South Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Beyond Shastra: Reconsidering the Stylistic Origins of BAPS Temple Architecture

Saturday, July 7
10:20 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Cypress, New Building

Since the 2005 inauguration of Delhi’s famed Swaminarayan Akshardham monument, four other large-scale stone works belonging to the Gujarat-based Hindu organization of BAPS have been established in North America. While recent scholarship has examined the Akshardham monument, comparatively little has been said of BAPS’ most salient architectural works, namely its corpus of stone-built temples. Despite this, BAPS itself has put considerable effort in generating literature on the history and significance of its temples, mostly in the form of promotional material and guide books. Common to these sources is the perpetuated notion that the organization’s temples reflect a stable and “shastric” tradition of religious architecture. However, in examining such materials, certain questions arise: why has BAPS placed emphasis on conceptions of tradition and authenticity in discussions of its architectural works; how have such assertions — that the organization’s temples are faithful to “canon” — shaped the way in which these structures are perceived within and without the BAPS community; moreover, how might the actual features of these temples contradict perpetuated narratives and reveal a greater visual complexity than previously assumed? In order to address these questions, this paper traces the stylistic origins of BAPS’ temples and examines formal aspects that are connected to visual traditions outside of those relayed in the organization’s narratives. By examining such narratives against the larger range of BAPS’ temple architecture, I show how these structures, in fact, embody multiple stylistic genealogies, born from such diverse traditions as Jain, Islamicate, and even Gothic architecture.

Ankur V. Desai

The Ohio State University, United States

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