Complexity and Economy in Pilgrimage Centers of the Vijayanagara Period

Alexandra Mack
Department of Anthropology
Arizona State University, Arizona, USA


Economy is often overlooked as an element that is essential to the complex system of pilgrimage. Although economy is part of the mundane world, and appears to lie far from the spiritual, emotional, and symbolic world of the pilgrimage journey, spatial a rrangements of precolonial south Indian temple centers indicate that the economic considerations of pilgrimage are inextricable from the ritual and cosmological aspects of the journey. This paper will explore the confluence of spatial arrangements and ec onomic transactions at pilgrimage centers. My specific focus will center on the archaeological evidence from the area surrounding the Vitthala temple at the precolonial south Indian imperial capital city of Vijayanagara.

The Economy of Pilgrimage

The spiritual journey of pilgrimage is in fact often structured around debt relations. The "debts" that are most frequently associated with pilgrimage center on the relationship between the pilgrim and the deity. Appadurai and Breckenridge describe the reigning deity in a south Indian temple as a sovereign who "stan ds at the centre of a set of moral and economic transactions which constitute...a redistributive process" (1976: 190). This concept is not limited to Hinduism. Catholics visiting the Bom Jesus shrine in Brazil make the journey primarily to pay promessas offered in exchange for healing (Gross 1976). Other similar exchanges occur throughout the world at shrines visited by followers of numerous religions. During the journey, these relationships of spiritual exchange are mirrored in the physical world by t ransactions that are dominated by human economics: money and goods. Although many aspects of an overall economic system are controlled through hierarchical systems, there is an economy of pilgrimage that lies outside the control of the dominant forces, and is driven largely by the pilgrims themselves. This is an inter linked part of the overall experience of pilgrimage, economic transactions are conducted within both the spatial and temporal realms of pilgrimage. If pilgrimage is a liminal experience, then perhaps these transactions, too, are liminal. However, the en d products of these transactions may be more worldly, and may come in a form that can be carried home with the pilgrim, providing tangible reminders of a spiritual journey. These ritual "souvenirs" can be shared with villagers at home who did not or coul d not make the journey, thus extending the impact of the pilgrimage to others. The economy of pilgrimage is undeniably complex and self-organizing, and must be understood within the overall context of the pilgrimage experience. In developing guidelines for an interdisciplinary study of pilgrimage, Preston (1992) mentions the economic dimension as one of the key methodological issues, noting, "Virtually every pilgrimage is associated with a field of economic exchange, as in fair s, carnivals, and permanent or temporary marketplaces. Materials are redistributed as pilgrims enter sacred centers, then disperse. A relationship of debt between deity and pilgrim, institution and begging, and the temporary incorporation of peripheral tribal peoples in the process of exchange are examples of secondary (in some instances primary) motives for pilgrimage behavior" (1992: 43). In his study of Bom Jesus de Lapa in Brazil, Gross noted the dominance of pilgrimage on the town's economy. Pilgrimage is such a dominant force that many residents move away during the rainy season when muddy roads prevent visitation. Those who stay ar e underemployed or unemployed. Pilgrimage prevents the development of other economies in the town; for instance, the coincidence of the pilgrimage season with the planting season discourages investment in agricultural pursuits. However, he counted "at l east 50 permanent stores and hundreds of tiny stalls set up during the festival" (1971: 132). Pilgrimage can encourage overall economic prosperity. Michell notes that in southern India "the simultaneous growth of pilgrimage and trade is an outstanding feature of urban life in the region. Kanchipuram provides an excellent example of a significant religious-commercial center dealing in locally woven textiles and other goods. Festivals in temple towns are generally sensational events that also benefit business" (1993:10). That this pattern was established in precolonial times is clear from inscriptions. Stein notes that "fairs augmented urban trade...Regular and periodic fairs were established on the main roads to great temples during the times of major festivals" (1982: 121).

