|

Abhishek Amar: Sacred Centers in India: Archiving Temples and Images of a Hindu City

Introduction

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The ‘Sacred Centers in India’ project is a digital archive of Hindu Gaya and Buddhist Bodhgaya, which began in April 2013 at the Digital Humanities Initiative (DHi) at Hamilton College.[1] Through this interdisciplinary and collaborative archive, the project seeks to examine the complex historical development of these two sites. The first phase of the project, 2013-18, focused exclusively on the development of a multi-layered archive of material remains housed in the twenty Hindu shrines and temples of Gaya. Equally important during this phase was to develop a 3-D and a VR model for pedagogical purposes. The second phase will focus at completing the archive by including data from thirty-five additional shrines and temples. DHi, funded initially through the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant in 2010, is a research and teaching collaboration that uses new media and computing technologies to promote humanities-based research, scholarship and teaching across the liberal arts. So far, it has received two grants from the Mellon foundation, which has helped in developing a sustainable digital infrastructure at Hamilton.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Being the preeminent site for the performance of the ancestral rites, the city of Gaya in the Bihar province of India has been accorded a central place in the oldest descriptions of pilgrimage in the Hindu scriptures (Sayers 2012, Vidyarthi 1961). Innumerable pilgrims from different parts of India have visited the city for millennia, and shaped its contours through their ritual practices and patronage. This multi-layered history of Gaya has not been critically examined. Previous studies have accorded primacy to the texts and scriptures, specifically GayaMāhātmya, and treated material remains as supplementary. Often these works have relied exclusively on texts to develop a framework, within which they have placed the inscriptions, sculptures, and architectural remains. This treatment of material remains ignores their ability to convey an alternative and a much more complex history of the city. This lacuna led me to conduct an archaeological survey of the temples and shrines of Gaya in 2011, which resulted in the documentation of fifty-five temples and shrines, each of which contained sculptures and images. I began to explore new ways of organizing the documented materials to pursue my research questions, which made me contact the then director of the Digital Humanities initiative (DHi, hereafter), Dr. Janet Simons. She has been instrumental in conceiving and developing this archive project since then. In short, this project has adopted an interdisciplinary approach to organize and digitally curate a collected dataset and pursue my research about the multi-layered past of the Hindu city of Gaya. In the last six years, we have developed a web archive that includes a Virtual Reality component, a 3-D model of the Vishnupada temple, a digital database, and GIS information of twenty shrines and temples of Gaya (http://sci.dhinitiative.org/).

Background and History of Gaya

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Gaya has been a sacred center from at least the time of the Buddha, in the middle of the first millennium before the Common Era. The Pali canon, especially Sutta Piṭaka, describes Gaya as a place renowned for ascetic activities and purificatory baths (Sayers 2010). By the beginning of the Common Era, this site began to emerge as a place for the performance of ancestral rituals, Śrāddha (Sayers 2012, Jacques 1962, Vidyarthi 1961). Over the next several centuries this place of ancestral ritual evolved into a place centered around the Hindu god Vishnu, whose footprint became the focal point for ancestral offerings. In this period, the history of Gaya truly begins to evolve; it is expressed most often in legendary accounts of the myth of its origin and a detailed description of the pilgrimage. These accounts become more formalized in the early medieval period and come to be called the Gaya-Māhātmya, literally “the greatness of Gaya.” Material remains indicate that during this burgeoning of textual historiography, an increasing number of images and new shrines emerged in this city; these religious artifacts were the focus of a growing cult dedicated to Vishnu (Amar 2012). Because of its strategic location, along routes between eastern and central India, the city underwent massive reconstruction in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Gaya found itself at the nexus of a major road and rail network in the late nineteenth century, and this central position resulted in a significant increase in the number of pilgrims (O’Malley 1903). The previously textual or theoretical pan-Indian appeal became a logistically possible reality. Today pilgrims come from all over India for the pilgrimage. This is a pilgrimage that has been repeated over the last two millennia and resulted in the addition of multiple layers of sacrality to Gaya. It is this layered history that my project seeks to uncover. In doing so, the project will explore questions about the demarcation and negotiation of space and ritual, geographic and historical dimensions of pilgrimage, the ideological and material construction of sacred centers and Hinduism broadly, and the relationships between texts and material culture.

