His reference point here was the statues of Viṭṭhobā, Khaṇḍobā, and Tuḷjā Bhavānī, whose original places of worship (devasthāns) are Pandharpur, Jejuri, and Tuljapur, respectively. When their idols are replicated and worshipped in other physical locations, the deva is being disrespected, as its idol will not receive the same sevā that the idol in the original devasthān receives. Further, he was of the opinion that people do this primarily for two reasons. Either they desire something and bring home idols for that purpose or they set up wayside shrines or Mitra Maṇḍaḷs to show family/community wealth and influence. If one looks closely at image 18 above, one will notice that the Tuḷjā Bhavānī idol seems to be taken care of regularly – one can tell by the fresh flowers, rice, and coconut. On the other hand, if we look at image 19, it does not seem as if the idol is worshipped regularly. While the Tuḷjā Bhavānī idol may have been receiving sevā, Rajesh’s point still holds true for many other neglected shrines that we encountered.

Image 19: The Mhasobā neighbouring Tuḷjā Bhavānī’s wayside shrine, Somvār Peṭh. Photo by Borayin Larios.

            Rajesh seemed to have given this some time and thought because he even had suggestions for us regarding how public spaces that are inhibited by shrines and Maṇḍaḷs could be better used by the municipal corporation. The money that is spent on celebrations and festivals could be spent on feeding the poor or providing beggars with blankets. He stated God resides in human beings as well, helping fellow human beings, too, is a way of showing your devotion to God, his exact words in Hindi were, “bhagavān insān meiṃ bhī rahate haim, garīb log kī sevā karṇa bhī, deva kā sevā hota haiṃ”. Towards the end of the conversation, Rajesh finally got explicit regarding politics by saying that there is no possibility of India progressing towards becoming a developed country, that is “is deś meiṃ tarakkī hone kā koī bhī chance nahī hai.” When I asked him why he thought so, he replied that the Hindu-Muslim issue takes precedence over everything else in this country. Here, by tarakkī, Rajesh meant “progress” through “development”. He argued that Pakistan was in the same boat as us and that neither nation-states would ever be able to match the level of development as the United States because of our lack of political will to focus on anything but communalism. He said that he could not even talk about his stance and opinions in public because he was certain that politicians will name and shame him in the community. To be precise, he said that they would put your name on the front page of the newspaper and defame you. Rajesh’s observations confirm the possibilities of being excluded from the community based on one’s choice to reject the authority of the community.

            The reason why this conversation struck me is that it seemed like the most honest and reflective set of opinions that I had encountered on the field. Our fieldwork did yield other significant interviews but this one stuck with me the most. As an individual, he seemed like someone who partook in religious activities out of compulsion, and not out of faith. He seemed to rationalize that the treatment of deities in the public sphere was an act devoid of faith and that genuine faith is reflected in the way human beings treat each other. He was very aware of the relationship between politics and faith and the impact this has on a community’s norms and practices. I would argue that this worldview fits option (b) that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, that is the individual does not believe in god per se but obeys the authority of the community for practical reasons. One could argue that Rajesh’s perspective fits either the agnostic or humanist thinking, but I think we would have to conduct another interview to determine that. One’s faith or belief in God and the relationship with the community is a complicated one that I have attempted to understand through by separating the two things and trying to understand the different possibilities. I have not included the analysis of other South Asian religions, such as Jainism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. through this lens because this would require me to include further theoretical literature and ethnographical research on the nature of faith and community in each individual religion.

            The Peṭh area is the notorious bastion of tradition in Pune. For me, the practice of tradition in the area does not seem to adhere to scriptures or any religious authority per se. Every temple, shrine, and dargāh seemed to have its own way of functioning. The only exceptions for this, I would think, are the churches and synagogue as they belong to nationwide chapters. The rituals and activities that witnessed at the religious sites were not drowned in seriousness – most of the time, everyone was relaxed, and the gatherings were rather casual. Often these spaces did seem to be used creatively. One of the Mārutī temples that we visited held Bhāratanāṭyam dance classes for young girls during the evenings. Often, closer to Rāstā Peṭh, I would see young Muslim boys relaxing outside the dargāh in their area. Temples, wayside shrines, dargāhs, etc. have always been more than places of prayer. It has been fascinating to observe how these physical locations can become sites for a host of different social activities. These contemporary practices need a closer examination to understand the way tradition is enacted now. Sociologically speaking, Srinivas’ work has been extremely useful as it proves that such a shift in tradition and ritualistic practice is a phenomenon of urban spaces.