The Indian Temple as Economic Center

Indian temples themselves serve as important economic centers. Temples were, and are, landholders, employers, and consumers. In some cases, an entire town's socio-economic structure may be entirely dependent on the temple (Jindel 1976: 6). Jindel recorded that the temple at Nathdwara, Rajastan provided work to as many as 1000 families, with the rest of the population subsisting on industries which were at least indirectly associated with either temple functions or the needs of pilgrims (Jindel 1976: 177-78). The types of people needed to keep the "household" of the temple running included suppliers of food, flowers, and baskets, potters, carpenters, blacksmiths, leather-workers, sweepers, tailors, bamboo workers, painters, dhobis, blacksmiths carpenters, and sweepers. Arts surrounding the temple and its festivals included music, dance, drama, painting, calligraphy, decorative painting, and "cottage industries" such as enamelling, plastic, dyeing and printing, pottery, tailoring, embroidery, manufacture of bangles, glass-frames, snuff boxes, and toys. The economic role of the temples was far more complex than that of employer. In his work on the Tirupati temple, Stein concluded that temples became centers through which state resources were redistributed during the precolonial periods (1958: 127). This redistribution has a moral component as well, with shares received from the deity in exchange for donations to temples. As Appadurai and Breckenridge note, "the deity...commands resources (i.e., services and goods) such as those which are necessary and appropriate for the support and materialization of the ritual process... [These resources] are redistributed in the form of shares to the royal courtiers, the donor, and the worshippers at large" (1976, 195). However, the select group of those wealthy enough to make large donations to the temple does not include the majority of those who visit a shrine. Most pilgrims may be able to afford some small gift for the deity, if anything. Nonetheless, this does not exclude them from the larger redistributive process. Food which was presented to the deity and thus became consecrated became an important commodity for pilgrims. It conferred additional merit for the traveller, either through consumption on-site, or by bringing it home for others to share (Stein 1958: 100). Although in theory this food should have been provided as a service to pilgrims, it was regularly sold by temple functionaries. Pilgrims regularly paid for such food, setting up an important exchange system that was maintained by their demand for the sacred product. (Ibid, 115). Consecrated food was not the only commodity of exchange for pilgrims. Trade in tangible goods took place in the bazaars surrounding the temples. People buy offerings, purchase food, and even obtain souvenirs which will remind them of the trip and which can be shown to others at home when the pilgrim returns.

Pilgrimage and Space

These economic transactions take place within the spatial and temporal realms of pilgrimage. The sacred journey to the home of a god or other holy site takes the traveller out of the context of daily life, and into a new realm in which ordinary physical and social boundaries no longer apply. While quotidian boundaries may be broken, new patterns become part of the experience which will shape the individual during the journey. Some of these patterns are spiritual, and others are part of the physical world, and at times these two realms cross. In India, this experience is fueled on the more mundane levels by the ways in which temple towns are planned to direct movement and direct lines of sight. The spatial arrangement of a temple town is aimed at enhancing perceptual importance of the place (Pieper 1980). Ideally, the temple complex is placed at the center of the town. While this may not always be possible due to topography or other factors, the temple complex does become the conceptual center of the town, if not the physical center. It is generally a set of monumental structures covered with ornate sculpture and highlighted by tall gateways. This set of structures create a landmark visible from many miles away, which dominates its immediate vicinity. The pattern of movement through temple towns creates spiritual links and enhances the emotional experience for visitors. Paths of movement are directed and lines of sight are concentrated on particular features to emphasize the monumentality of temples and their ornately decorated facades (Michell 1993, Pieper 1980). Directed routes control access in the city, separating public from private space, or one part of the city from another. Circulation and circumambulation are fundamental elements of Hindu pilgrimage (Bhardwaj 1997). Particular routes are followed both to journey to holy sites, and also to move around those sites. Thus the pilgrim may experience a sense of awe that is engendered in part by the journey itself, and in part by the physical aspects of the place and the perception of the pilgrimage center as transcendent beyond ordinary places. The spiritual impressions of the journey and the perceptions of the pilgrimage center are inextricable from the transactions that take place there.


