Abstract Grounded spatially in Bangalore city, India, I analyze “the sacrality of urban sprawl,” that is, how cities and their expanding boundaries are important arenas for the recruitment of devotees, the construction of habitats to house the religious, new spiritual maps, and ideas of selfhood. The strata who inhabit these spaces are largely the old and new middle class. I argue that in addition to consumption patterns and lifestyles, new norms of religious selfhood are also crucial to this class-inflected identity. I analyze the sacrality of urban sprawl through the spatial embedding of contemporaneous religiosity in transport arteries and highways and the role of the body in mediating forms of religiosity and their built structures in these spaces. THE SACRALITY OF URBAN SPRAWL “BANGALORE’S BEST KEPT SECRET!” boasts a billboard overlooking an expressway in the northeast of the city. Another proclaims, “Embassy Suites—Your Private Lounge.” Both sell “privatopias” (Harvey 2000, 153), protected spaces and gated communities on the peripheries of the city for wealthy consumers, along with large advertisements for high-end cell phones, haute couture, and jewelry. My car whizzes past these billboards quickly in the summer of 2016, but it is not long before it is wedged in traffic as I approach more modest housing projects such as Vaswani Pinnacle and Mahaveer Dazzle. I reflect on their celebratory verticality as well as the pedestrians, vegetable markets, roadside shrines, slums, and old villages threatened or swallowed up by expanding Bangalore. Bangalore’s congested roads—because of too many vehicles, construction work on overpasses and exits, and accelerating high-rise living—allow for insights of all kinds, from reflections on public signage to the motley landscape of South Asian cites. My article, born out of auto-mobility and pedestrian peregrinations in Bangalore over several decades, engages with two manifestos: First, our immersion within what the anthropologist Marc Augé (1999) calls “contemporaneous worlds.” This multiplicity of arenas is brought about by phenomena such as rapid urbanization, globalization, the multiplication of networks of transport and communication, and the condition of “supermodernity”: “an acceleration of history, a shrinking of space, and an individualizing of references, all of which subvert the cumulative processes of modernity” (Augé 1999, 110). Within such contemporaneous worlds, objects of traditional ethnology disappear from perspective, and other new fields and objects—including the city—appear. Second, the work of the historian James Heitzman on aspects of the long durée of Indian urbanization and urban form inspires this article. Specifically, it engages with his writings on the enduring power of ritual centers and their networks in enabling urbanization, including old Buddhist sites and mercantile routes, “temple urbanism” in south India from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries, and the “network city” that relies on the centrality and power of science and technology in modern India (Heitzman 1997, 2004, 2008b). There are some productive overlaps between the two scholars’ work: In the Metro (Augé  2002) is an extended reflection on the implications of spaces of transit (the subway, the metro station) for sociality and the social contract in Paris, while the concluding chapter of The City in South Asia (Heitzman 2008a) locates itself in images of pedestrians, vehicles, billboards, and streets and the need for deciphering “the languages of space” in the contemporary city. In this article, I turn explicitly to conduits, spaces of transit, or infrastructures of mobility and their implications for religiosity and urban refabulation—the ways in which cityscapes are sites for innovation mediated by religious actors through built form, affective registers of hope or healing, or utopian projects. How do various kinds of mobilities converge in new pathways and infrastructures in the city such as highways or beltways? What are the kinds of religious landscapes and built forms envisioned and constructed within the shifting metropolitan terrain by religious movements, their teachers, and their followers? My ethnographic point of departure is a large property show called “Homespace,” held in late September 2008 at the Kanteerava Indoor Stadium in central Bangalore (see Figure 1). The stadium, with a seating capacity of 4,000 persons, is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Youth Empowerment and Sports, Government of Karnataka. When not being used by sports associations, private sponsors lease the stadium for exhibitions, seminars, and other activities. In fact, religious organizations, media groups, political actors, and consumer associations use this government property more than sports organizations. In 2008, Homespace brought together some of the major national and regional players in the construction industry such as Shriram Properties, Suraksha Homes, Kanva Developers, and the Mahaveer Group. Giant billboards with inviting captions for dream villas, gated communities, and apartment complexes surrounded visitors: “Seven options to build your own heaven on earth”; “Why dream of a home when there is a kingdom”; or “An open invitation to be on top of the world…quite literally.” The property show focused on high-rise living and largescale integrated townships offering “international” living, “world-class” facilities, or “global” lifestyles combined with the possibility of “healthy” environments; the young and happy heterosexual family; and an apparently seamless combination of golf, landscaped nature, and religiosity (see Figure 2). Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Entrance to Homespace property show, Bangalore, 2008, at the Kanteerava Indoor Stadium. Photo by Smriti Srinivas. Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Entrance to Homespace property show, Bangalore, 2008, at the Kanteerava Indoor Stadium. Photo by Smriti Srinivas. Figure 2: View largeDownload slide Exhibit at Homespace depicting an LCD screen, golf, and the deity Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. Photo by Smriti Srinivas. Figure 2: View largeDownload slide Exhibit at Homespace depicting an LCD screen, golf, and the deity Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. Photo by Smriti Srinivas. It is the last scenario that I explore here, seeking to understand the ethnographic and analytical registers of contemporary Indian urban religiosity. Grounded spatially in my long-term research in Bangalore, a city with nearly ten million people today, I am concerned with what I call the “sacrality of urban sprawl” (Srinivas 2001): that is, the fact that cities and their expanding boundaries are important arenas for the recruitment of devotees, the construction of habitats to house the religious, new spiritual maps, and ideas of selfhood. A detailed exploration of property dealers, shows, advertising, or other materials that serve to attract (religious) consumers is not the goal of this article (but see Brosius 2010). Nor are the strata and groups who inhabit these spaces—the target audience of Homespace—a focus here. It is clear, however, that in addition to the old middle class, many constitute the “new middle class” of India discussed by several scholars (e.g., Fernandes 2006; Jaffrelot and van der Veer 2008; Liechty 2003). Their newness lies not in their social basis, mobility, or structural location but in the “process of production of a distinctive social and political identity that represents and lays claim to the benefits of liberalization” (Fernandes 2006, xviii). My assertion here is that in addition to consumption patterns and lifestyles, new norms of religious selfhood—and their unfolding in specific spatial and cultural forms such as novel temple designs, spiritual theme parks, and heritage sites (see also Brosius 2010; Hancock 2008; Waghorne 2004)—are crucial to this production. While my article contributes to the growing social science discussion of religious structures and their publics in global and neo-liberal India, I am particularly interested in understanding the sacrality of urban sprawl through two interrelated features: First, the spatial embedding of contemporaneous religiosity in conduits of mobility such as transport arteries and highways; and second, the place of the body—signaled by the aspiration for health, golf, and greens in the property brochures—in mediating forms of religiosity and their built structures in these spaces. Although we need more sustained research, I will note in passing that the brochures and property signage for the middle class at Homespace in 2008 seemed to be preoccupied with the body in the form of healthy environments in general. These contrast with the privatized inner spaces (“lounges” and “secrets”) on display for the wealthy today. In Bangalore, as in many other cities worldwide, the processes producing urban sprawl are observable in the massive infrastructural projects that have torn up roads and neighborhoods, the gigantic private investments in housing construction by regional and global players, and the robust speculation in land. There are many dimensions to these processes which I cannot explore here: the technocratic efforts to create urban infrastructure, the movement of robber barons from investment in liquor and education to land, the privatizing thrust of construction, the quotidian practices of information exchange, and the exclusion of the poor from these benefits. What I will signal is the built terrain produced by a range of public and private actors and partnerships that the Kanteerava Indoor Stadium constructed in 1997 epitomizes. Standing in front of the Bangalore City Corporation offices, the dome of Kanteerava Indoor Stadium with the light towers of the Outdoor Stadium standing as a frame behind it was one of the most prominent vertical extensions of the central city, verticality being a feature generally absent in Bangalore until the late 1990s. Among the few vertical or monumental buildings in the city prior to this were the Karnataka High Court (established in 1881), the state capitol, Vidhana Soudha (completed in 1956), the Chinnaswamy Cricket Stadium built by the government (initiated in 1969 and completed in time to hold the 1974 Test match against the West Indies), and the Public Utility building (1973). Constructed to host the Indian National Games, the Kanteerava Indoor Stadium complemented the extensive renovations made to the older Outdoor Stadium (built initially in 1946 for the All India Olympics). The Indoor Stadium was “a preliminary token, or the positioning of a major piece, within a larger, long-term game of urban construction” (Heitzman and Srinivas 2005, 168) that would encompass even more monumental and vertical structures and mega projects in the twenty-first century. In what follows, I will first discuss some of the large-scale shifts in Bangalore’s unfolding urban spaces. I will then examine two cases of teacher or guru-based religious movements in the city—the Sathya Sai Baba movement and the Pyramid Spiritual Societies movement (PSSM)—and their role within the creation of monumental and vertical structures in the twenty-first century cityscape. Lastly, I will offer some concluding observations on the body, health/healing, conduits of mobility, and religious refabulations. LIFESTYLES UNDER CONSTRUCTION The advertisements and brochures of the major sponsors of Homespace allude to the landscape within which new protocols