In the Seat of Authority: Debating Temple Spaces and Community Identity in a Vaiṣṇava Sampradāy of Contemporary Gujarat

Emilia Bachrach, Oberlin College


This article considers contemporary debates over temple (re) construction in the Vaisnava communityt known as the Pustimarg. While the Pustimarg first developed in Uttar Pradesh during the sixteenth century, today it flourishes in Gujarat and is popular among an affluent, urban demographic. Debates over temple (re) construction have arisen in response to practical needs, such as structural damage to older temples, but also to the perceived need for community revitalization. Many argue that (re) constructing large and highly visible temples will revitalise the community, while others maintain that temples should function as private homes for deities and their caretakers. I unpack the nuances of these debates, analysing how interlocutors with various commitments defend their positions by referring to scripture and to their own communication with sectarian deities. These debates reveal the community's effort to maintain a distinct identity while also responding to the changing needs and desires of devotees who are influenced by other popular Vaisnava groups in Gujarat.