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  • 04 Jul 2019 GS Paper 1 Indian Heritage & Culture

    Explain with examples, how temple towns represent a very important pattern of urbanisation in Indian history. (250 words)



    • Introduce by giving an idea on temple towns of India with some prominent examples.
    • Examine the pattern of economy, polity and subsequent urbanisation that developed in and around important pilgrimage sites
    • Link the importance of these urban centres in contemporary times.


    • India has been culturally endowed with urban centres since Harappan civilisation which laid the foundation of urbanisation. In later centuries, the urban centres in India developed due to three main reasons, viz: a temple town, an administrative centre, a commercial town or a port town.
    • Among these, temple towns represent a very important pattern of urbanisation, since it developed due to the patronage, grants and donations it attracted and the economy that was built around it in due time.
    • Some significant examples of such towns are Thanjavur, Kanchipuram and Madurai in Tamil Nadu, Somnath in Gujarat, Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh.


    Growth of Temples towns as Urban Centres

    • Rich grants and donations: The temples were built by rulers to demonstrate their devotion to various deities who endowed temples with grants of land and money to carry out elaborate rituals, feed pilgrims and priests and celebrate festivals. Pilgrims who flocked to the temples also made donations. This made these centres resource rich in due time.
    • Emergence of supporting economy: Temple authorities used their wealth to finance trade and banking. Gradually a large number of priests, workers, artisans, traders, etc. settled near the temple to cater to its needs and those of the pilgrims.
    • Towns emerged around temples such as those of Bhillasvamin (Bhilsa or Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh), and Somnath in Gujarat. Other important temple towns included Kanchipuram and Madurai in Tamil Nadu, and Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh.
    • Pilgrimage centres also slowly developed into townships. Vrindavan (Uttar Pradesh) and Tiruvannamalai (Tamil Nadu) are examples of two such towns.
    • Similarly pilgrimage centre of Golden Temple developed into township of Amritsar and Sarnath, Bodh Gaya, Kushinagar, Vaishali as Buddhist and Jain pilgrimage centres formed the backbone of these towns.
    • Ajmer (Rajasthan) was the capital of the Chauhan kings in the twelfth century and later became the suba headquarters under the Mughals. Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti, the celebrated Sufi saint who settled there in the twelfth century, attracted devotees from all creeds, thereby making it an important pilgrimage and urban centre.


    • Apart from being the significant urban centres in yesteryears, temple towns continue to contribute in current times- economically through tourism, culturally by preserving heritage through their architecture, rituals, folklore and socially by integrating our past to the present.
    • The Government of India has continued to engage these centres through various schemes like PRASAD, Swadesh Darshan to capitalise their potential and ensure their significance in our collective cultural memory.
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