of domesticity and religiosity are being constructed—literally in reinforced concrete, cement, granite, and steel—in expanding Bangalore. To begin with, most completed and ongoing construction projects lie outside the older core of Bangalore city and its spaces such as the Kanteerava Stadium, Vidhana Soudha, or Lal Bagh gardens (see Figure 3). Figure 3: View largeDownload slide A billboard from Shriram Properties, Homespace 2008, that maps the expanding contours of Bangalore girded by transport arteries. Photo by Smriti Srinivas. Figure 3: View largeDownload slide A billboard from Shriram Properties, Homespace 2008, that maps the expanding contours of Bangalore girded by transport arteries. Photo by Smriti Srinivas. Bangalore emerged as a fort and bazaar center not far from the present Lal Bagh gardens in 1537. With the rise of British colonial presence in South Asia and after the last Anglo-Mysore war in 1799, a British cantonment (with its barracks, Commercial Street, and South Parade [now M. G. Road]) came up on the northeastern side of the Old City separated by Cubbon Park. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, a number of “extensions” based on a grid plan emerged and Bangalore grew around the twin nodes of the Old City and the Cantonment. After Indian independence, the city expanded through new industrial estates as well as several suburban housing extensions and slums. Apart from dense networks of roads and other infrastructure in these areas, there was also a radial system of highways that led away from the city to Madras or Chennai, Mysore, and Hyderabad. Much of Bangalore’s growth, however, was still firmly rooted in the textile industry and the public sector (including chemical, electronics, and engineering industries) and in core areas of the Old City and Cantonment. Even before the 1980s, Bangalore had a pool of technical, educational, and research opportunities and several scientific institutions that led to its characterization as India’s premier science city. By the 1980s, the stage was set for global linkages on an extensive scale, but it was also set for the establishment and development of local microelectronics, software, and information-based industries in Bangalore such as Infosys Consultants and Informatics. By the end of the decade, with the liberalization of the Indian economy and the removal of certain restrictions to imports and licensing, the microcomputer revolution occurred in Bangalore. The concept of Bangalore as the “Silicon Valley of India” emerged through these developments as well as the concessions announced for technology parks on the city’s boundaries by the government that made firms like Texas Instruments choose the city as their home as early as 1985 to 1986. The older radial system of national highways now connects to the new Ring Roads around Bangalore constructed since the late 1990s, and much of the high-tech profile of the city ties to this regime of mobility. In the twenty-first century, greater Bangalore’s boundaries are also being modified through several mega-projects, including the Bangalore International Airport in the northeast, the “information technology corridor” (an imprecise patchwork stretching from south to east Bangalore), and the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor running westwards. Within the city, the “Namma Metro” (our metro) scheme is rapidly altering neighborhoods, gardens, business districts, and existing protocols of religiosity in older neighborhoods. The metropolitan region is now approximately 8,005 square kilometers, and it is clear that a range of contested urban imaginations are at work in this expanding terrain with investment flows occurring between Bangalore and Singapore, France, Dubai, South Korea, and California, and labor flowing into the city from as far as Nepal, the Northeastern states of India, and West Bengal. Within these spatial contexts, there are many public and performative expressions of religiosity. The Old City and Cantonment still contain numerous religious shrines connected to older histories, migrations, and mobilities, including goddess cults or Christian and Muslim saints and other holy personages located in areas of dense demographic concentration. Goddess shrines are often associated with healing and are patronized by communities across caste and religious boundaries. Devotees coming to the Annamma temple, for instance, bring chickens, fruits, milk, and yogurt as offerings; the most common reason for propitiating the goddess is ailments connected with small children such as chicken pox or mumps. The temple is located in the frenetic Majestic market area on the north side of the Old City adjoining what used to be the enormous Dharmambudi Lake that supplied water to the city even until the 1980s. City authorities drained and converted the lake into the city’s central bus depot, “Majestic,” or the Kempe Gowda Bus Terminus. Tamil Christians and many other religious groups patronize the Basilica of Our Lady of Health (founded in 1811) in the Cantonment’s Shivajinagar market, also proximate to another bus depot that is the origin and destination of many public buses that ply the city’s roads. People petitioned Our Lady of Health, according to church souvenirs, when Bangalore faced a famine and plague in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and her contemporary annual procession in early September through the market’s streets draws thousands of worshippers and onlookers. The “lifestyles under construction” on Bangalore’s peripheries including high-rise apartments, integrated townships, and gated communities represent other norms of domesticity, mobility, and religiosity. As builders are acutely aware, investment, population growth, and the formation of