Vishnu’s Crowded Temple

Vishnu’s Crowded Temple

Product ID: 23123

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Author: Maria Misra
Publisher: Penguin/Viking
Year: 2007
Language: English
Pages: 535
ISBN/UPC (if available): 9780713993677


On the sixtieth anniversary of Independence India is again at the centre of international attention. It has shed its image as a poor, tradition-bound backwater to stand poised on the threshold of super-power status, rivalled only by China as the greatest winner in the post-Cold War world order. And yet India remains a baffling paradox, strikingly different from all other global colossi. Juxtaposed with this ‘Shining India’ is the startling poverty apparent to any visitor, with squalid shanty-towns and slums abutting the gleaming call-centres and software laboratories. Moreover, while the achievements of India’s democracy and its awesome creativity are undeniable, so too are the violence, criminality and murderous religious passions of its turbulent politics.

Vishnu's Crowded Temple explains the persistence of India’s extremes by presenting a new interpretation of its history. Maria Misra argues that India is different largely because its politics rest upon a peculiar foundation, in which traditional philosophies of hierarchy, difference and privilege coexist to a remarkable degree with modern notions of equality and democracy.

This book also dissects the intervening attempts of various polemicists, politicians and prophets to transcend these inherent contradictions: from the baroque pseudo-traditional fantasies of the British to the religious arcadia of Gandhi; from the planned paradise of Nehru to the Hindu-Raj of high-caste elites or the cyber utopias of its new business moguls. This is an extraordinary story, and Maria Misra tells it with brio, wit and style. She concludes that India is likely to fulfil its leaders’ ambitions to win it a place among the Great Powers, but it will remain a unique hybrid of history–the product of a curious conjuncture between an ancient culture, colonialism and modernity.


List of Illustrations




1. Tropical Gothic

2. Babel-Mahal

3. Far Pavilions

4. Spinning the Nation

5. A House divided

6. The last Viceroy

7. Flames

8. Levelling the Temple

Epilogue or Divine Developments


Sources and bibliography