Nature, History, and the Sacred in the Medieval Ruins of Delhi
Anand Vivek Taneja
This dissertation focuses on the transformation of Islamic theology through the experience of everyday life and politics in contemporary Delhi, as well as the changing role of nature and ecology in the experience of the sacred, across religious communities, in the post-colonial city. In the ruins of a fourteenth century palace in the center of modern Delhi, Hindus and Muslims from various castes and communities come to deposit photocopies of letters petitioning saintly jinn (superhuman spirits) for fulfillment of their personal and spiritual needs, many of them forming relationships with each other that could not exist outside this space. Firoz Shah Kotla is just one of several sacralized medieval Muslim ruins in the contemporary city. Through ethnographic and archival fieldwork, this dissertation investigates the sacredness of these ruins and their relation to the history of the city and to contemporary urban life. In Delhi, ruins are the anarchic spaces within the modern city where the pre-modern past, unregulated leisure time, and the experience of nature come together. The ruins serve as the ritual and social centers for a broader idea of religion, shared across caste and religious communities, which encompasses ethical orientations towards the self and the world linked to pre-modern ideas of justice, the valuation of dreams and visions, and an idea of nature as being inherently moral and miraculous. For both Hindus and Muslims, this broader idea of religion is linked to Islam. The sacral popularity of particular ruins emerges in the aftermath of traumatic violence inflicted by the colonial and post-colonial states, making them sites of apotropaic magic against "the magic of the modern (state)."