            The areas of Somvār and Rāstā Peṭhs were saturated with deities and their idols. Every few metres we encountered another small god or goddess. The area is more diverse than I assumed that it would be and all the churches, dargāhs, and other non-Hindu structures indicated this to us. Many of the religious sites that we visited were beautiful and awe-inspiring. Especially the older structures, which almost seemed to sigh with the weight of tradition and history. Sometimes they would fill me with a feeling of ebullience but sometimes, these sites would remind me of the horror, bloodshed, and politics that happen in the name of religion. This is exactly what would get me thinking about the relationship between the individual and the community and the spaces in which they reside. Overall, my experience in the field left me thinking about a lot of paradoxes: I saw elements of syncretism in the area but at the same time, I saw elements of strict orthodoxy; I saw the co-existence of communities, as well as their implicit communal posturing towards each other; I saw genuine acts of faith as well as purely political moves with regard to religious activity. There is much left to be said about the various deities in the area, the narratives that describe the origins of their worship, and the temples in which their idols are housed. But for now, this account will suffice. What I now know, for certain is that ethnographical research reveals more contradictions than theoreticians would like to admit to. This revelation has definitely enlightened me as a theoretician and practitioner of the humanities.   


[1] https://tif.ssrc.org/2018/07/13/the-cow-in-the-elevator/

[2] http://ornellashighschool.com/our-history/

[3] https://scroll.in/magazine/861503/the-225th-anniversary-of-a-pune-church-is-a-reminder-of-a-forgotten-portugese-peshwa-connection

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p02wmp5q

[5] https://www.hindustantimes.com/pune-news/a-temporary-structure-in-pune-that-withstood-the-test-of-time/story-rT0yd4uvQjhBS9jKUyCfMP.html

[6] The Citizenship Amendment Act (2019) was strongly opposed by Indian students and civil society activists from across the country. https://in.reuters.com/article/india-citizens-un/new-indian-citizenship-law-discriminatory-against-muslims-u-n-says-idINKBN1YH141                     

[7] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/if-nrc-is-deployed-across-india-how-will-you-prove-your-citizenship/are-you-an-indian/slideshow/70509705.cms

[8] https://pmc.gov.in/en/total-slums

Works Cited

Brackett, Jeffrey M. (2004). Practically Hindu: Contemporary Conceptions of Hanumān-Māruti in Maharashtra. Ann Arbor: UMI Microform.

Davar, Bhargavi V., Lokhare, M. (2009). Recovering from Psychological Traumas: The Place of Dargahs in Maharashtra. Economic and Political Weekly, 44(16), 60-67.

Drury, Nevill. (2004). The Dictionary of the Esoteric: 3000 Entries on the Mystical and Occult Traditions. Motilal Banarsidass, 285.

Hanlon, Rosalind ‘O. (2002). Caste, Conflict and Ideology: Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Low Caste Protest in Nineteenth Century Western India (Cambridge South Asian Studies). Cambridge University Press, 155.

Kale, Bhagyashree. (1996-1997). Ucchishta Trishunda Mayureshvara Ganesha. Bulletin of the Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, 56/57, 125-128.

Kantak, M.R. (1990). Development of Pune (Poona) Before its Urbanization (2nd Century B.C. to 1707 A.D.). Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 51, 846-852.

Larios, B. (2018). From the Heavens to the Streets: Pune’s Wayside Shrines. South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal, 18, 1-23.

Larios, B. (2018). Rhythms of Everyday Religion: Sharing Space in a Neighbourhood of Old Pune. Spaces of Religion in Urban South Asia.

