India's 'imagined landscape', where 'geographical landscape is filled with legend and stories'
- IPL spot-fixing case: Net widens, police watching 3 more players, other bookies
- IPL 2013 LIVE SCORE: Regular wickets keep Sunrisers Hyderabad in the hunt
- Sonia Gandhi, PM Manmohan Singh slam BJP for disrupting Parliament, stalling bills
- IPL spot-fixing: 'Bookie' Vindoo was close to BCCI chief's son-in-law, say cops
- Jessica Lall case: Shayan Munshi to face perjury trial
You've just returned from a five-day visit to the Kumbh Mela with a group of Harvard students. What was the experience like?
It was a multi-disciplinary group, looking at the Kumbh Mela through many different perspectives, like electricity, sanitation, urban planning, small businesses, environment and, of course, for me from a religious perspective... In Sacred Geography the most significant thing of Kumbh is that there is no temple, no altar, it is the rivers themselves. In India, there are temples large and small but there is an interweaving of narrative and mythology and theology with the places that pilgrims go to. Kumbh Mela is a great example of that.
In your book (Sacred Geography) you write in detail about the imagined landscapes of India. What does that signify?
It is the way in which people hold in their minds a sense of India. It is imagined not in that it is made up, but it is a mental construct of India that is very old. It is an imagined landscape where the geographical landscape is filled with legend and stories. A village temple, a shrine, everything has a story attached to it. And every story has a place. The importance of both is very important to me. I call it a locative landscape, where it is about location and it is not about exclusive locations. I know that personally, as I lived in Varanasi for many years — it has a set of referential meanings to a number of places across the country.
You write in detail about how significance is marked not by uniqueness but by multiplicity. Why did you zoom in on the repetitive aspect of religious practice in India?
There is no one place that is supremely important in India. Things that are important are not meant to be exclusive. When I think of the Ayodhya controversy, when they say they must build the temple in one particular place, I feel that goes against the plenitude of divine presence. To say it is one place goes against the idea of the imagined landscape.
Some critics have pointed out that in India religion is such a fraught issue and that sacredness, specially Hindu sacredness, can be used to exclude others. How would you address that?
That is a difficult question. When I was working on this book, from time to time I had to step back. During the Ram janmabhoomi controversy I realised this could be exploited by the Hindu nationalists but then anything can be exploited. Anyone who reads this book will know that the tenor of the book is that the divine presence is not about exclusivity but there is a generosity about the Hindu presence. Of course, if I had another lifetime, I'd write about the dargahas, which I address only in one chapter. Which is also true to the Jain landscape. I don't pay nearly enough attention to the Jain tirthas. There are a lot of ways of imagining India; there isn't one set of imagining it. I also think it is important to understand how powerful this landscape is.
Since 1991 you have been heading the Pluralism Project, which explores religious diversity in America. How has pluralism affected America?
My own experience as a teacher at Harvard University has changed so much, because the cultural and ethnic differences of the world are present in American universities. I had no background like this when I was in college, my students take it for granted, this is the sea they swim in. Of course, there are some places that still have stereotypes, but that is changing. I am now working on a book on how pluralism has become the most important question — how to live with difference and not to smooth it out. Pluralism has been historically important for India and the US and increasingly for other countries as well.
You grew up as a Christian child in the mountains of Montana. How did you first get interested in
It was in 1965, during the Vietnam War. I came to India on a study tour. I wanted to know more about India, because no one in my world knew about Asia at that time. There were nine of us at the Banaras Hindu University. I found an enormously rich life, especially religiously. It was a challenge to understand the culture, there were multiple images of the divine and infinite stories. My attention first fell on Kashi, but I realised to understand that one place I needed to know a lot more.
- Fixing probe now reaches Bollywood, son of Dara Singh held
- BCCI cashes Pune Warriors guarantee, 'disgusted' Sahara walks out of IPL
- Sreesanth spent Rs 1.95L on clothes, bought friend BlackBerry, paid in cash: Police
- Delhi firm with MoD as client is linked to Pak cyberattacks
- After Infosys, iGATE sacks Phaneesh Murthy for sexual misconduct
- 2 weeks after harassment, Haryana schoolgirls return, cops in tow