The remainder of this paper will focus on the ways in which the spatial arrangement of pilgrimage influences the economy of pilgrimage, based on studies of the temple district of Vitthalapuram, which lay at the heart of the imperial capital city of Vijayanagara. The Vijayanagara empire flourished in South India from the 14th to the 16th centuries A.D. FIGURES. The emergence of the empire was likely made possible by political fracturing and upheaval within the Delhi Sultanate, which allowed Hindu rulers to establish a new polity. The capital was established around 1336 on the southern bank of the Tungabhadra River in the northern Deccan, in what is now central Karnataka. Although there had been settlement in the area for hundreds of years, Vijayanagara was the first city at the location. However, the area had spiritual connotations long before it became the center of an empire. Hampi was also home of the local river goddess Pampa. In local tradition, she became a consort to Virupaksha, and the large Shaivite shrine in Hampi continues to be actively visited by pilgrims each year. In addition, Vijayanagara lies at the center of the mythical kingdom of Kishkinda, the home of Hanuman and the setting for much of the Ramayana. These Vaishnavite associations became especially important as the empire matured, and later emperors primarily endowed Vishnu shrines. The physical structure of the city may reflect complex spiritual meanings. Fritz (1985, 1986, 1987) argues that Vijayanagara is an example of a cosmic city and argues that the deeper structural levels of the city reflect the relationships between the celestial and the terrestrial. Much of the internal structure is focused on the areas of performance of the mahanavami rites, which took place in the Royal Center, on a high platform facing audience halls. This performance area was separated from the royal residence area by a large north-south wall which lay on the same axis as the Ramachandra Temple. Routes of movement in the city were directed toward the royal center, and once in the center, attention was focused on this temple. Fritz proposes that these geometric similarities created a pattern of analogies which related the temple to the city and the empire as a whole. He has observed related structures in the layout of the architectural elements involved at these higher levels, and argues "that particular qualities of religious experience in sacred buildings were projected to larger scales" (Fritz 1987: 332). More recently, Malville and Singh (1997) have used a Geographical Positioning System (GPS) to accurately measure the locations of the major temples in the city. Their findings show that there is north-south alignment connecting the Royal center, Matanga Hill and north pole, and they conclude that the sacred space in the city as a whole was shaped by both cosmological alignments and the movement of pilgrims. Temples played an important role in the economic and political structure of the Vijayanagara empire. Although temple towns and temples existed for hundreds of years before the Vijayanagara empire, Vijayanagara rulers embarked on a systematic program of temple construction and renovation throughout south India (Michell 1993, Appadurai and Breckenridge 1976). Nag and Reddy note that at Tirupati "the colony around the Govindaraja temple expanded over a period of centuries, particularly during 1336-1680 coinciding with the rule of the Vijayanagara dynasty" (1994: 118-9). This support of Vijayanagara kings is evident in the extensive number of inscriptions on both the Govindaraja and Venkateswara temples which date to the Saluva and Tuluva dynasties. Vijayanagara rulers endowed temples within the city walls of the capital as well. The Krishna temple was constructed by Krishnadevaraya to commemorate a military victory in 1515. The Tiruvengalanatha temple, constructed with funds donated by Hiriya Tirumala, the brother-in-law and chief minister of Achyutadevaraya (ruled c. 1530-1542), was consecrated in 1534 (Fritz and Michell 1991: 92). Today the complex is commonly referred to as Achyutaraya's temple. The Vitthala, Malyavanta Ragunatha, and Ramachandra complexes were also constructed during the Vijayanagara period. FIGURES The areas surrounding the temples at Vijayanagara are often called by the temple name, plus the suffix puram, which translates as town. Thus, the area surrounding the Vitthala temple is known at Vitthalapuram. I also refer to the areas surrounding temples within the city of Vijayanagara as districts. The city of Vijayanagara was abandoned in 1565 after the empire was defeated in war by a confederacy of northern states. Although a Vijayanagara ruler tried to reoccupy the city in 1567, his attempt was unsuccessful, leaving the area largely depopulated. Only small villages occupy the area today. This shift of power is visible at temples throughout the Vijayanangara imperial region: there is a sharp drop in donations to temples after 1565.