social taste are increasingly located along the highways and Ring Roads and not confined to older core areas or road systems. In addition to their easy driving distance to special economic zones, information technology hubs, malls, the airport, hospitals, and schools, many of Homespace’s construction companies selling dream homes to the middle class feature contemporary expressions of religiosity (see Figure 4). Figure 4: View largeDownload slide 2008 advertising for “Elegant Valley” homes from the Gravity Group depicting proximate landmarks such as the technology giant Infosys, a Special Economic Zone, and transport arteries, but also a temple associated with the pan-Indian guru, Ramana Maharshi (1879–1950). Adapted from the original advertisement by Smriti Srinivas. Figure 4: View largeDownload slide 2008 advertising for “Elegant Valley” homes from the Gravity Group depicting proximate landmarks such as the technology giant Infosys, a Special Economic Zone, and transport arteries, but also a temple associated with the pan-Indian guru, Ramana Maharshi (1879–1950). Adapted from the original advertisement by Smriti Srinivas. RELIGIOUS MONUMENTALITY BEYOND THE OUTER RING ROAD The expanding boundaries of Bangalore—an uneven urban fabric despite representations of tranquil, healthy, and efficient middle class utopias or privatopias by builders—do not occur within “empty” spaces but in sites containing lakes (now increasingly encroached on by buildings and highway infrastructure), entire villages, relocated slum-dwellers, decommissioned public sector enterprises, vacant lots, horticultural plots, agricultural land, and religious enclaves. In the unfolding urban sprawl, there are spatial zones of abandonment, exclusion, and overshadowed practices—what Hancock and Srinivas (this issue) call “underscapes”—that may sometimes lend themselves to repurposing or reinvigoration by various actors; there are also monumental sites in this landscape—what we might call, by contrast, “overscapes”—such as skyscrapers, corporate campuses, sports arenas, and malls. Among these underscapes and overscapes are religious specialists of varying provenance such as priests, upwardly mobile religious teachers, or mega-gurus and their habitations. Driving towards the Outer Ring Road in eastern Bangalore (see Figure 3), we encounter one such underscape—a roadside advertisement for the services of an astrologer dwarfed by the gigantic pillars of metro construction (see Figure 5). Pictured on the board is the familiar face of Shirdi Sai Baba (d. 1918), a mendicant identified with various Sufi, devotional, and ascetic genealogies in the subcontinent, who lived in Shirdi village in Maharashtra for most of his life. This figure, whose constituency cuts across class and religious backgrounds in most cities in India, commands a robust devotion in South Asia and the diaspora (see McLain 2016; Srinivas 2008). In Bangalore, he is one of the most common religious figures to adorn the dashboards of buses and auto-rickshaws traveling the city’s roads. Given the area in which the astrologer’s booth stands, Shirdi Sai Baba’s visage is likely to attract clients from mixed linguistic and religious, working class, and informal sector backgrounds. Figure 5: View largeDownload slide Advertisement for a roadside astrologer offering his services under the shadow of metro construction, c. 2010. Photo by Smriti Srinivas. Figure 5: View largeDownload slide Advertisement for a roadside astrologer offering his services under the shadow of metro construction, c. 2010. Photo by Smriti Srinivas. Travelling further beyond this site to Whitefield is a large campus associated with the mega-guru, Sathya Sai Baba (1926–2011), who stands at the apex of a global Sri Sathya Sai Organization that has made a number of significant interventions in education, health care, provision of social utilities, and disaster response worldwide. Born in Puttaparthi village in Andhra Pradesh state, now a teeming pilgrimage site and mini-city, Sathya Sai Baba traces his genealogy to Shirdi Sai Baba, and many devotees believe that he is Shirdi Sai Baba reincarnated. While Sathya Sai Baba reflexively refers to several local and pan-Indian traditions and teachers in his speeches and writings, he also places significance on various “world” religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism, making his philosophy attractive to devotees in South Asia and highly mobile outside it, both within and without the South Asian diaspora. Sathya Sai Baba’s devotees may number about ten million (Sathya Sai Baba 2004), including scientists, doctors, academics, bureaucrats, managers, industrialists, and politicians. While he clearly has followers from different strata in society, including the rural poor, his most vocal, visible, and active global constituency is the urban middle class. Today, devotees converge from destinations worldwide onto Bangalore’s new international airport and then travel by road to Puttaparthi or Sathya Sai Baba’s other key hermitage-campus in Whitefield. Whitefield, inaugurated at the end of the nineteenth century, is a former exurb of Bangalore populated by Eurasians and Anglo-Indian families on the Old Madras Road linking Bangalore with Chennai. In the 1950s and 1960s, as the Sathya Sai Baba movement began to garner devotees globally, Whitefield came to house “Brindavan,” which functions both as a devotional site and as an educational campus (started in 1969). Up until the early 1990s, Sathya Sai Baba would walk informally among his devotees in the sandy area in front of his residence; the area also contained a very large tree under which people would gather to sing devotional songs. Nearby stood a life-size image of Saraswati, symbolizing the confluence of the