Archaeological Survey and Data Collection:

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 During my doctoral research on the history of Bodhgaya, I conducted a preliminary survey of the temples and shrines of Gaya in 2005-06. This survey exposed me to the vast collection that had neither been documented nor carefully examined in the past. In summer 2011, I carried out a survey of Gaya and documented fifty-five vedis (shrines for performance of ancestor-rituals) and temples jointly with Dr. Matthew Sayers. This survey was undertaken in cooperation with the K. P. Jayaswal Research Institute, Patna (KPJRI). Previously, the KPJRI was authorized by the state government in 2006 to record and document all the historical sites and objects in the state of Bihar as a part of recent efforts to preserve the archaeological heritage of the state. An important goal for this documentation project was to create a documentary record to prevent any further destruction and theft of the valuable material remains of Indian history. Smuggling and theft has been a major problem for the state of Bihar, especially of the early medieval Buddhist and Hindu sculptures. Even though several villages of Gaya were surveyed previously in this project, the city of Gaya had yet to be surveyed. Therefore, it was ideal to collaborate with the institute for conducting this survey. For documentation of these sites, a detailed form was designed by Dr. B. K. Choudhary, director of the KPJRI, in conjunction with Amar (http://sci.dhinitiative.org/). The documentation included a careful recording of each object—image, architectural element, shrine, etc.—its context, associated legends and stories, ritual usage, and ownership, as well as relevant GIS data. In addition to the completed form, each object was photographed digitally.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 During this survey, we also observed and participated in the ritual activity performed at different shrines and interviewed several ritual experts, priests, and local intellectuals from among the Gayawala Brahmana, the local lineage of priests who have historically held the rite to ritual performance at Gaya, and other stakeholders including pilgrimage-operators, managers, and tour-guides in or around Gaya. Several of these rituals and interviews were recorded and added to the wealth of data. Several of those interviewed included older Gayawala Brahmana priests, who were considered local scholars in their community. We asked questions about the changes in rituals over time, the new generation and their interest in the priesthood, the movement of images and objects, the economic aspect of pilgrimage, and the role of ritual experts at the site.

Early Meetings

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 After the survey in June 2011, I realized the enormity of the task of organizing and processing this data in order to delve into some of the above raised questions. I worked with some of the data for academic research but mostly did nothing to organize this material until March, 2013. Then, I contacted Dr. Janet Simons from the Digital Humanities initiative at Hamilton College to explore the possibilities of developing a digital database and different ways in which I could share this material. The early discussions, often filled with technological terms and questions about the methods and organizational schema in the first year, were somewhat difficult. These discussions made me aware of the digital modes of research and how I could engage with digital tools to not only organize my materials but also develop an archive that could be shared through an online platform. Organizing a database required collating the collected data from the forms and generating tables of sites and their materials, which I had used for my dissertation research previously and more recently, for publishing an archaeological Gazetteer. Site or regional Gazetteers have been a useful mechanism to share a large amount of data but they are often inadequate in presenting artifacts, their specific contexts, and how they are being engaged with on a regular basis. Scholars often have to develop a static standardized format to present the data and make difficult decisions about including illustrations and visual materials. It also limits one’s ability to present multiple datasets and demonstrate interconnections, as pointed by Averett and Counts in this volume. In fact, digital documentation of the material remains makes it much easier to develop a digital database that provides a better understanding of the material as well its specific context of usage and daily engagements. This is a contrast from museum displays, which often lack specific contexts and limit our ability to engage with the objects in a productive manner.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 In order to effectively engage with digital tools, I conducted a brief review of the several digital projects and focused specifically on premodern site-specific projects with a GIS component. Projects such as ‘Digital Karnak’, ‘MayaCityBuilder’ and ‘Pure Land Inside the Mogao Grottoes of Dunhuang’ provided useful insights for developing this project. The ‘Digital Karnak’ and ‘MayaCityBuilder’ are excellent models in terms of spatio-temporal organization of structures within their geographical context. I also drew from the ‘story map ideas of ESRI’ that encouraged me to collect stories for several images and objects, and subsequently tag them with their stories. Particularly helpful was the ‘Project and Resource listings of Geo-Humanities Special Interest group’ which provides information about projects with a GIS (geographical information system) component for plotting sites on google earth maps. For 3D and VR models, I looked at the ‘The Oplontis Project’, ‘The Pompei Quadriporticus Project’, and ‘Pure Land Inside the Mogao Grottoes of Dunhuang’. These projects document multiple layers of their respective sites/structures within their 3D and VR models, and provide a nuanced understanding of the shifting contexts. I also spoke to directors of some of these projects, when they came to Hamilton for talks and workshops.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 An awareness of these projects made it possible for me to think about the development, digital curation, and different modes of presentation of my web archive. We decided to share the database in multiple formats. One format was to list and display the forms, which had all the data with specific descriptions (Fig.1, 2). Another format was to organize the object along with its specific context and geographical information to demonstrate the interconnections (Fig. 3). Developing and presenting multiple formats helped capture diachronic rearrangements and reconstructions within Gaya and examine the generation of new myths as a result of the ongoing practice of pilgrimage. This also emphasized the interdisciplinary nature of the project, which drew not merely from historically grounded sources but also from the current context. In addition to outlining the historical development of the Gaya in its geographical and cultural context, the project also developed materially grounded stories of temples, shrines and sculptures, that allows visitors to experience multiple layers of this sacred city. Digital tools such as GIS made it possible to explore the links between different shrines and also analyze the pattern of their growth and development overtime through the patronage of pilgrims.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Figure 1: List of Sites

