“Which God Shall We Install?” Early Swaminarayan Iconography and its Relationship to Vaishnavism

How to Cite

Cynthia Packert. (2022). “Which God Shall We Install?” Early Swaminarayan Iconography and its Relationship to Vaishnavism: Journal of Vaishnava Studies. Journal of Vaishnava Studies, 21(2), 75–86. Retrieved from https://ivsjournal.com/index.php/jvs/article/view/285


On Monday, February 24, 1822, in the historic Kalupur neighborhood in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, the charismatic religious leader and reformer Sahajanand Swami (1781-1830) consecrated a temple dedicated to the Vaishnavaite dual divinities Nar-Narayana (Figure 1).1 This temple is still an active worship and pilgrimage destination, and its claim to authenticity rests on its maintaining its historical connections to its founder. In the temple’s central sanctum are stationed two separate, nearly identical, carved black stone slabs
featuring symmetrical standing male figures endowed with four arms. They both bear a mace and chakra in their upper hands, and—when not obscured by their clothing—a conch and lotus are visible in the lower. At their bases, a pair of diminutive attendant figures leans in, framing the figures’ lower legs. The figures’ faces are adorned with shiny golden U-shaped tilaks, enormous applied eyes,
and diamond chin ornaments. Following general Vaishnava practice, they are decorated from top to toe in lavishly embellished clothing and rich ornaments and crowns, all of which vary with the time of day, the season, and the Vaishnava festival calendar.2 A figure of Garuda is stationed beneath their feet on the profusely decorated throne. Although they mirror each other’s appearance in
virtually every detail, the figure on the left is a bit larger, establishing a subtle visual priority in this closely paired relationship.

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