After 75 years, Marg has published a special issue on temples that is a feast for the senses
‘Readings on the Temple: From 75 Years of Marg’ by Naman P. Ahuja (editor); The Marg Foundation, Rs 700, 310 pages
Founded by writer Mulk Raj Anand in 1946, marg attempted to achieve his goal of “developing a socially active and culturally engaging language of art” with admirable courage. At a time when niche magazines are out of fashion and out of print, marg obviously isn’t in the game just to survive. To celebrate its 75th anniversary, the art magazine published Readings on the Temple, a lavish “bumper issue” that brings together many articles he has previously published on temples in India and beyond.
A temple is almost never meaningless. As Khajuraho pretty predictably proves, even its walls matter. Although essential to the fabric of a temple, devotion often tends to cover the details with fervor. By entrusting researchers with the task of deconstructing the complex symbology, architecture and art of Hindu places of worship, marg helped us better understand the nuances of heritage. Like pilgrims, each contributor here approaches the temple with a different intention. Whereas Readings highlights the frequency with which the theme of temples returned in margthis 310-page volume signals an abundance of interpretations that religion can sometimes exclude.
In ‘Visualising the Gods’, an essay on the importance of darshan, Gilles Tarabout writes how a painting of Narasimha – an embellishment on the exterior wall of a temple in Kerala – became revered by locals. “Offerings and rituals are never without effect,” writes Tarabout, “and Narasimha, it is said, has truly begun to reside in his image.  a true consecration had to be organized in order to ritually contain the divine power. Likewise, most of Marg’The writers seem to view faith as a result of the human condition, not as a riddle to be solved.
However, this innate respect for religiosity does not rule out curiosity. Scholarship invariably begins with inquiry, and those who have contributed to marg Over the years, it all seems to have started with one question: were the post-Kushan builders of Uttar Pradesh aware of the techniques that their Roman and Byzantine counterparts employed? Why is Ellora Cave 16, Kailasa Temple, not counted among the twelve jyotirlingas? Given Hinduism’s emphasis on dharma, how to explain the explicit eroticism that has been portrayed in temple carving? In each case, the answers Marg’s researchers arrive at seem unexpected. Even pieces that are decades old seem somehow new.
In his introduction, Marg’The site’s editor, Naman P. Ahuja, writes, “Temples have again been prominent in the news. The growth of Hindu nationalism  emphasized temple studies: why is this form of construction so important? While politics barely figures in Readings, it is sometimes difficult not to see his writing and images as political. Catherine B. Asher, for example, notes that Sawai Jai Singh ensured that the exterior of the Govinda Deva temple he built in Jaipur resembled Shah Jahan’s public halls. And then there is the photo of the Gyanvapi mosque on page 241, which reminds us that in India the doors of masjids and mandirs are often adjacent and identical.