Spatial Studies at Vitthalapuram

Because the pilgrims' movement through the space of the pilgrimage center forms such a fundamental part of the pilgrimage experience, the primary component in this study consists of understanding the patterns of movement through the areas immediately surrounding a large temple complex. The plans of temple towns throughout south India provide evidence of directed access and flow of people through space, direct lines of sight, and physical changes in these pathways as one moves through them in ritualized patterns. One of the most notable features of Vijayanagara is the topography. FIGURE The city is set in a landscape of rocky granite outcrops emerging from the Deccan Plateau. This landscape is spectacular visually, and strongly dictates settlement patterning in the area. Although there are monuments strewn across the "North ridge" in the center of the city, few archaeological remains are otherwise found on the ridges. Almost all the settlement of the city is found in the valleys, as are all the major temple complexes. This topography in itself undeniably controls spatial patterning and the flow of movement inside the city, and more specifically, within the temple districts. Therefore, first part of my study was aimed at reconstruction and visualization of these routes in order recreate the experience of the pilgrim's circulation at Vitthalapuram. Although the initial construction of the Vitthala temple may date to latter half of the 14th century (Filliozat 1988: 28), numerous inscriptions dating from 1513-1554 indicate that it was extensively renovated in the 16th century (Fritz and Michell 1991: 93). Vitthalapuram contains a substantial bazaar and remains of residential structures. SHOW BASIC MAP OF VITTHALAPURAM, DESCRIBE AREAS: MAIN COMPLEX, OLD SHIVA TEMPLE, BAZAARS, RESIDENTIAL, WALLS AND GATES. During 1996 field season, the Vijayanagara Research Project recorded the archaeological remains at Vitthalapuram. Base maps showing major remains and topography were drawn at 1:400 scale by professional surveyors from Bangalore. FIGURE Archaeologists, including myself, conducting archaeological survey in the areas covered by the maps, noting additional remains and numbering and describing all features. These descriptions were later entered into a database. In order to perform the following analyses, I digitized these maps in ArcView, a Geographical Information System (GIS), and converted the relevant databases to Microsoft Access in order to link them to the GIS. Once in the GIS, these data can be manipulated and analyzed in a variety of ways. The elevation data can be used to create 3D contour maps of the area, and extrapolated to find least cost paths through the area. Thematic maps can be made of features and artifacts, in order to show the distributions of different types of archaeological remains, and to calculate artifact densities in different areas of the town. The database can be used for more complex statistical analyses in packages such as Systat and SPSS. In order to assess the probable routes of movement through the city, I calculated a "least cost" path through the area. This is basically a calculation of the "easiest" route through the area based on the topography. I also used walls as "impediments" to travel, using standing walls, and extrapolating where walls of bazaars or other structures had clearly fallen down. FIGURE This map fits expectations based on what is known about circulation through pilgrimage centers. The easiest route follows the car path through the bazaar and toward the temple and likely went around the temple complex before entrance into the complex could be made. The map highlights several important features of the spatial features of pilgrimage. First, the prime area of spatial focus is the Vitthala temple complex itself. It is the major feature on the landscape, and the routes easily lead toward it. Pilgrims would have been drawn through the bazaar and toward the temple, with its gopura and shikaras drawing visitors closer while also looming overhead. This must have had quite a strong psychological effect, before a pilgrim even entered the temple complex itself. Second, there is a clear spatial emphasis away from residential areas. Pathways appear designed to keep outsiders away. These pathways to and from the residential areas are limited and more restricted than those around the bazaar and temples. While outsiders thronged in the public areas, the roads and paths were designed to keep residential areas private, and outside the realm of a pilgrims visit and experience of the city. A corollary to this is the third point, which is the fact that travellers are are herded through the bazaar, which was the main locus of commercial transactions. Although there is access to the district from along the river, this route may have a secondary route used primarily by city residents. As I mentioned above, there are clear patterns that separate public from private space within the district itself, and it is reasonable to assume that this separation of public and private carried over to the city as a whole. In fact, in a network analysis of the known Vijayanagara era roads, Dunham concluded that the sacred center, while relatively well connected in it's own sub-network of roads, was not very accessible to the rest of the network system (Dunham 1995: 136). This could indicate while access between temples was kept open, visitors were discouraged from venturing into other, private (i.e. residential) parts of the city.

