Of Gods and Men: Religious Heritage at the Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur
MITCHELL WINTER, University of California, Davis, USA
Like Rajaraja Chola I and Serfoji II, UNESCO’s affiliation with Brihadisvara has begun to incorporate new elements of site governance that have never been imagined before; the import of new forms of global capital in the form of tourism and the interest in Brihadisvara as a fertile archaeological site. Do these factors really affect the quality of religious experiences for devout Hindus? These claims are speculative and more field research would be necessary to make any conclusion about the quality of religious experiences that people interact with at the temple; still, the presence of ASI signposts, just like the Maratha paintings and the lingas installed by Serfoji II, have changed the affective and experiential qualities of the temple complex. These physical changes in the material heritage of Brihadisvara aptly demonstrate how additions over time have, perhaps in small ways, helped to reformulate the meaning of its religious heritage. The events surrounding the continual building at the site can contribute to the current understanding of how religious heritage-building can choose what or what not to include in its design plans and local mythology. The additions to the temple and the discourses that emerge from their multivocal place histories help to illustrate not only the one religious heritage (in the singular) that I have been discussing, but the many heritages (in the plural) that are constructed and have been constructed throughout the lifespan of the Brihadisvara complex.
MITCHELL WINTER is an undergraduate studying Religious Studies and Linguistics at the University of California, Davis. His interests include medieval south Indian poetry, language policy in colonial India and contemporary Hinduism in America. Since studying abroad in Tamil Nadu, his research has focused on the concept of heritage at religious sites in south India and how the construction of heritage often conflicts with the construction of individual devotees’ identities and self-formations. These individual identities ensconced within the larger scale of globalization and mass tourism is a subject that he hopes to elaborate on in the future.