ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Islands of Faith in the Western Indian Ocean


Kulshreshtha Salila - New York University Abu Dhabi, Division of Arts and Humanities, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates


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


 In Puranic cosmology the cosmos is divided into 7 concentric islands separated by 7 oceans encircling these. The Indian subcontinent is also referred to as the ‘Jambudvipa’ in early epigraphic sources. Islands are hence understood as specific locales and geographical places leading on to the sea and each of these could constitute a small world.

My paper will examine a series of shrines, located on small islands along the western coast of the Indian subcontinent and their connectivity with other island shrines in the western Indian ocean. Some of these shrines show evidence of prolonged usage and were visited by people living in their vicinity but also by those from across the Ocean. In the history of the Indian Ocean, islands were important nodal points which made convenient stopovers in the long periods of sailing. These were also locales where different cultures came into contact. They were also the intermediate zones from where cultures permeated into the mainland and further connecting with the interiors. Why were these islands chosen as sites of sacred architecture? How did the shrines located on islands historically serve the communities which used them, especially keeping in view their fluid seascapes? How can we contextualize them in the present day academic discussions of the ancient seafaring traditions in the Indian Ocean?