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0  

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Figure 2: Data Form

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0  

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Figure 3: GIS based Presentation

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 In addition, one of the prerequisites for the Mellon-funded DHi was to find pedagogical importance of the project for our undergraduate students at Hamilton. This was clearly articulate as the fifth goal in the first phase grant application (http://www.dhinitiative.org/about/goals-phase1). I worked with some of my students in summer 2013 to develop digital forms and geographic alignment of the shrines within Gaya. Along with the DHi team, I also decided that the students of the study abroad program to India in Fall 2013 would use the field processes and methods for digital collection development.  We decided to develop a Google based collaboration site for the study abroad data collection since students of the program were to visit Gaya and Bodhgaya. We also planned to migrate research data and information from the study abroad research Google site into a longer-term digital repository collection for continued scholarship. This was an ambitious and somewhat unrealistic goal, which was never accomplished. However, another major goal was to engage students in the project to develop an archive, 3D Model, GIS Data, and a VR model.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 With the archive and its broader goals in mind, I have participated in innumerable meetings to discuss and develop work plans over the last four years with the members of the DHi Collection Development team (http://www.dhinitiative.org/community/collectiondev). The team is led by Janet Simons, who as a co-director, manages technology development implementation and sustainability of the web portal and digital archive, research projects, and coordinated the activities of the DHi Collection Development team. The team included lead designer and software engineer, Gregory Lord; library information systems specialist, Peter MacDonald; library metadata specialist, Lisa McFall; a Unix/High Performance Computing Network Administrator, Steve Young; and multiple undergraduate students working as DHi Interns in digitization, multimedia communication, research and development. Discussions with the collection team were instrumental in developing a step-by-step method for the first/pilot phase of the project, which focused on twenty sites. I will list and discuss the steps in the next section.

Methodology

Organizing Forms

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 The first and foremost goal was to create a standardized form and format for the collected data, which needed to be organized in a format in accordance to library of Congress standards. This included:

  1. 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0
  2. Creating a standardized form and format for listing all data including photographs
  3. Cleaning up forms and relabeling of the photographs in a standardized manner
  4. Organizing photographs of images, architectural materials, inscriptions, fragments, shrines, and temples in a sequential order to clarify context, their specific positions, and relationships with other remains
  5. Organizing sites into a specific site-unit on the basis of geographical proximity. This was the most difficult task and required some spatial thinking. There are several shrines that are out in the open and did not have an immediate ritual context. An excellent example is a group of early medieval images, which are plastered on top of a small bridge over a drain. I decided to group this ‘bridge-site’ with the nearest Vedi on the basis of geographical proximity to the nearest important shrine.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 I worked with five undergraduate students, who were interested in pursuing DH. They were chosen through a competitive selection process, which included an application and interview. The DHi gave these students summer fellowships. During the term of the fellowship, these students were trained in specific areas to undertake the above listed tasks. In this early phase, I spent considerable time working closely with these students to complete these tasks. In fact, it took almost a year to accomplish these tasks for the twenty sites in the first/pilot phase. While working on these, I also noticed gaps in the data, particularly about the specific contexts of images and sculptures and the lack of GIS data for mapping. At this time, I decided to use GIS pro on an Ipad to collect and create a new database of maps. I returned to the site to collect the missing-data, which was crucial for creating and maintaining the standardized format.