Larios, B., Voix. R. (2018). Introduction. Wayside Shrines in India: An Everyday Defiant Religiosity. South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal, 18, 1-42.

Levy, Robert I. (1997). The Power of Space in a Traditional Hindu City. International Journal of Hindu Studies, 1(1), 55-71.

Srinivas, T. (2004). Tradition in Transition: Globalisation, Priests, and Ritual Innovation in Neighbourhood Temples in Bangalore. Journal of Social and Economic Development, 4(1), 57-75.

The Author:
Akanksha Mansukhani is a student of Philosophy who has completed her MA from the Manipal Centre for Humanities, Karnataka. Once the pandemic blows over she will begin her PhD program at the Department of Social, Political, Ethical, and Legal Philosophy at Binghamton University, State University of New York. Other than pursuing her academic interests, Akanksha likes spending time with her dogs, listening to music, and having lengthy conversations over cups of chai. She would like to thank Alok Oak, Department of Political Science, Symbiosis School of Arts for putting her in touch with Borayin Larios for this project. In addition, she would like to thank her friends, Tanvi Deshmukh for helping with translating from Marathi during fieldwork and Sneha Nair for proofreading this blog post.

Gaṇpatī and his rhythms

He has come! Gaṇpatī  Bappā Moryā!
Gaṇeśa or Gaṇpatī as he is popularly known in Maharashtra comes every year in the month of August or September. The Caturthī or ‘the fourth’ (day) of the bright fortnight of the month Bhādrapada is counted as the most auspicious day to honor the elephant-headed god. That is the day he “comes” and stays for 10 days until Anant Caturdaśī (‘the 14th of Anant’, a name of Viṣṇu) This year the festival is celebrated from the 2-12 of September.

The worship of Gaṇeśa may indeed be very old, although scholars don’t always agree about the antiquity of his cult, it is clear that the beginnings of the popular ten-day public festival, as we know it today are modern. While the understudied Gāṇapatya sect bloomed in western India and other parts of India in premodern times, in Pune and environs it received a significant revival during the Peśvā times through the official patronage of the ruling power. The Peśvās were ministers who succeeded the reign of the seventeenth century Marāṭha warrior-king Śivājī and became the first Brahmins to de facto rule a city. Tilak used the festival as a neo-traditionalist platform for organizing speeches and cultural performances about social reform and anti-British propaganda in an attempt to unify Indian society at large. 

Since Tilak’s times, countless associations knowns as Mitra Maṇḍaḷs in all neighborhoods of Pune have emerged (and of course beyond Pune; most famously in Mumbai where every year more than 200 000 idols are submerged in different parts of the city [1]) sometimes creating permanent wayside shrines in order to worship Gaṇpatī all year long.

In Pune, one can still see the legacy of Tilak in the city, especially in the old city. Starting from the permanent Gaṇpatī installed at the Kesari Wada which still hosts The Daily Kesari which is the rebirth of one of the two newspapers founded by the Lokmānya in 1881. The Kesari Wada in Narāyāṇ Peṭh now also hosts a museum in his honor, where one can find personal items and other paraphernalia. During Gaṇeśa Caturthī another idol worshipped only during the 10 days is installed (as with most Mitra Maṇḍaḷs who may also have a permanent idol) and then immersed during the visarjan ritual.

Gaṇpatī at the premises of the Kesari (Lion) Newspaper located in the Kesari Wada in Narayan Peth, Pune. There is also the Lokmanya Tilak Museum A mural with the Lokmānya is in the background as is a statue of him seated on a throne. Photo by author.
Portrait of Tilak with an issue of Kesari on his desk and the first issue of Kesari of 1881. Lokmanya Tilak Museum, Pune. Photos by author.

Many scholars have written about this festival, notably Raminder Kaur in her fascinating monograph and subsequent articles.[2] There are many reasons why one would want to study this particular festival in the context of this research, and I will probably be writing more about it in the future. One of the reasons is that there are at least a dozen of Mitra Maṇḍaḷs in Somvār and Rastā Peṭhs all of which celebrate with great pomp the Gaṇapati festival. They are no real competition to the larger and more famous paṇḍals installed in other peṭh areas, however, they still manage to attract large crowds, and more importantly, they give a sense of community to the inhabitants of the area.


