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Places in Motion - Reading Response 1

Places in Motion: The Fluid Identities of Temples, Images, and Pilgrims by Jacob N. Kinnard.
Thoughts on Chapters 1-3

The thing which struck me most from these chapters was actually where Kinnard discusses the blurred identities of the Buddha/Vishnu footprints around Bodhgaya and Gaya. I was especially intrigued by the part on page 78 where he mentions asking Bodhgaya pilgrims over the course of years regarding the origin of the footprints. He explained that when asked whether they were the footprints of Vishnu the pilgrims would answer ‘yes’, but they would do the same if asked if they were Buddha’s footprints. Kinnard noted the same person looking at the same image would see “two interwoven or overlapping identities.” As if to say that the footprints were, for those pilgrims, holy (and meaningful) regardless of their origin. And, in fact, they might even be doubly holy if attributable to both figures. Or as Kinnard wrote, “[w]hy limit oneself to one or the other when one can have both?” (pg 79). I was also struck by his example of footprints on Adam’s Peak/Sri Pada where the same footprints are claimed by several traditions. To Buddhists they are prints of the Buddha, Hindus believe it to be from Shiva, Muslims see them as belonging to Adam, and Christians to St. Thomas (pg 77).

Both of these point to a similar ability to share sacred places and/or relics with those of differing ideologies. The comingling of origin stories between the different groups - without any apparent antipathy is fascinating to me because it is not what I would expect from a person with a lot of religious zeal. For someone to feel motivated enough to engage in a pilgrimage to what they consider a holy place, but then not to be filled with any proprietary ‘us vs them’ feeling of entitlement to the place, the relics, and the narrative is very surprising, and interesting, to me. I tend to think, perhaps completely unfairly, that an extremely religious person – one willing to take on the hardship of making a pilgrimage - would tend more toward the clannish “othering” Kinnard mentions extensively in chapter two in relation to the ‘othering’ of Muslims in the US (both pre and post 9/11). I would expect such a person (probably completely prejudicially, on my part) would be uncomfortable, or totally unwilling, to share ‘their’ sacred spaces/artifacts with people who believe differently.


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