Metadata

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 The next step was to create a metadata schema on the basis of the documentation form and research questions. Creating strong metadata-schemata is the foundation of any archive and requires one to think carefully about different curatorial strategies. Metadata, in a simple way, is a spreadsheet of all of your data. It records how the information is related and the file structure, itself. Successful metadata will store all information in a single space to create a cohesive, easily navigated organizational structure. Multiple meetings with the metadata expert Dr. Lisa McFall were crucial in developing a schema that would facilitate the exploration of questions of space, geographical locations, relationships between water bodies, rivers, hills and religious structures, distribution-patterns of shrines, temples, and images, and a wide range of material remains. I was also interested in examining the rematerialization of past historical objects and the newer stories around them, which have led to the creation of ritual spaces and new layers of sacrality on preexisting landscape. Developing a metadata schema was, therefore, crucial.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 This metadata schema was developed on the basis of the database of twenty sites. In doing so, we also had to be mindful of adding other surveyed sites to the project later. This may include a different sculpture, architectural piece, or a shrine that was not documented at previously discussed sites. For instance, there was an image of a Buddhist goddess ‘Aparajita trampling Hindu deity Ganesha’ at the Chitragupta temple. This was the only image of its kind, which needed to be accounted for. Similarly, some shrines have Buddhist votive stupa, which are being worshipped as Hindu objects. These artifacts made us anticipate further additions to the project without disrupting its uniformity and organization. Keeping this in mind, we decided to create a ‘Buddha-Buddhist’ category to ensure that every object affiliated with Buddhism is adequately represented in the metadata. Additionally, it was important to anticipate the ‘knowledgebase’ and familiar categories of potential audiences, who might use this archive. This also explains why we created categories such as ‘Buddha-Buddhists’ and ‘Other Hindu gods-goddess’ in addition to ‘Shiva’, ‘Vishnu’ and ‘Devi-goddess’ as major metadata categories. These categories facilitated access of organized and curated information to a broad range of audience including the experts and novices. Bielo and Vaughn points towards similar curatorial strategies in this volume when they discuss specific attractions that are materialized on the Bible at particular places. Each of these places have distinctive history and afford an embodied experience, like the shrines and temples of Gaya. The process of curation must be intuitive and informed by the awareness of potential audiences.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Lauren Scutt (a Hamilton graduate of 2017) worked extensively (and excellently) on the metadata schema and populated the spreadsheet with minute details. Like the file structure on the server, there are different levels of metadata. The most basic levels correspond the documentation sheets with folders of images. More detailed levels link each image to its form, file, and supplementary information. Just to provide a sense of complexity, the spreadsheet held over thirty columns of information. A typical metadata schema consists of predetermined parameters for each data point (in this case each image). Examples of parameters in the spreadsheet are General Remarks or Description of Artifact. This ensures that each image corresponds with the correct information in the archive. More importantly, each image was tagged with keywords. Tagging is an important process because it allows the user to search for images directly with specific key terms. To facilitate tagging, we created certain “special phrases” such as “Goddess Images” or “Recent Shrines.” Therefore, even if the images are recorded on different forms, all of these files will become available to the user. Placing the images into assigned categories created consistency, which also simplifies searching the Archive.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Figure 4: Surya Image with Metadata

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Another layer of complexity was to ensure that the metadata and forms speak to each other in a consistent and coherent manner. Because they are based upon one another, both files needed to be constantly updated and reworked. Once a structural problem surfaced in one, it needed to be addressed in the other. Spelling and phrasing needed to remain consistent, as well. We decided to do away with diacritical marks and translate Hindi words generally. It seems obvious that spelling needs to be accurate and consistent while working on any academic project. Creating consistency across forms and metadata is crucial for users. If a database is tediously organized, users may notice patterns, which will help them determine better keywords to access information more effectively.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Another major challenge during this process was the conversion of forms to metadata. At times, it was necessary to change sentences to phrases and vice-versa. It was difficult to maintain the crispness and verity of the facts. One example of this was the identifiers used in the parameters: Present condition, Conservation assessment, and Protection status. Many of the adjectives recorded during the field research were vague. They did not give a good sense of the site. For example, for just one parameter we used alright, average, and decent, which all mean about the same thing. It is difficult to compare sites when the adjectives are not codified. Therefore, we developed a fixed list of identifiers to minimize any confusion for users. These discrepancies only became apparent in the process of entering information into the metadata spreadsheet. The juxtaposition of all of the terms allowed us to clearly view the shortcomings of the structure of the forms. In this way, one can notice the interrelationships between the forms and metadata and how they continually inform each other.

