Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Abhishek Amar participated on the panel, "Excavating Layers of Sacred Landscape" at the AAR Conference in Chicago in November.
He also presented a paper titled "Reinventing Hindu Gaya: Shrines, Images and Gayawal Brahmanas," which examined the reconstruction and re-invention of Hindu sacred city of Gaya between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries.
Gaya, known for its sacred tanks, numerous temples and hill-shrines, is extolled in the ancient and medieval epics and Puranic texts (Gaya-Mahatmya) as a major Hindu Vaisnava funerary-ritual center. This city went through a major phase of reconstruction during which many existing shrines including the Visnupada temple were reconstructed whereas several imaginary/non-existing (though listed in Gaya-Mahatmya) shrines were re-invented.
Based on a comparative study of the literary accounts, archival records and an extensive ‘archaeological’ survey, Amar's paper examined the process of re-invention of Gaya and analyzed the factors such as the establishment of British colonial rule and development of new routes etc in this process. While doing so, the paper also highlighted the ingenuity of Gayawal Brahamans in constructing new shrines and appropriating old Buddhist materials (images and inscriptions) from medieval Buddhist sites and reformulating them to invent 'historicity' and 'authenticity' for newly constructed Hindu shrines.