Gaṇpatī shrines run by different Mitra Maṇḍaḷs in Somvār and Rastā Peṭhs. Photos by author.


However, the reason why I am writing about Gaṇeś Caturthī today is because it makes me think about rhythms. As it will soon become evident to the reader, I am slightly obsessed with rhythm as a theoretical framework. One of the most important social rhythms (using Lefebvre’s terminology) is the ‘religious rhythm’ which he doesn’t explicitly conceptualize but likely sees as part of the social rhythm (the other two rhythms being the biological, and the psychological). However, as I see it, for the inhabitants of this area, not a day goes by without religious rhythms affecting (effecting) their everyday life. Countless ritual actions happen according to specific times and needs. There are the daily prayers and offerings to one’s chosen deity at specific times of the day, the weekly calendar in which the most important deities of the Hindu pantheon are given a particular day of worship, then there are the moon cycles again dictating specific ritual actions and observances (mainly revolving around the full and the new moons). Further, the monthly, periodical and yearly cycles which bring invite for specific celebrations according to one’s religious affiliation and family tradition. There is a lot to say about the diverse ritual calendars followed by different communities and according to personal preferences and possibilities in an urban environment like Pune. However, it is clear that these practices carry a certain rhythm that in turn shapes the lives of the inhabitants of these neighborhoods.

Religious rhythm in a place like these old Pune neighborhoods is particularly relevant to understand how these religious sites work, and also why one might encounter the same shrine thriving with ritual activity one day, and deserted the next. During festival times some areas are refashioned to accommodate make-shift altars of such dimensions that one hardly recognizes the area. Not only huge amounts of people come to see such installations and participate in the celebrations, but also the deities move outside of their enclosures into the street displaying their majesty with great pomp. These cycles shape the urban space considerably and at the same time spaces also transform the ritual practice and allow for new rhythms to develop in the everyday lives of its inhabitants.

Some of the installations during Gaṇeśa Caturthī are so large and attract such crowds that the PMC (Pune Municipal Corporation) has recently implemented regulations to limit the size and scope of the temporary shrines (paṇḍals). For instance, paṇḍals now require to leave 25 percent of the road free for traffic (which is still not much considering that they can block 75 percent of the road). This has forced the Mitra Maṇḍaḷs to become even more creative in attracting and competing for devotees without compromising the surface/size of the shrine. One such way is erecting the paṇḍals vertically thus allowing the traffic to flow below them, or using adjacent land.

Paṇḍal in a narrow street in Pune (exact location unknown). Image by Hindustan Times

The make-shift shrines and the ritual and social activities they attract are not always welcomed by everyone. People working during the festival may need to plan with long delays due to increased traffic, or worse a patient trying to get to one of the hospitals in the city center may find it daunting to find a route that is not blocked by a number of shrines. How about a student trying to study for an exam? He or she may need to bet all his/her cards by praying to Gaṇpatī instead of attempting to study with the deafening sound blaring through the speakers of competing paṇḍals. These are but a few examples of people who I have heard complaining, mostly middle-class or upper-class. Some of the key-words that I hear in their complaints are “noise pollution”, “public nuisance”, “show-off” and “uncivilized.” The Gaṇeśa Caturthī celebrations exemplify how the religious rhythm of a city like Pune collides with other everyday social rhythms of its inhabitants. However, for many more (the majority it seems) these paṇḍals are particularly attractive. It seems that these shrines literally compete to instigate wonder in the devotees, onlookers, and passersby alike. This powerful provocation is indeed a vital component of ritual activity in India and perhaps beyond, as Tulasi Srinivas argues brilliantly in The Cow in the Elevator her latest book on the urban religion of Bangalore.

One of the interesting features of rhythm is that while it involves repetition, each repetition is unique and full of creative potential.

Social times disclose diverse, contradictory possibilities: delays and early arrivals, reappearances (repetitions) of an (apparently) rich past, and revolutions that brusquely introduce a new content and sometimes change the form of society. Historical times slow down or speed up, advance or regress, look forward or backward.

Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis p.14

In time, the worship of Gaṇeśa in this city has seen many rhythms, transforming the ritual in inimaginable ways. Going from a domestic brahmanical ritual, to becoming a political instrument for the independent movement with Tilak and his associates, to the mega-spectacle that it is today. Transformations and mutations are part of these and other rhythms, and ritual creativity in pursuit of wonder is an essential part of making sense of one’s life, whether it is to counter modernity or to embrace it. As Lefebvre puts it: “The everyday is simultaneously the site of, the theatre for, and what is at stake in a conflict between great indestructible rhythms and the processes imposed by the socio-economic organisation of production, consumption, circulation and habitat.” Rhythmanalysis p.73

Stand selling Gaṇpatī statues on Mudaliar Road, Somvār Peṭh, Pune. Photo by author.

Gaṇpatī bāppā moryā! puḍhācya varṣī lavkar yā!
Gaṇpatī, come back soon next year!


[1] https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/ganesh-mahotsav-begins-amid-tight-security-rain-predictions-and-economic-gloom-1594265-2019-09-02

[2] Kaur, Raminder (2005) Performative Politics and the Cultures of Hinduism: Public Uses of Religion in Western India.Anthem South Asian Studies . Anthem Press.

Kaur, Raminder (2004) At the Ragged Edges of Time: The Legend of Tilak and the Normalization of Historical Narratives.South Asia Research, 24 (2). pp. 185-202.

Kaur, Raminder (2001) Rethinking the Public Sphere: the Ganapati Festival and Media Competitions in Mumbai. South Asia Research, 21 (1). pp. 23-50.

Kaur, Raminder (2002) Martial Imagery in Western India: The Changing Face of Ganapati from the 1890s. South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 25 (1). pp. 69-96.

see also

Shinde, Kiran. 2014. “Ganesh Festival: A Ten-day Extravaganza; A Life Full of Meanings.” Pp. 23–38 in Routledge Advances in Event Research Series, Rituals and Traditional Events in the Modern World, edited by J. Laing and W. Frost. London, New York: Routledge.

Srinivas, Tulasi. The Cow in the Elevator: An Anthropology of Wonder. Duke University Press, 2018.

Of Gods and Thieves



I have been slow in updating this blog. I took a few days of vacations with my family here in Vienna, and I also have been working on my classes for the upcoming semester. During these few days off, my mother came to visit us from Switzerland and we had a great time with her. However, on her way back on the train from Vienna to Zürich, her luggage was stolen. This very unfortunate event made me think of thieves and shrines.

I wrote an article that deals with two shrines, one of them built by a famous thief in Khadki, not far away from Pune proper. The temple is popularly known as the Corāñcā Gaṇpatī or “the thief’s Gaṇeśa” (although the official name is Śrī Gaṇeś Sevā Mandir) in honor of his patron Madhukar Mohandas Prabhakar, India’s ‘Robin Hood’. I doubt that the people in question who stole my mother’s luggage were Robin Hood and his accomplices, but I hope that the social disparities that put someone in the position of petty stealing will bring them comfort. While of course, I grieve for my mother’s belongings and I condone any thief’s behavior, I commiserate with such petty thieves much more than with those in suits sitting in Wall-Street exploiting people for profit.

This incident with my mother’s luggage reminded me of the many street-shrines erected in India for motives other than devotion to the deity. For instance, there are also very pragmatic reasons for installing a shrine on the sidewalk. One such example is the tiny Mhasobā Mandir found adjacent to the Śrī Uṇṭāde Mārutī Mandir on Mudaliar Road, next to the main entrance of the KEM Hospital on Somvār Peṭh. Next to the entrance is an auto-rickshaw stand, and next to that there is a small shrine at ground level that has what appeared to be an old stone coated with orange vermillion (sindūr). The stone is the Maharashtrian folk god Mhasobā as indicated on the sign painted on the roof protecting the deity.[1] When we enquired the origin and age of the shrine with drivers of the rickshaw stand we did not expect to receive the answer we did. The rickshaw drivers were not only confused by our interest in the shrine but also amused that someone would even ask about their deity. One of the drivers told us that the shrine was only a few years old. “Around seven” said one, “maybe ten” said the second. As we asked for the motivation behind setting up a Mhasobā shrine there, I expected the typical answer one gets at shrines owned and maintained by rickshaw stands: “for protection and blessings,” or “this is our God, he helps us in our day” as I heard often in my enquires elsewhere in the city. But the answer was different this time. The rickshaw drivers explained that they erected the shrine because people used to dump their garbage there and there was a lot of “trouble”. According to them, drunkards, beggars and else undesirable characters used to roam there and the garbage was becoming an issue. So they decided to solve the problem by erecting a Mhasobā shrine.