Digital Collection and Presentation

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 The Digital Humanities Initiative (DHi) at Hamilton has existing infrastructure and processes for archiving, development of data, and long-term preservation in Fedora Commons (http://www.fedora-commons.org/). Fedora was chosen for its scalability and extreme flexibility in the manner in which objects can be accessed. Fedora also has built-in flexibility for the creation and maintenance over time of relationships between objects and across digital collections. DHi uses Islandora (http://islandora.ca/about) and other open source collaborative tools to interface with collections in Fedora Commons.  Islandora can be used to create customized themes for faculty collections and projects. The DHi collection development team works with Islandora and Fedora Commons consultants at Common Media (http://commonmedia.com/) and with the Liberal Arts Islandora Collaboration Group members (founding members include Grinnell, Hamilton, Lafayette, Vassar, and Williams) to create digital scholarship infrastructure, which is open source. DHi also provides Drupal multisite web presences that connect to digital collections allowing ongoing living digital scholarly activity. All of these infrastructural preferences and decisions have been made to ensure long-term sustainability of this project (and other projects) on the web.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 The next step, after the organization of metadata, was to organize the digital collection on an internal server with metadata and prepare for next steps to input the data into the archive. Additionally, we also decided to develop postcards to brand and advertise the project within Hamilton. The postcard included developing a project logo and a brief description of the project. To organize and present the database, we also began to discuss different formats including the content and possible ways in which a visitor would navigate this website. We decided to include site descriptions, documentation forms, photographs, a 3D model of the Vishnupada temple, GIS information, and a VR model of the temple for pedagogical purpose. The DHi team also suggested that we create some tag words (categories) to foster a discovery mechanism and enhanced accessibility for a common browser. My research students were particularly helpful in choosing these tag words, which they thought were repeated often and could lead to one to the archive from a web browser search engine. Tag words provided another entry point for a browser to locate and engage with this project. Another entry point is through the interactive map application as every site/shrine/temple is plotted on a map and a simple click on a marker leads one to the detailed information on the site along with the documentation form and associated pictures. All of these show our efforts to provide multiple entry points to this database.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Figure 5: 3-D Model/Virtual temple

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 A 3-D model of the Vishnupada temple was developed in Blender- an open source software- by the lead design of DHi team Greg Lord (Fig. 5). This model was developed on the basis of sketches/diagrams of the temple, and specific photographs. The sketch was based on accurate measurement of every part of the temple, for which I used a tape measure and a laser measure in a separate trip in December 2014. I also hired a professional photographer for generating higher resolution pictures, which could be used for the 3D textures of the temple. By the end of spring 2015, the 3-D model was created. This model was constructed to an accurate scale, and provides an interactive display of both the interior and exterior of the temple and shrine. In the meantime, the metadata was also incorporated within the archive.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Given the pedagogical goals of the project, we then decided to develop a VR model of the Vishnupada temple and its surrounding context. A contextual understanding of this temple is crucial to explain the layered development of Gaya and its shrines. The completed 3-D temple was made interactive by importing it into the popular Unity game engine, allowing for both realtime interaction with, and movement through the model.  The foundations of what later became an interactive virtual reality experience were put in place here, with a series of control scripts that allow a user to move freely through the temple and its surrounding context. Now, the 3-D Vishnupada Temple in Unity is enabled with full VR support through the powerful SteamVR system, allowing realtime exploration in a virtual reality space, using the HTC Vive VR hardware.  This version of the virtual experience affords free movement, head tracking, tours through preset locations, realtime day/night lighting including control over time passage, interactive zooming, and audio support for realistic sound within the experience.  This version also begins to incorporate multimedia from the project archive, allowing for the display of image galleries and videos of the Sacred Centers in India collection from directly within the VR experience, linking virtual locations to real-world research materials. Many videos of rituals, the interior and exterior parts of temple and its context were recorded in 2014 fieldwork, which now can be accessed through this VR.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 In contrast to Kaplan and Shiff’s discussion of speculative modeling of Jewish homelands in this volume, this project has produced a recreative VR to facilitate a realistic and experiential understanding of the Vishnupada temple complex. The VR model makes a geographically distant location digitally accessible to a much broader audience, many of which may never visit or see the temple complex. The temple management committee also has a strict policy of not allowing non-Hindus inside the complex, which has limited the access to the temple complex and its countless sculptures to non-Hindu scholars. The digital reconstruction has also made it possible to examine the spatial arrangement of shrines and gradual development of the complex, which may not be apparent to a visitor. 3-D model of the temple and it surroundings can lead one to examine the layers of development. In my seminar classes, I have utilized the 3d model to discuss the issue of gradual development and the VR to walk through the different parts of the temple complex. The walk provides them an understanding of spatial arrangement, placement of images and sculptures, and their associated rituals. These experiences have inspired my students to produce creative assignment projects for the class, many of which are available in the pedagogy section of the archive (Fig.6).