arts, education, and spiritual knowledge (see Figure 6). Despite construction over the decades, the Brindavan campus continues to retain the sense of verdant tranquility. Figure 6: View largeDownload slide Sathya Sai Baba at his Brindavan ashram, c. 1980 (Photo in author’s collection, source unknown). Figure 6: View largeDownload slide Sathya Sai Baba at his Brindavan ashram, c. 1980 (Photo in author’s collection, source unknown). Outside its gates, however, the original restful and bucolic feel of the larger area of Whitefield—with its spacious bungalows, gardens, coconut trees, nurseries, and bodies of water—has today disappeared with the transformation of Whitefield into a sprawling technoburb with many technology-based industries, campus offices, apartment complexes, and malls. The highway that runs by Brindavan is now a key artery of the city, because the Export Promotion Industrial Park (EPIP), with its information technology centers and tall buildings featuring opaque and shiny glass windows, adjoins it (see Figure 7). Predictably, General Electric, IBM, and other tech companies are located in the EPIP area. Somewhat unpredictably, the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences (SSSIHMS), which the Indian Prime Minister inaugurated in 2001, is also located in the EPIP (see Figure 8). Built on 52.26 acres of land donated by the government of Karnataka, Larsen and Toubro Limited completed the largescale building project. The SSSIHMS is free of charge and has diagnostic, preoperative, postoperative, and surgical facilities, chiefly in cardiology and neurology. There is also a degree-granting nursing school attached to it. Figure 7: View largeDownload slide Map of Bangalore Metropolitan Region in the early 2000s, not drawn to scale. Adapted by Smriti Srinivas. Figure 7: View largeDownload slide Map of Bangalore Metropolitan Region in the early 2000s, not drawn to scale. Adapted by Smriti Srinivas. Figure 8: View largeDownload slide Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences standing in the Export Promotion Industrial Park next to tech companies. Photo by Jeff Bartak. Figure 8: View largeDownload slide Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences standing in the Export Promotion Industrial Park next to tech companies. Photo by Jeff Bartak. The built environment of the SSSIHMS is architecturally distinctive and stands in radical contrast to surrounding buildings. A garden containing an image of Dhanvantri, the divine physician popularly associated with Ayurveda, stands in front of the main entrance of the SSSIHMS. Inside the central door is a large lobby with a high ceiling beneath the central dome of the hospital: one’s eyes travel to the photograph of Sathya Sai Baba and a statue of Ganesha in its elevated prayer hall where devotional songs and prayers are held regularly. Ravishankar (of Ravi Associates), one of the architects of the institute, spoke of the role of architecture in embodying Sathya Sai Baba’s vision for the SSSIHMS (informal interview, summer 2001). First, the main goal was serving people and the welfare of the country; thus, the building needed to be one that could stand for a hundred years and be large enough for its intended purpose. Second, patients should not feel as if they were coming into a prison, but rather a place for healing. Third, while the main idea was to create “a temple of healing,” it could not merely replicate temple architecture. Represented by a trust, it had to be a monumental building like the state capitol in Bangalore, Vidhana Soudha, or the Victoria Hall in Calcutta, but with its spiritual focus foregrounded in its design. In the last two decades, alongside economic liberalization, there has been a decline in government spending on healthcare and a shift towards the provision of secondary and tertiary care by nongovernment bodies. This means that tertiary care in particular, which is capital and skill intensive, is increasingly out of reach for large segments of the population. The SSSIHMS provides modern and high technology medicine mainly for underprivileged populations, who come from all over India and even from surrounding countries for medical care. Brigadier S. C. Bali, a retired army officer in charge of public relations at the Bangalore SSSIHMS, described the context for the institute as two-fold: On the one hand, Bangalore is becoming a hub for medical sciences alongside information technology. While some medical institutions are in the private sector (such as Wockhardt and Manipal), others are in the public sector (such as the National Institute of Mental Health and Applied Neurological Sciences). The first sector raises issues of equity, the second raises issues of efficiency. This is the rationale for the establishment of a different type of institution such as the Bangalore SSSIHMS. Brigadier Bali attributed it all to Sathya Sai Baba, saying, “only the power of Love can conceive such projects” (informal interview, July 4, 2001). The vision guiding many of the doctors and other staff emerges in this account of Dr. Shekhar Rao, the head of cardiac surgery: Above all, it is the Divine Grace of Bhagawan Baba that is making it possible to do all this work. . . . One example will illustrate this. We had performed a complex surgical correction on a one-year-old baby with cyanotic congenital heart disease [transposition of the great arteries]. On the second postoperative day the child developed multiple complications. . . . After exhausting all diagnostic and therapeutic efforts we gave the child Baba’s vibhuti prasad [ash] and prayed to Him for His Divine Intervention. . . . We continued to do our level best round the clock and witnessed that the child made a gradual and complete recovery. (Manohriday 2002, 