Mhasobā Mandir on Mudaliar Road, next to KEM Hospital, Pune.

When asked about the choice for this god, the rickshaw driver retorted: “everyone is afraid of Mhasobā. So we put him there.” While the surroundings of the shrine are indeed not particularly dirty anymore, he also explained to us that just the day before, someone had broken into the donation box, despite the fact that it is cemented into the structure of the shrine. “It is not the first time this has happened,” he told us. “Rascals are everywhere nowadays.” Was Mhasobā not successful in protecting the donation box? “They will be punished by God” (deva tyānnā śikṣā karīla) retorted the rickshaw driver with certitude.

Other shrine owners and caretakers report facing the same problems. Some have taken a number of measures for protecting their shrines. The many gates, locks, and even CCTV cameras are a testimony to their hope of keeping thieves away.

Maybe we the Austrian Railway System also needs a Mhasobā shrine in every train? In any case, next time we travel we will bring a lock for our luggage.


[1] Mhasobā is buffalo deity of pastoral tribes in Maharashtra and other parts of South India.



Where to start? Maps

I stated in the about page. The idea of this blog is to create a sort of echo chamber to toss around my ideas, and hopefully, get this project more form and structure. The plan is also to have a place to collect my fieldwork notes. I usually have my notes scattered all over the place: handwritten journals, different word files that get lost in my hard-drives, annotations on PDFs, on photocopies and printouts, on loose paper, and you name it!

I have always struggled in my research projects in keeping things organized and well-planned. Partly, because I am chaotic by nature (so yes, it is mostly my fault!), and partly because India is also a chaotic place where things rarely happen according to plan and one is constantly improvising. I might be making excuses here, but many of my colleagues and friends who work in South Asia can confirm this. Or maybe they are just as chaotic as me?

In any case, my hope with this blog is to be able to write more without the pressure of writing in such a way that it is clean and publishable (as in a peer-reviewed academic journal) and where I can post also other media, such as images and videos.

So where to start? I thought that my first entry would be about maps and the practice of mapping. However, since I am no geographer or urban planner, and I have zero training as a cartographer or the like, maps have so far been a tool and not an object of inquiry. However, as I dip my toes into this field, I find the topic all the more fascinating and rich. To which extent I will be theorizing maps for this project, I am still uncertain, but I am looking forward to exploring this subject more as this project takes form.

Detail of an old map from 1830 where one can see the area of the Peṭhs. Source: India Office, London. Details to be updated.
Detail of an Image taken from page 285 of ‘Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency. [Edited by Sir James M. Campbell. General index, by R. E. Enthoven.]’ British Library.

Not long ago, I started looking for maps of old Pune. When I say old, I mean from the colonial period onwards, because, as far as I know, there are no maps of the city or the area previous to the arrival of the British to the city. However, I would love to be proven wrong about this (if anyone knows or has seen a map, say from the Peśvā times or perhaps from the Portuguese, please let me know!) Indeed, before the Peśvās, Pune was just a small town around the Kasba market and it was only later that it was developed and grew in political and cultural importance (Diddee, Gupta and Bhandare 2000). The reason to look at the old maps of Pune is to see the urban development of the city from its conception during the Peśvā times (1713–1818) until today. For me, the main interest is to see if any important religious landmarks are mentioned and mapped and also to see how the early neighborhoods of Somvār Peṭh and Rastā Peṭh looked like a few decades ago. I am also keeping in mind important events that drastically changed the city, such as the massive flood of 1961, when the Panshet Dam burst. There are a few academic articles that tackle the question of Pune’s urbanization [the most recent perhaps was published two years ago, (Butsch et al. 2017)].