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Figure 6: Pedagogy and Student Projects

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 In short, I have collaborated and relied extensively on the DHi collection team’s expertise to develop this archive. The last five years have been a steep learning curve for me to explore multiple technological tools and understand the challenges of developing this web archive. I must admit that many conversations about the tools and presentation formats seemed difficult and incomprehensible at times. However, discussions with the DHi team and their patience in explaining every minute technological detail was immensely productive in making an informed decision about the archive. This also illustrates the collaborative nature of the DH projects.

Future Goals

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 At this stage, there are three important goals for this project. The first goal is to transition to phase two and complete the database for the shrines and temples of Gaya, which includes processing and inputting data of an additional thirty temples and shrines. The metadata for this phase has been completed. The second goal is to develop an archive of materials that have been found from Bodhgaya. In addition to existing temples, shrines and images at Bodhgaya, many objects and remains were moved to different museums within India and the UK. There also exist photographs from nineteenth century excavation and restoration of Bodhgaya, which I have collected through my museum and archival research. The third goal is to develop a virtual museum of images and sculptures that I have found from the villages of Gaya and the Nalanda district. Many of these villages have a long-distinguished past, which I have examined and studied in detail. By developing a database of these objects, I hope to protect, preserve, and generate awareness about them.

Conclusion

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 The development of a digital archive requires intense collaboration. Multiple steps of the pilot phase have demonstrated that a digital scholarship project requires a strong grasp on both the material and technology behind the project. However, it is not mandatory for one to develop an expertise in digital before embarking on an ambitious project. Like other forms of scholarship, it can also be gradual and developed over time. Given the challenges of engaging productively with digital forms of scholarship, it is important to work collaboratively with tech experts to explore the possibilities of what can be accomplished. This archive has been helpful in rethinking the method that I have been trained in, which often focused on the qualitative questions. However, a much more careful examination and organization of the database has also forced me to develop quantitative questions related to the historical production of sculptures and architectural materials. In addition, the archive has been helpful in protecting, preserving, and researching heritage. In fact, this database can be used productively in the fields of heritage studies, or tourism, which are on the priority list of the Government of Bihar. More recently, I have successfully integrated this project into my pedagogy. As shown within the pedagogy segment of this project, students from my seminar course titled ‘Death, Dying and Afterlife’ visited the DHi lab to experience the VR model, which inspired them to develop creative projects including writing a short story book on Gaya, creating a replica of the Vishnu’s footprint, enacting rituals, and writing blogs on the themes of space and ritual through an analysis of images and shrines of the database.

Select References

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Amar, Abhishek S. 2012. “Buddhist Responses to Brāhmaṇa Challenges in Medieval India: Bodhgayā and Gayā.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 22, 155-85.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Jacques, Claude. 1980. “Gaya Māhātmya—Introductions etc. (Cont.)” Giorgio Bonazzoli, trans. Purāṇam 22.1 33–70.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 ——. 1979. “Gaya Māhātmya—Introductions etc.” Giorgio Bonazzoli, trans. Purāṇam 21.2 1–32.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 ——. 1962. Gaya Māhātmya. Pondichéry: Institut Français d’Indologie.

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 O’Malley, L.S.S. 1903. “Gaya Çrāddha and Gayawāls.” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 72.3 1–11.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Reed, Ashley. 2016. “Digital Humanities and the Study and Teaching of North American Religions.” Religion Compass 10: 307-316.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Sayers, Matthew. 2012. “Feeding the Dead at Gaya: From the Buddha’s Enlightenment to a Modern Pilgrimage.” Speech presented at the South Asian Studies Colloquium at The University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 ——. 2010. “Gaya-BodhGaya: The Origin of a Pilgrimage Complex.” Religions of South Asia 4.1: 9–25.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 Vidyarthi, Lalita Prasad. 1961. The Sacred Complex in Hindu Gaya. London: Asia Publishing House.


44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 [1] I would like to acknowledge my thanks to Janet Simons and the DHi team for their help and support in developing this project. My UG research students, especially Lauren Scutt, were instrumental in the pilot phase of this project.

Source: https://opr.degruyter.com/digital-humanities-and-research-methods-in-religious-studies/abhishek-amar-sacred-centers-in-india-archiving-temples-and-images-of-a-hindu-city/