– Niyati Dave
Malleswaram is a residential area situated in the north-western part of Bengaluru city. It was developed as a planned suburb after the great plague of 1898 during the colonial period and became a hub of different religious and commercial activities. The area, which derives its name from the Kadu Malleswara Temple, is home to a number of temple complexes and traditional markets.
As part of a group (comprising Asaf, Haifa and me) project in the first half of the Urban Fellows Programme, we wanted to examine how religion manifests itself in the ‘physical-material’ and ‘mental-imaginative’ (to use the terms Janaki Nair applies in Promise of Metropolis: Bangalore’s Twentieth Century) conceptions of Malleswaram. We were particularly interested in understanding the logic of public space with regards to how religious institutions, practices and economies impact neighbourhoods, markets and street cultures. We were also interested in how the physical space of Malleswaram is being replicated and relayed to the Indian diaspora whose roots are from there. What do these new networks and their consumption say about how residents of Malleswaram make sense of and perform their own past?
We focused specifically on 8th cross road, since it houses three temples. We focused on the Sri Kanyaka Parameshwari Temple and the Mahaganpathi Temple, as well as the properties owned and operated by them. We also observed pockets of economic activity-both formal and informal-around these temples.
Throughout our fieldwork in Malleswaram, we conducted interviews, participatory observations at temples and did mapping and audio-visual recording of sacred, commercial and everyday spaces and practices. We then presented this research through narrative essays and visuals on our blog, Sacral Geographies.
If you follow Sri Kanyaka Parameshwari Temple on Facebook…
On a wall in the Mahaganpathi Temple, along with pictures of deities, there is one particular poster that stands out. It urges visitors to like the Mahaganpathi Temple Facebook Page and scan the QR code on the poster to do so. At the evening aarti, a phone on a tripod is set up to live-stream the proceedings. The young priest who works on getting his B.M.M degree during the day, tells us that a number of people who are originally from Malleswaram are now abroad but the temple uses technology to reach out to them. Similarly, Sutram Kiran Shastry, the priest at the Sri Kanyaka Parameshwari Temple informs us that the temple has devotees from all over the world. ‘If you go onto our Facebook address, you will find multiple things and see how many followers from abroad we have…’
Mr. Murthy, who owns a decorative items and Puja goods store on 8th Cross, also states that the demographic of Malleswaram is changing. ‘Now many old people have gone away. Their children have settled abroad and have taken them to the USA, Canada. Hardly anyone is left.’ However, there is a sense that these diasporic persons also maintain a sense of engagement with their old neighbourhood, through these digital mediums.
This engagement is also tied to the model of the temple as a corporation or nucleus in a larger trust that governs multiple activities. For example, the Sri Kanyaka Temple’s youth hostel, marriage hall and health clinics. These Facebook pages are used for outreach in the same way a business might use them. The Sri Kanyaka Temple’s priest, Sutram Kiran Shastry’s parting words to us as he urged us to come to the temple’s Anant Chaturdashi, reinforce the idea of marketing the temple as corporation: ‘In the past you will never have seen anything like it, in the future you will see nothing like it. Please come!’