17) The SSSIHMS is organically rooted in Sathya Sai Baba’s perceived role as a healer-physician: countless narratives of devotees’ experiences of his touch, look, words, and personal presence speak of how symptoms and illnesses decreased or simply disappeared because of his miraculous intervention. Devotees believe that his ash has curative powers as do other objects given by Sathya Sai Baba (rings, necklaces, icons, rosaries, lockets and other talismans, pills, ointments, oils, and fruits). Social institutions for healing were also established during Sathya Sai Baba’s lifetime, including an early hospital at Puttaparthi in 1957, the Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital in Bangalore (which started as a small clinic in 1969–1970), and the SSSIHMS in Puttaparthi in 1991. I have explored the role of philanthropy and the organizational basis of the Sathya Sai Baba movement in detail elsewhere (Srinivas 2008). In the context of this article, I highlight two issues: First, the therapeutic program supported by the Sathya Sai Baba movement is based on a specific understanding of the relationship between the body and the divine or self. The former is likened to a vehicle, chariot, car, or temple, and the latter to the driver, charioteer, in-dwelling spirit, or deity. The body’s purpose is to be a means for realizing divinity, liberation, or truth. These ideas influence ideas of health and healing, because a healthy body becomes a requisite means for spiritual discipline. However, Sathya Sai Baba’s ideas of the body and healing go beyond physical culture, diet, or sexuality to include nature (and human nature) and civic institutions. Second, the SSSIHMS does not constitute a zone of abandonment or marginalization as do some urban underscapes—family-run stores, slums, gardens, or shrines that have given way to the metro or Ring Roads. Rather, this monumental structure on a key transport artery of the city is an “overscape” emerging from the labor and utopian visons of religious actors rather than the state or corporate institutions. An interesting contrast to the monumentalism of SSSIHMS is the Swaminarayan organization’s memorial monument complex called the Akshardham (see Brosius 2010; Kim 2007; Srivastava 2009). The Delhi Akshardham was inaugurated in 2005 and stands on 100 acres of reclaimed land along the Yamuna River. It has become a key tourist destination in Delhi for the middle classes and nonresident Indians, but unlike the SSSIHMS, it renarrativizes Hinduism and Indian culture rather than providing a new reading of allopathic medicine or science. Within the context of Bangalore’s emergence as a high-tech city in the 1990s, the actors supporting the SSSIHMS appear to be channeling ideas of “export promotion,” high technology, and tertiary health care provision through the language of healing and devotion to their guru. SELF-SPIRITUALITY ON URBAN FRONTIERS While the goals and procedures of the Sathya Sai Baba movement have crystallized over time, one constant theme that has run through it over the years is that of service (seva) as a spiritual path. The link between service and public reform stems from Sathya Sai Baba’s understanding of the body as a means for realizing the self and mediating between the individual and society, inner nature and external nature. “Service to man is service to God” is a commonplace phrase in the movement. The overscape of the SSSIHMS and the many devotional and service institutions that anchor it thus bear a genealogical connection to older religious movements in India. While there were strong Indian traditions of philanthropy, for example, among the Jains and Bohras, several scholars have shown how in the nineteenth century, a new semantics for the idea of serving the guru or God began to emerge in many South Asian religious movements in the context of colonialism (Gold 1995; Watt 2005). Sahajanand Swami or Swaminarayan (1781–1830), the founder of the Swaminarayan fellowship, encouraged social welfare works and manual labor by ascetics such as digging wells, repairing roads, building temples and residences, or providing famine relief, which continues to be a model for the Swaminarayan religion today (Williams 2001). The first organized expressions of service in the Ramakrishna movement emerged from the novel response of Vivekananda (1863–1902) to famine and disaster (Beckerlegge 2000). The Arya Samaj, the Theosophical Society, Servants of India Society, and the Seva Samiti of Allahabad in the first two decades of the twentieth century, “drew on dynamic and deep-rooted ‘living traditions’ while also being influenced by contemporary Indian social conditions and global developments in the realms of organized philanthropy and civics” (Watt 2005, 13). Several contemporary gurus and their organizations, such as the female guru Ammachi, also emphasize service and provide relief for the poor through healthcare or soup kitchens in many urban sites (Warrier 2005). Postliberalization Bangalore has become an important space for the emergence of several teachers and gurus whose projects are rooted in techniques of individualized selfhood that do not translate into the civic projects of these earlier movements. Instead, operating in many cities in Asia in a global milieu, they court new professionals and techno-centric elites and “incorporate scientific language, academic registers, and business and media savvy into the development of a new kind of religious association and a new kind of religiosity…for this rising middle class” (Waghorne 2014, 284). Their ideas of selfhood share a comfortable conjunction with managerial techniques, enterprise culture, and software professionals in Bangalore (Upadhya 2013). Thus these new gurus attract the attention of real-estate