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Places of Nature in Ecologies of Urbanism$
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Anne Rademacher and K. Sivaramakrishnan

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9789888390595

Published to Hong Kong Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789888390595.001.0001

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Tales from the Concrete Cave

Tales from the Concrete Cave

Delhi’s Birla Temple and the Genealogies of Urban Nature in India

Chapter:
(p.108) 5 Tales from the Concrete Cave
Source:
Places of Nature in Ecologies of Urbanism
Author(s):

Kajri Jain

Publisher:
Hong Kong University Press
DOI:10.5790/hongkong/9789888390595.003.0006

Explicitly artificial “nature” (animals, trees, mountains, the colour green) proliferates intensely in contemporary India, notably in peri-urban theme parks. While this could be seen as post-liberalization “Disneyfication” or as a symptom of modernity more broadly, this chapter argues that there are other aesthetico-moral economies at work alongside such universalizing formulations of a hegemonic capitalist modernity and its “nature-culture.” It does so through a focus on the Lakshminarayan Temple or Birla Mandir, built in the 1930s as a “native” addendum to colonial New Delhi. The temple’s innovative architecture, and particularly its theme park-like garden, inaugurated a new, inclusive public (sarvajanik) religious space at the nexus of colonial planning, momentous debates on caste, religious patronage in the late colonial economy, and resignifications of nature and the sacred through new visual forms. This genealogy of the post-reform theme park illuminates the nature of “nature” on an uneven postcolonial terrain that both discursively negotiates and performatively refutes the separation of culture, religion and the social from “nature” and from political economy.

Keywords:   Nature-culture, Public religion, Caste, Temple architecture, Postcolonial modernity, Theme parks, Landscaping, Artificial animals, Post-liberalization India

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