ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Is it all in the svarūpa? The fate of two temples in the Vallabha Saṃpradāya’s network


Nardi Isabella - Independent, Mantova, Italy


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


 A black marble sculpture of Krishna known as Shri Nathji graces a temple in the town of Nathdwara, Rajasthan, where it arrived in 1672 after a long peregrination in search of patronage. The temple is considered the most important centre of the Vallabha Saṃpradāya, a Vaiṣṇava devotional sect founded by Vallabhācārya (c. 1479–1531) in the declining years of the Sultanate of Delhi.

By following the trajectory of the svarūpa of Shri Nathji from the place of its self-manifestation on Mount Govardhana to its present location in Nathdwara, the paper will compare two temples belonging to a complex network of vallabhan nodal points. The analysis will reveal an interesting dichotomy: on one hand, the former structure – located on top of the sacred hill of Govardhana and abandoned in 1668 – lays in a state of disrepair; on the other, the Nathdwara temple, which was founded in 1672 in a hitherto unknown village in the arid land of Rajasthan, has turned into a thriving and well-endowed pilgrimage centre.

The analysis will provide an opportunity to hypothesise the reasons why a temple has become more and more prominent whereas the other declined. The circumstances taken into consideration will range from royal patronage, the agency of the svarūpa and its charismatic leaders, and historical events. The examination will interpolate visual and material evidence with a number of sources, such as sectarian literature (vartā), royal chronicles, and Mughal orders (farmāns).