Diaspora of the Gods: Modern Hindu Temples in an Urban Middle-Class World

Diaspora of the Gods: Modern Hindu Temples in an Urban Middle-Class World

Diaspora of the Gods: Modern Hindu Temples in an Urban Middle-Class World

Diaspora of the Gods: Modern Hindu Temples in an Urban Middle-Class World

Synopsis

Many Hindus today are urban middle-class people with religious values similar to those of their professional counterparts in America and Europe. Just as modern professionals continue to build new churches, synagogues, and now mosques, Hindus are erecting temples to their gods wherever their work and their lives take them. Despite the perceived exoticism of Hindu worship, the daily life-style of these avid temple patrons differs little from their suburban neighbors. Joanne Waghorne leads her readers on a journey through this new middle-class Hindu diaspora, focusing on their efforts to build and support places of worship. She seeks to trace the changing religious sensibilities of the middle classes as written on their temples and on the faces of their gods. She offers detailed comparisons of temples in Chennai (formerly Madras), London, and Washington, D.C., and interviews temple priests, devotees, and patrons. In the process, she illuminates the interrelationships between ritual worship and religious edifices, the rise of the modern world economy, and the ascendancy of the great middle class. The result is a comprehensive portrait of Hinduism as lived today by so many both in India and throughout the world. Lavishly illustrated with professional photographs by Dick Waghorne, this book will appeal to art historians as well as urban anthropologists, scholars of religion, and those interested in diaspora, transnationalism, and trends in contemporary religion. It should be especially appealing for course use because it introduces the modern Hinduism practiced by the friends and neighbors of students in the U.S. and Britain.

Excerpt

The Kapaleeswara Temple in the middle of Mylapore in Madras (now Chennai) always seemed welcoming to visitors from abroad. I remember attending a function in the temple in 1967 as the guest of Dr. V. Raghavan, who was my advisor in India at the time. I later discovered that Dr. Raghavan’s expertise also benefited Milton Singer, whose soon-to-be published book on Madras would influence the study of culture, religion, and modernization for the next thirty years. Over a decade later I first saw the grand procession of Lord Kapaleeswara in his silver palanquin along South Mada street, one of the four streets that border the temple and its massive tank. the late-afternoon sun shone on Lord Shiva’s bronze face as all of his sixty-three devoted servants—the Nayanmar—faced him, two by two and three by three, in their own brightly painted palanquins. At that point I was researching many miles to the south in the former princely state of Pudukkottai, but that sight stayed with me over the next decade. When I returned with my photographer-husband Dick Waghorne in 1986–87, we documented most of the festival cycle of this grand Shaiva temple, funded through a senior fellowship from the American Institute of Indian Studies.

During that year, our interest in rituals led us to the suburbs of the city, where groups of neighbors hired priests to perform elaborate consecration rituals for their new temples just coming up in the “colonies”—the term used, ironically, for subdivisions of old farmland. Much to our surprise, announcements for the same rituals of . . .

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