This book presents an analysis of the foundations organised by the Birla family in India. Several generations were involved in the renovation and establishment of sanctuaries, temples and other sacral buildings. As a result, between 1933 and 1998, nineteen Birla Mandirs were established, mainly in northern and central India. All the temples have the capacity to surprise with their various decorative motifs, not seen in other places, which – apart from their aesthetic function – above all bear important symbolic content. Therefore, is it possible to treat the Birla Mandirs as a specific medium – the carrier of a particular message that is not only religious, but with a significance that permeates other layers of social and political discourse. This message, as the authors of the book claim, have a bearing on the socio-political thought of India – supported by the creation and propagation of ideas related to identity and a national art. It also conveys the idea of hierarchical Hindu inclusivism which, although considering all religions as equal, treats Hinduism in a unique way – seeing within it the most perfect form of religion, giving man the opportunity to learn the highest truth. The book also examines whether the temples founded by the Birla family and the religious activities undertaken therein apply the concept of “inventing” tradition, and whether traditions created (or “modernised”) in contemporary times are a way of enhancing the appeal of the message conveyed from temple to society.
“The Vastness of Culture” is a series of publications presenting cultural studies and emphasizing the role of comparative research and analyses that reveal similarities, differences and intercultural influences. In our publications, cultures and civilizations are in a state of constant flux, engaging in dialogue, creating new understandings, competing for meaning under the influence of global content, without any clear boundaries, but with a vastness that forces questions to be raised.
Prof. Marta Kudelska is the Chair of the Centre for Comparative Studies of Civilisations, Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Her research interests include Indian philosophy and Sanskrit literature.
Prof. Dorota Kamińska-Jones is a lecturer in the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun. She is also lecturer of Indology at the University of Warsaw. Her research interests include the art and culture of India and Great Britain, above all from the period of the Empire, feminism, colonialism and intercultural relations; she is particularly concerned with issues related to womanhood.
Dr Agnieszka Staszczyk is an assistant professor in the Centre for Comparative Studies of Civilisations at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Her research concerns the art of the Indian subcontinent—especially early iconography, the origin and cultural function of religious representations, and the architecture of modern temples.
Dr Agata Świerzowska is an assistant professor in the Centre for Comparative Studies of Civilisations at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Her field of interest covers the theory of religion and contemporary changes in religion and spirituality seen from an inter-cultural perspective.