developers constructing spaces for new lifestyles, dream homes, and emerging constituencies on the shifting peripheries of Bangalore. In 2008, for example, Prakriti Retirement Resorts (promoted by Newage Developers) intended to build a senior citizens’ township covering two acres near National Highway 209. In their advertisements, they highlighted landmarks proximate to Prakriti Resorts, including the Art of Living International Centre of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the Maitreya Buddha Pyramid (“the world’s largest pyramid meditation hall”), both on Kanakapura Road, a major highway radiating south of the city (see Figure 7). A spiritual overscape of very different origins from the SSSIHMS, the Maitreya Buddha Pyramid in Bangalore, owes itself to the activities of the PSSM founded in 1990. According to the organization, today PSSM comprises more than two thousand independent pyramid spiritual societies and active members and volunteers across India and in twenty countries. Their core message is that “we are not just physical entities experiencing random existence. Instead, we are ‘Eternal Energy-Consciousness-Wisdom (ECW) Entities’ constantly choosing and creating our own respective on-going existential realities” (Pyramid Spiritual Societies Movement 2017). The movement focuses on realizing god-hood or Buddha-hood through meditation, pyramid energy, the essential teachings of the world’s spiritual masters, and vegetarianism. The founder, Subhash Patri (b. 1947 in Andhra Pradesh), obtained a postgraduate degree in soil sciences in 1974 and joined Coramandel Fertilizers in Kurnool in 1975. Online and printed literature states that Patri, married and with two daughters, became enlightened in 1979 after several experiments with meditation. In 1992, he resigned from his job and dedicated himself to his new vocation: to spiritualize the world through a process that he calls being a “spiritual scientist.” His core teachings include the belief that an individual has the ability to attract abundance and health into his/her life by following certain techniques such as meditation, the energy and power of pyramids, compassion for all living creatures, vegetarianism, and the focus on a “spiritual science” that is a basis for all existing traditions. Thus, besides revering the Buddha, Patriji is an advocate for the writings of Annie Besant, Carlos Castaneda, Deepak Chopra, Osho, Jane Roberts, Sylvia Browne, and Lobsang Rampa. In 1997, in the temple town of Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, pyramid masters gathered to confer the title of “Brahmarshi” on Patriji. One of the chief forms the movement has taken—apart from vegetarian rallies, meditation camps, national conferences, or forest treks—is building pyramids in urban sites. “Pyramids assist us in healing…whatever we do inside the pyramid is enhanced three times more,” says Brahmarshi Patriji (Pyramid Spiritual Societies Movement 2017). The Maitreya Buddha Pyramid in Bangalore, which opened to the public in 2005 in the 28-acre Pyramid Valley campus, allows 5,000 people to meditate at a time. An even more monumental structure, the Maheswara Maha Pyramid, was constructed on a major highway near Hyderabad in Telangana, with a 6,000-person capacity. In addition, volunteers built smaller pyramids holding between 70 to 200 people in other cities in South India. Andhra Pradesh has eleven, Karnataka has two, and Tamil Nadu has another two. Besides these, the PSSM website claims that across India, individuals have built more than ten thousand rooftop pyramids on their houses. To get to Pyramid Valley from the center of Bangalore, one must pass the Indian Institute of Management and miles of high-rise apartments surrounding or swallowing erstwhile villages and markets. Within the Pyramid Valley campus, the Maitreya Buddha Pyramid rises vertically at a height of 104 feet (see Figure 9). According to the movement’s website and other publications, it was constructed on the principles of the Giza pyramids, is oriented north-south, contains 640 Himalayan crystals fitted into its meditation hall, and has artwork inside depicting the Buddha. The Buddha is the core inspiration for the meditation technique (anapanasati) taught by Patriji, which focuses on the breath. In fact, in front of the Maitreya Buddha Pyramid is an image of the Buddha, eyes closed in meditation, seated on a lotus emerging from a pool. Figure 9: View largeDownload slide Maitreya Buddha Pyramid, c. 2010. Photo by Smriti Srinivas. Figure 9: View largeDownload slide Maitreya Buddha Pyramid, c. 2010. Photo by Smriti Srinivas. Patriji has made overseas trips to conduct meditation workshops in Singapore, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Dubai, and Sri Lanka, among others, and there are some international seekers at Pyramid Valley, typically during key events. Navneet Kaur, for example, a Sikh woman born in Singapore, was drawn to pyramids and meditation because of a marriage and health crisis in 2011. Her experiences were so positive that she was soon traveling to Pyramid Valley to attend the Global Congress of Spiritual Scientists in Bangalore the same year and became an organizer for a pyramid society in Singapore (Kaur 2017). However, from my informal interviews at Pyramid Valley as well as testimonies in Spiritual India (the magazine of the movement produced in Hyderabad [Telangana state]), it appears that Patriji’s strongest base is in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh and his core constituency—unlike Sathya Sai Baba’s more diverse pan-Indian and international following—are middle class Telugu-speakers from several cities. Aruna Kanthi, born and brought up in Vishakapatnam city and now living in Chennai with her husband, an