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Construction and Reconstruction of Sacred Space in Vārānasī

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It is widely believed that Vārānasī (Benares) ranks among the oldest holy cities on earth. Archaeological and textual sources, however, begin only to testify to the construction of sacred space in the first millennium AD. A significant discrepancy is found between the archaeological data (mainly seals) and early textual sources belonging to the 5th to 8th centuries. While seals provide us with the names of temples that apparently were frequented by the ordinary pilgrim, the oldest Māhātmya text that has recently become available, three chapters of the ‘original’ Skandapurāna, depicts Vārānasī as a place of ascetics and yogis. The spheres of devotion and world-renouncing are further complicated in the 11th and 12th centuries, when Vārānasī is made the political capital of the Gāhadavāla dynasty. Inscriptions reveal yet another dimension of sacred space, that of state ritual. After the destruction of the town by the Muslim conquerors, a process of reconstruction sets in during the 13th and 14th centuries, resulting eventually in the sacred Vārānasī as we know it today.

Affiliations: 1: University of Groningen Institute of Indian Studies Oude Boteringestraat 23 NL-9712 GC Groningen


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