The Economy of Pilgrimage at Vitthalapuram

The archaeological remains at Vijayanagara do not reveal all the economic activity that must have occurred around the major temple complexes. Based on what is known ethnographically, it is reasonable to assume that most of the residents of Vitthalapuram were employed in the service of the temple or were merchants or otherwise providing services to the temple or its visitors. As at other temples, the goods sold likely consisted of flowers, incense, textiles, jewelry, food, and other goods. "Service" guilds such as tailors and artists likely also had space in the main bazaar. It would have been difficult for pilgrims to avoid these goods and services, even if they did not partake of them, as the primary route through the district took the traveller past all of these points. Another important economic aspect of pilgrimage is the provisioning of the travellers, who must sleep, drink, and eat. Often this process is economized; for instance, pilgrims may sleep outside. Water is also usually free, procured from rivers and streams and strategically placed troughs wells are found along roadsides. Several inscriptions from Vijayanagara and the immediate vicinity record the construction of wells and troughs. One dating to 1551 found on a rock by a road near Anegondi, which lies across the River from Vijayanagara, mentions a land grant that was specifically for the purpose of granting water to travellers (Patil and Patil 2). Ethnographic studies (Gold 1988, Lynch 1988) indicate that pilgrims often carry food with them and prepare it as needed, and in some cases food may be provided for pilgrims at various points on the journey. The Tirupati temple today provides food and lodging for pilgrims. This practice may have occured at Vitthalapuram, as there are three possible large kitchens remaining in Vitthalapuram, identified by high double roofs. FIGURE One is in the southwest corner of the arcade surrounding the inside of the prakara wall, inside the temple complex. Another lies inside the prakar walls of a smaller temple just north of the main complex. The last is part of a mandapa that surrounds a small temple near the old Shiva temple, south of the main Vitthala complex FIGURE. These kitchen may have primarily fed temple functionaries, but if there was a main supply kitchen for pilgrims, this larger one may have been it. Nonetheless, my own observations of the archaeological remains at Vitthalapuram, lead me to believe that food items were also bought and sold in the district. Artifact distributions suggest that a variety of provisioning actvities were occuring around the temple. As mentioned above, the distribution of artifacts between the public and private areas of the district. The most visible (and numerous) archaeological artifacts were grinding stones, which can be further classified as slicks or mortars. Mortars are individual blocks of granite, square or rounded, generally no longer than 50 cm on a side. They have spherical basins cut into the middle to make room for the material to be ground and a handstone, such as a pestle. "Slicks" are worn, smooth areas on sheet rock or floors of buildings. FIGURE. Based on this extrapolated density map, an immediate distinction is seen in the distribution of artifacts in the district. There are high densities of grinding stones around the main temple complex, the "Wedding Cake" mandapa at the end of the car street, and in other mandapas Significant statistical differences can be seen in the artifact distributions in different regions of the district. Overall, preliminary analysis indicates that the differences in groundstone types may also indicate differences in public versus private provisioning. I mapped out artifact distributions in three areas I classified as Residence, Bazaar, and Temple FIGURE. For these three areas, I ran chi square analyses on slicks and mortars. FIGURE The chi square statistic was 25.4 with 2 degrees of freedom. The probability of this distribution occuring by chance is less than <.001. The bazaar has a relatively equal mix of groundstone of both types, with slightly more mortars than expected. Around the temples, almost no mortars are found. The groundst one in the residential area consists entirely of mortars, and a "grinding slab" on legs was also found in this area but not included in the analysis. Although the archaeological materials in Vitthalapuram has been subject to centuries of disrepair and more recent tourism does not bode well for preservation, the distinctions in these distributions are clear enough to be considered reflective of the different types of activities taking place in these separate areas of the districts. Further analysis is necessary to determine the distinct uses of mortars vs. slicks. However, based on the size and distribution of these stones, I expect that mortars are more commonly used for small scale grinding, while slicks are used for faster, larger scale food processing. In the residential area, where food preparation would be for single families, mortars or similar stones are found exclusively. Slicks are more common in the public areas of the district. John Fritz, estimates that some of these slicks, especially around the temple, may have been used in plaster production (pers. comm). My own assessment is that most were used for food preparation, however, I plan to conduct further measurements of these artifacts in order to make more accurate comparisons. There are other artifactual indicators of differences in public and private space. Basins and troughs are both water-holding features, relatively shallow, and smaller than a meter long. The VRP surveyors generally recorded smaller features were classified as basins, and larger ones as troughs. However, as there was no clear rule for recording these artifacts in the field I have grouped them for analysis. FIGURE On visual inspection it appears that most of the basins and troughs are in the residential area, as are most of the wells and larger resevoirs. Basins and troughs would have been used primarily for short term water storage. I assume that the water in these small tanks was used soon after it was placed there. Probable uses for this water include cleansing and food preparation. It is interesting to note that certain water supplies may have been kept "private" at Vitthalapuram. Some wells, and the Tungabhadra River (considered holy by many) were accessible to the public and travellers such as pilgrims, but once again it is clear that there are places and things that pilgrims do not have free access to. Other artifacts than those previously mentioned were found in the area. These included celts, lamps, mauls, quernstones, and ceramics. They occured in such low densities that they were unreliable for chi square analysis. However, visual inspection of the distributions of all these artifact types indicates that the temple has a low artifact diversity, while the residence and bazaar both seem to have an assortment of artifacts, indicating a greater variety of activities, including economic activities, taking place in these areas. FIGURE More research needs to be conducted in this area in order to fully understand the economy of precolonial temple towns, and its complex relationship to pilgrimage. My own plans for further study include measurements of the grinding stones found in the Vijayanagara temple districts in order to better assess the uses of the different types of stones. I also plan to collect ceramics from the districts to assess the distributions of various types of vessels and the types of provisioning that would go along with them, and further elucidate the distinctions in the public and private spaces of the districts.

Conclusions: Space, Economy, Complex Systems

The economy of pilgrimage is an intricate part of the spatial aspects of pilgrimage. As this small study of the uses of space at Vitthalapuram has shown, the layout of the temple district reflects the economic uses of the area, through distinctions in public and private space, and in provisioning activities. Pilgrims are directed through the district along particular routes, which emphasize the intended role of the pilgrim in the town. They are outsiders, separate from residents, and potential customers and trading partners. The spatial arrangement of the temple town is much more than an economic filter. These arrangements have a great emotional and psychological effect on pilgrims. The directed routes emphasize the greatness of the temple and the holiness of the place, imbuing the pilgrim with a sense of. The spatial arrangement of the town is an integral part of the overall pilgrimage experience, and the spatial connection between spirituality and economy implies that economy also cannot be separated from that experience.

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