ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Four Vishnus in Kanchipuram: Cooperation and Competition


Huesken Ute - Heidelberg University, South Asia Institute, Heidelberg, Germany


28 – South Asian sacred spots: Nodal Points in Webs of Connections


 Many South Indian temples are not part of just one but of a number of networks, attesting to rivaling or parallel perceptions and constructions of sacred space. While these diverse layers of sacred space(s) often do not directly conflict with each other, economic resources are distributed differently, not the least through the agency of the corresponding pilgrimage routes. In this way, different networks can profit from each other but also might be in conflict with each other. This relationship between temples and their networks is therefore contested and, over time, undoubtedly very dynamic. This paper aims to explore four Vishnu temples in the South Indian temple town of Kanchipuram, which are considered to be ‘brothers’, because the local mythology narrates their coming into existence as a connected series of events. All four are moreover part of the network of “108 (Vaiṣṇava) divine places” (divyadeśa). However, these temples are at the same time set apart on account of their individual sectarian affiliation (Tenkalai or Vatakalai), and  their affiliation to one of two modes of worship (Pancaratra or Vaikhanasa). This paper sets out to explore the following questions: How do these complex relationships unfold in the day-to-day religious practice of the temple town? When and how do the temples cooperate, how are they in competition with each other? What is the role of local Vaishnavas, pilgrims, donors, trustees, and other stakeholders in this process?