Beyond the actual search for historical maps, I believe that maps can give us hints at how positioning oneself relationally in space engenders a sense of belonging to the locality. While geographers have shown that mapping involves spatial and infrastructural relationships, they have also argued that this practice also creates or reinforces a mental landscape, and that often mental landscapes precede cartographic maps. This includes, of course, the awareness of sacred sites or places of worship within a specific neighborhood. These sites are deeply connected with feelings of belonging or the lack thereof, and ultimately with the religious identities of its inhabitants. A place is often rendered “sacred” through the presence of divine beings, local spirits, or saints which are the repository of a particular kind of power. The interaction with these powers is mediated through a number of practices some of which include simply the recognition of their presence in a particular locality. For many others, however, the recognition is but a starting point of a relationship from which an array of practices may unfold: offering various gifts, receiving blessings, asking for favors, offering vows, etc. More often than not, this relationship is not only personal but rather communal, and therefore the divinity is not only an instrument that mediates between itself and the individual but also one that acts as a catalyzer among neighbors themselves, as well as with outsiders.

“The idea of mental landscape is associated with a spatial understanding of modernity that has long been central to the scholarship on cities and to urban ethnography.”

Rashmi 2010: 77

The project I am envisioning tries to grasp some of the narratives of how various actors experience, imagine and culturally represent Somvār Peṭh and Rastā Peṭh, and at the same time, how the constantly changing urban environment has been shaping their social realities for the last two-three centuries.

Knowledge of place stems from human experiences, feeling and thought. […] People are immersed in a world of places which the geographical imagination aims to understand and recover – places as contexts for human experience, constructed in movement, memory, encounter and association. There may be a strong affection for place (topophilia) or aversion (topophobia), but places are always far more than points or locations, because they have distinctive meanings and values for persons

Tilley 1994:15

Through new technologies such as GIS mapping, unexplored opportunities for documenting a particular locality are opening up to scholars like myself. I am yet to explore and understand the possibilities of such technologies, but also, for example, the power of collaborative data collection and analysis.

I have also yet to fully explore the vast literature on the subject of maps and South Asian cartography. Starting with the work of my previous advisors and colleagues in Heidelberg, Prof. Axel Michaels and Prof. Jörg Gengnagel who lead the Benares Project. Prof. Gengnagel then published an edited volume with Prof. Martin Gaenszle (2006) entitled Visualizing Space in Banaras. Images, Maps and the Practice of Representation and finally his own monograph entitled (2011) Visualized texts. Sacred spaces, spatial texts and the religious cartography of Banaras.

More to come…

Works cited:

Butsch, C., Kumar, S., Wagner, P., Kroll, M., Kantakumar, L., Bharucha, E., … & Kraas, F. (2017). Growing ‘smart’? Urbanization processes in the Pune urban agglomeration. Sustainability9(12), 2335.

Diddee, Jaymala; Gupta, Samita; Bhandare, Sandesh (2000): Pune. Queen of the Deccan. Pune: Elephant Design Pvt. Ltd.

Gaenszle, Martin; Gengnagel, Jörg (Eds.) (2006): Visualizing Space in Banaras. Images, Maps and the Practice of Representation. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz (Ethno-Indology, 4).

Gengnagel, Jörg (2011): Visualized texts. Sacred spaces, spatial texts and the religious cartography of Banaras. Zugl.: Heidelberg, Univ., Habil-Schr., 2005. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz (Ethno-Indology, 7).

Sadana, Rashmi (2010): On the Delhi Metro: An Ethnographic View. In Economic and Political Weekly 45 (46), pp. 77–83. Available online at https://www.jstor.org/stable/25764128.

Tilley, Christopher Y. (1994): A Phenomenology of Landscape. Places, Paths and Monuments. Oxford, Providence: Berg (Explorations in anthropology).