Joeeta Pal: The Afterlife of Kanheri: The Multiple Participants in an Extended Mortuary Tradition

This paper shall argue that a place can retain the imprint of death even after its abandonment. It makes the argument on the basis of a spatial analysis of the site of Kanheri. Located in the contemporary city of Mumbai, its Buddhist occupation may be dated to between the second and tenth centuries CE. The site housed a Buddhist monastic settlement with a chaitya, rooms for monks, water tanks and a high density of ‘votive’ stupas. By the tenth century, Buddhist monks had ended their occupation of the site. It, however, did not disappear into obscurity and different groups including those of Portuguese travelers, colonial explorers and the locals have engaged with the memorial stupas in different ways. Every act of remembrance involves an element of forgetting. While the Buddhist past of the caves seems to have been forgotten, the Buddhist manner of memorialization remained. The identification of the place with death and memory is likely to have been from the residual memories of the locals passed through oral tradition but the familiarity of all humans with death is likely to have also enabled such an association. Pal’s paper thus looks to explain how the identification of Kanheri as a site for memorialization was recognized and utilized by groups that were unfamiliar with Buddhism and how they chose to become a part of the site. That the space of the stupas was meaningful to them in death and memorialization is worthy of recognition.

 

Joeeta Pal is a PhD student at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her thesis attempts to trace the various modes of engagement with death in early Buddhism between the fourth century BCE and the fourth century CE. The study discerns practices and ideas relating to mourning, memorialization and the different spaces allocated to the two, by using historical, archaeological and art-historical sources. Her MPhil dissertation argued for multivalent death practices at sites of the Indus Valley Civilization through an analysis of burials at Kalibangan and Lothal. Pal’s other research interests include prehistoric burials and the politics of death in more recent times.


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