Demolitions in Delhi, and maps of sacred places
slums, demolition, resettlement, city, development, modernity
Tuesday, April 04, 2006 20:41 GMT
During the hegemony of Aryan culture across large parts of the Indian subcontinent and south-east Asia, many rulers attempted to re-establish the sacred geography of the Hindu epics in their own countries.
Thus Madurai was built, its name a variant of distant "Mathura", birthplace of Krishna, which gave its name also to Madura, an island off eastern Java. Ayodhya, birthplace of Ram, gave its name to a capital city in Thailand.
The crucial symbolic significance of the two rivers, Jamuna and Ganga, to the cosmology of the Hindu epics made the search for substitute rivers a staple of attempts to re-create the sacred geography elsewhere. The Rashtrakuta, 8th-9th century rulers of central India, settled their capital in Manyakheta, whose significance seems to have lain in its location between the two great rivers of the Deccan, the Godavari and the Kistna, which justified its claim as a new Hastinapura, capital city of the Mahabharata.
As late as 1020, Chola king Rajendra I, with his capital in Tanjore in present-day Tamil Nadu, led a military expedition far up the east coast of the Indian subcontinent towards the Ganga, whose water he wished to bring back to create the sacred river anew in his own kingdom. Vast jars of water were carried 2000 or so kilometres back to the site of a new Chola capital where it was used to fill a five-kilometre ceremonial tank nown as the "Chola-ganga".
This urge to re-create sacred geographies in another place continues.
Over the last few years, many slum-dwellers cleared out from the rich neighbourhoods of south and central Delhi have been relocated in Narela, about twenty kilometres to the north of the city. A replica of the city's elite spaces is thus re-created here by successive groups whose sense of community makes reference back to those now-absent sites.
This extends to naming. "Gangaram Colony" in Narela is named after the Ganga Ram Hospital whose building led to the displacement of so many people. This colony also houses people displaced by demolitions in Rajender Nagar and Nehru Place.
The recent destructions of townships on the west bank of the Jamuna now leads to a large new influx of people to Narela, and to higher resolution in the simulacrum of the mother city. Perhaps their decades-long association with the river will inspire new place names, and Jamuna will once again be recreated next to Ganga.