New video presents research results on the cultural significance of water spaces in India

Since Harald Lesch and Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim have become omnipresent, it is nothing new that scientists present their research on YouTube. Complex topics from space research, physics, biology, chemistry and technology are often explained in corresponding videos. Humanities scholars, on the other hand, are considered less YouTube-savvy. One exception is the research group „Religion and Urbanity“ at the Max Weber College of the University of Erfurt, which is currently presenting a new film on YouTube that deals with life around water in India.

In this video, Dr Sara Keller, who has organised an exhibition and a workshop on this topic, introduces us to the fascinating world of images in India and explains the cultural significance of water spaces in India on the basis of three thematic complexes (rituals, architecture, femininity). In addition to scholars, local artists who have dealt with the topic also have their say.

„We decided to use YouTube as a medium to give a younger audience an insight into foreign worlds, because in an increasingly globalised world it is important to get authentic impressions – beyond the clichés you have picked up from Bollywood films, for example,“ Sara Keller explains her motivation.

If you want to learn more about life around water in India, you can find the entertaining film here:

Exhibition opening: India. Life around water

Water opens up many living spaces in India: spiritual purification, social interaction, travel and everyday household management. Interested people can experience these different spaces in the photo exhibition „INDIA. Life on the Water“ in the Augustinerkirche from 7 to 8 July. The exhibition is organised by the KFG „Religion and Urbanity. Reciprocal Formations“ (FOR 2779) of the Max-Weber-Kolleg of the University of Erfurt and can be visited during church opening hours. Admission is free.

The photo exhibition, curated by Sara Keller, invites visitors to discover the many dimensions of water in India. There, water is not only an important element of livelihood, it also carries crucial spiritual and religious significance. As the main means of purification, water is an essential component on the path to Mokṣa (मोक्ष or liberation). The spaces associated with the water reflect this multidimensionality: they are at once spaces of female conviviality, colourful and dynamic environments, and backdrops to a refined architecture. The 26 photographs explore moments and experiences around the themes of ritual, femininity, architecture and the environment.

The exhibition is in German and English, and there is an audio guide. It takes place in the context of the conference „Accessing Water in the South Asian City“, organised by the KFG „Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations“. The research group is based at the Max-Weber-Kolleg of the University of Erfurt and has been funded by the DFG (German Research Foundation) since 2018. The researchers are investigating how urbanity and religion have influenced each other throughout history, especially in Europe and South Asia.

Sara Keller is presents a workin paper on ‚A model of water topography in the Western Indian city (10th -16th century) ‚

In arid and monsoon-dependant Western India, harvesting and managing water is a necessity. Thus, monuments and modified landscapes related to irrigation, water storing and water worship represent a large share of Indian architectural heritage. Yet this rich corpus and its attached hydrological knowledge awaits to be fully recognized: So far administrative efforts and scientific studies focus on the most visible elements, especially stepwells and other dug facilities.

Inspired by archaeological observations and historical data, my paper proposes to have a fresh look at the hydraulic elements of the medieval city in order to draw a comprehensive chart of the water resources and water infrastructures available in the urban context. My argument rehabilitates the lake and underlines its crucial function in plain regions depending on the sufficient refill of aquifers. The Solanki city of Western India, and in its continuity the Vaghela and Sultanate city, is disposing of a broad panel of waters capable of meeting the needs of multiple religious and profane activities (hydro-diversity). The generous waterscape and its multifold developments reflect on functions of sociability and religiosity in the city. Water appears as an essential identity marker of urbanity.