The Recovery of “Ancient” Temples in an Inner-City Neighborhood
Colonial Madras surrounded and transformed ancient Mylapore into an inner-city neighborhood. This chapter traces the complexities of the modern reconstruction of “Tradition” through the Kapaleeswara Temple at Mylapore's center. Rare maps from the 1800s show that a new class of landholder-businessmen (Mudaliars), acting as Company middlemen (Dubash), rebuilt the current temple in the mid 1700s on the model of revered poetic descriptions of its ancient namesake but with its Lord, Shiva, now mirroring rising bourgeois values. Later, with the emergence of the Brahman-dominated bureaucracy and the equally Brahman-centered recreation of classical Sanskritic “Hinduism”, the prestige of temples declined. Soon Brahmans dominated Mylapore, which Milton Singer designated in the 1970s as the epicenter of the “Great Tradition”. Today, ritual life at the Kapaleeswara Temple thrives while neighborhood groups renovate surrounding temples, recreate rituals, and in the process rebuild a common middle-class religiosity, which encompasses but also subverts the Great Tradition with rural modalities.
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