Lecture by Percy Arfeen-Wegner: Building Traditions of Sacred Spaces in Kerala: Some Insights on Elevations
Sacred spaces in the Indian subcontinent have been predominantly classified according to religious affiliations, whereby, Brahmanical (Hindu), Buddhist and Jaina spaces are considered ‘Indic’ whilst mosques, churches, and synagogues, are ‘foreign’. Considering epigraphic evidence of the presence of these communities in the Malabar can be traced back to at least a millennium, this research questions if sacred spaces can be approached as distinct categories at all, in a pluralistic society like that of the Malabar which has witnessed a symbiotic existence of varied religious communities. This presentation aims to contextualize mosques, churches, and synagogues in premodern and early modern Malabar (c. 13th- 17th centuries) vis-à-vis that of the so-called ‘Indic’ sacred spaces. The presentation will demonstrate that building traditions of sacred spaces were deeply rooted in regional knowledge bases, that were never divided into categories that could only be accessed through exclusive religious affiliations. However, considering that the Malabar engaged in sustained maritime trade relations since premodernity, there is also a remarkable transcultural influence which is reflected in building traditions of these spaces. These influences cannot be merely described as ‘transfer’ of technology as each and every technique and style has undergone prolonged phases of experimentation before being customized to the specific needs of the land, be it climatic or aesthetic. The presentation will describe one case study to elucidate these networks.