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Lord in the Temple, Lord in the Tomb: The Hindu Temple and Its Relationship to the Samādhi Shrine Tradition of Jnāneśvar Mahārāj

  • Author(s): McLaughlin, Mark Joseph;
  • Advisor(s): Holdrege, Barbara A.;
  • et al.

"Lord in the Temple, Lord in the Tomb" is a sustained analysis of Hindu samadhi shrine burial practice and its relation to broader Hindu temple traditions. The study is structured as a two-part exploration of Hindu sacred space. Part I is an extended study of the development of Hindu temple traditions, from their roots in Vedic ritual structures to their full flowering in the ideology of temple design delineated in the Vastu-Shastras and Shilpa-Shastras. Central to the development of the Hindu temple is the understanding of the space as pervaded by the living presence of the deity who is housed within in the form of a murti (sculpted image). I provide a sustained analysis of two particular temple traditions, one Shaiva and one Vaishnava--the Minakshi-Sundareshvara temple complex in Madurai and the Vitthal temple compound in Pandharpur--to illustrate how the understanding of the temple as a "living space" dictates the manner in which the space is interacted with over time, leading to what I call a mythico-historical personality of place. I highlight the process by which the temple space is continually re-inscribed with new layers of meaning through the devotees' repeated encounters with that space over time.

In part II of my study, I consider the samadhi shrine as an expression of sacred space, which contributes to our knowledge of a prevalent and significant form of sacred space in the Indian religious milieu that has received relatively little attention. The study specifically concerns the samadhi shrine compound of Jnaneshvar Maharaj (thirteenth century C.E.), the founding guru of the Varkari tradition, and to a certain extent, the broader network of samadhi shrines associated with the this Maharashtrian bhakti movement. I argue that the Varkari tradition's understanding of the perfected body of the realized saint, as expressed by Jnaneshvar himself, allows for the saint's body to be revered as a murti and the space of the surrounding samadhi shrine to function as a particular kind of temple. Moreover, I show that, as in the case of the Minakshi-Sundareshvara and Vitthal temples discussed in Part I, this understanding of the samadhi shrine as a "living space" dictates the manner in which the space is engaged with by its devotees over time, generating a particularized mythico-historical personality of place. In extension, I posit that the samadhi shrines of the Varkari tradition form a dynamic network of sacred sites that is anchored at its hub by the Vitthal Temple in Pandharpur and constitute a complex sacred geography that traverses the entire landscape of Maharashtra.

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