employee of Tata Consultancy Services, is one such example. She writes that although she always had a spiritual quest, her actual journey began in Bangalore when she met Patriji in 2007 during Buddha Purnima celebrations. Within a matter of time and with intense self-exploration, she came to understand that “we create our own reality” (Kanthi 2017). More routinely than Navneet and Aruna, the large number of people attracted to Pyramid Valley reside in areas in south Bangalore connected by the Kanakapura and Outer Ring roads. On the one hand, Patriji’s meditation techniques and the focus on the Buddha explicitly gesture to the long history of Buddhism on the subcontinent as well as the pivotal influence of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s neo-Buddhism in the twentieth century and the Dalai Lama’s presence in India. Through several organizations, networks of practice, iconic personalities, and media circuits, public images of the Buddha have proliferated in urban sites from images in the kiosks of cobblers on city streets to statues in front of state buildings or artwork in restaurants and bookshops. On the other hand, the Pyramid and the newsletter of the movement, Spiritual India, share a terrain with other current south Indian movements, including the Art of Living and Isha Yoga that emphasize self-responsibility, “inner engineering,” the authority of inner experience, and a spiritualized humanism (see Waghorne 2014), usually recognized as New Age ideas. While discussions of the New Age typically stress belief in self-empowerment through the practice of certain somatic techniques, a disengagement with tradition, and global ideas of “spirituality” (Carrette and King 2005; Heelas 1996), of interest here are the specific cultural and spatial registers that make this an “Indian New Age” (Srinivas 2015). These include the transformations of Indian urban lifeworlds through several pathways, including transport. For over a decade now, there has been intense real-estate speculation in the Pyramid Valley area with mega-projects such as Brigade Meadows (an “integrated enclave” for over 3000 families) and other high-rise housing projects. Currently, the second phase of metro construction is scheduled to terminate a few kilometers from Pyramid Valley and the Art of Living International Centre. New frontiers of domesticity and mobility, forms of individualized selfhood, and media such as New Age bestsellers or pyramids thus converge in Pyramid Valley. URBAN HEALING FABLES Forms of religiosity have interlaced Indian cityscapes and public spaces for several millennia. In contemporary times, we see at least three modalities, mentioned in this article, in which this has occurred (see also Srinivas 2012). First, the proliferation of temples, buildings, and altars of various scales and genealogies, including fixed shrines in marketplaces, courtyards of homes and apartment buildings, and religious campuses such as the Swaminarayan Akshardham temple complex in New Delhi or the Brindavan campus in Bangalore. There are also mobile altars found on dashboards of taxis, buses, and auto-rickshaws, or complex forms of iconography moving through urban landscapes from films to calendars. Second, there has been a ritualization of the urban landscape through the creation of new rituals, the modification of older ones such as processions and festivals, or the use of acoustic technologies like cassettes and loudspeakers. Third, gurus and spiritual teachers command urban constituencies of various scales from several caste groups to highly techno-centric and managerial elites, channeling old and new techniques of the body and altering cityscapes in their wake. The two religious movements discussed in this article both emerge from Andhra Pradesh and have a substantial influence on the (old and new) Indian urban middle class. The Sathya Sai Baba movement emerged as a pan-Indian and then global phenomenon in the immediate postcolonial context (1940s–1960s), while Patriji’s PSSM is a postliberalization movement (1990s onwards). Their urban refabulations are deeply concerned with health and healing, although understood differently, and seem to mirror Homespace’s advertisements for healthy living for the middle class. Within the Sathya Sai Baba movement, not only is Sathya Sai Baba credited with many miracles of healing, but spiritual performance is based on the somatic philosophy that self-care is intimately related to care of the other. Thus, the SSSIHMS and other programs of medical care and service become a natural corollary of Baba’s role and this philosophy. It is also the case that these aspects, however particular they are to the movement’s history and development, are connected to the terrain of the modern Indian state and the manner in which the state has, until recently, attended to its citizens’ rights to food, education, water, or health security. In the case of Pyramid Valley, however, the body and embodiment figure differently: based on a self-ethic focused on meditation or vegetarianism, these somatic practices are located less within the realm of the nation-state and more within global circuits of mind-body illness and healing where contemporary Indians circulate as they seek wellbeing. At the same time, the movements share a deployment of “post-Hindu” fables: a theosophical universalism paying equal heed to the core of several “world” religions is the official narrative for the Sathya Sai Baba movement, while the Pyramid Societies movement employs both New Age and neo-Buddhist narratives. 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Journal of the American Academy of Religion – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 30, 2018
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