Goddess Traditions In Early Modern India: Historicizing and Contextualizing Religious Cultures

AHA Session 162
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Berkeley Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Daud Ali, University of Pennsylvania
Rajputs and their Goddesses in Early Modern Rajasthan
Ramya Sreenivasan, University at Buffalo (State University of New York)
Goddess Encounters: The Mughals, Monsters, and the Goddess in Bengal
Kumkum Chatterjee, Pennsylvania State University
Daud Ali, University of Pennsylvania

Session Abstract

There exists a large scholarly literature on the history and practice of religion in South Asia within the disciplines of religious studies, anthropology, and art history. This scholarship has studied the theology and iconography of various South Asian religious traditions and has contributed several significant ethnographies of religious sects and practices. However, historians of South Asia, especially those studying the medieval and early modern periods, have yet to adequately exploit the richness and potential of religious-cultural traditions in order to reconstruct the social and political contexts of religiosity. This panel represents a step in that direction and offers an opportunity for debate and discussion on this topic. In bringing the concerns of social history to the study of religion in early modern India, this panel hopes to address issues that anthropologists, scholars of literature, historians of religion, and art historians do not always consider.The papers in this panel address related aspects of goddess traditions in different parts of India during the early modern period.  The paper by Ramya Sreenivasan focuses on the emergence of bardic narratives about goddesses among royal Rajput lineages in northwestern India during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and engages with the question of why the idea of the goddess's favor for particular rulers held such appeal at a particular moment of territorial consolidation by these Rajput chiefdoms. Kumkum Chatterjee's paper traces the relationship between the Mughal conquest of Bengal in eastern India and the evolution of certain well-known features associated with that region's annual worship of the goddess Durga between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Chatterjee argues provocatively that political factors may have shaped the development of the Durga cult in Bengal in this direction. Samira Sheikh's presentation is centered on the cult of the goddess Bahuchara in Gujarat in western India during the late Mughal period. She shows how growing economic prosperity and caste mobility during this period functioned to transform a goddess of mainly low-status, marginalized groups into a goddess who came to be worshipped by upper-caste, high status worshippers.

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