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Birla mandirs – the Contemporary Hindu Temple Complexes as an Example of Modernisation by Going Back to Tradition

[NCN research grant UMO-2013/09/B/HS1/02005] National Center of Science, Opus 9

Project manager: Prof. Dr hab. Marta Kudelska

Main executives: Dr Agata Świerzowska, Dr Agnieszka Staszczyk

Other executives: Dr Paulina Tendera, Natalia Nadkańska MA

Project period: January 2014 - January 2017

The Birla family of Indian industrial tycoons is well-known for its philanthropic activities as well as supporting various projects in the field of technology, medicine and education. Among objects and facilities founded and financed by the family there are over forty temple complexes, commonly known as "Birla Mandir". The researchers (Marta Kudelska, Agnieszka Staszczyk, Agata Świerzowska) consider the Birla temples as an inexhaustible source of knowledge on contemporary India with reference to social and political relations, cultural changes and the various religious attitudes of the society. Since the discussed buildings fit into specific social and political conditions, the authors assume that the construction of such places of worship by one of the most mighty families in India may be related to the family intent of strengthening its power among the Indian people (in a political and religious sense).

The project is thus to document and conduct a detailed interdisciplinary analysis of the temple complexes founded by the Birlas, since no thorough study has been presented as yet. The basis for the analysis is the religious perspective originating from philosophic sources. The study is based on the following research stages:
1. Reconstruction of modern forms of spirituality and devotion in India based on the analysis of the architectural forms and decorations found in the Birla temples.
2. Analysis and interpretation of the material acquired in qualitative research in order to explain the social and religious function of the temples.
3. Analysis of the methods used in training the temple priests, illustrating the ideological aspect in the formation of the Hindu community attitudes.