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The Navaratri/Durgapuja Festival in India: Actors, Agency and Power (1/2)

Panel Chair: Ute Hüsken | Monday, August 24, 1:30-3 p.m. | Venue

The religious festival called Navarātri / Navarātra / Durgāpūjā / Dasara is celebrated all over South Asia, with great fervor and massive public participation. Many elements are common to the different celebrations, yet the arrangement, performance and the interpretation of these elements vary greatly, in texts and practice. The panel presentations look at the particularities of specific festival events or texts, but address the larger questions differences, commonalities and historical developments. What does the festival mean to those who celebrate it? In what way do different textual accounts relate to other texts, or to the actual performances of the festival? How and why does the interpretation and performance change? Through looking at details, we will address a larger question: How is this celebration one festival and many different festivals at the same time?

Ina Ilkama

Women’s nine nights? Domestic and temple celebrations of Navarātri in Kanchipuram

The autumnal Navarātri is celebrated in most temples and many homes in the South Indian temple town Kanchipuram. Once negotiating the relations of the goddess and the king, the festival is today labeled a ‘woman’s festival’ by most of its Tamil participants. While women perform the domestic rituals for the kolu, their role is also more prominent in the temples, seen e.g. in pūjās directed to or performed by women. However, the women’s role, as well as Navarātri’s backdrop of celebrating the goddess’ triumph over the demonic forces, is expressed very differently in the temples and domestically, and also significantly between the temples themselves. This talk addresses these differences by looking into the dynamics of Navarātri in various homes and temples of Kanchipuram, and explores what it implies that Navarātri has become a women’s festival.

Caleb Simmons

The Goddess and the Yadu Line. The Continuation of Medieval Kingship in the Celebration of Dasara in Mysore

Throughout the medieval period, two of the most ubiquitous methods through which kingship was fashioned was the construction of royal genealogies and the performance of royal military rituals associated with the autumnal Goddess festival of Dasara/Navarātri. In this paper, I examine how these medieval modes of king-fashioning have persisted into contemporary Mysore. Particularly, I investigate how the medieval prescriptions for the royal Dasara rituals found in the Śrīman Mysūra Mahārājavara Vaṃśāvaḷi were negotiated into the contemporary period, specifically during my fieldwork observation of Mysore’s Dasara in 2012 and 2013. Central in my investigation is the continued rhetoric of mythic kingship in which the Woḍeyar kings were connected to the divine Yadu vaṃśa. I argue that these elements demonstrate how medieval kingship persists as a meaningful category within the contemporary Indian context.

Moumita Sen

Politics, Art and Religion in the Durga Puja of Kolkata

The contemporary Durga puja of Kolkata is a deeply emotional affair for the Bengali community; it is also a “mega-event” which involves millions of rupees and generates employment for thousands of people. In this paper I will reflect on the changes in the festival by looking at the way Trinamool Congress- a political party - appropriates the Durga Puja - a Hindu religious festival- as a tool of governmentality towards electoral gains and mass mobilization. From the end of the nineties in Kolkata, there has been significant traffic between the worlds of high art and that of Durga Puja. “Art” therefore emerged as a category in the Durga Puja scene which was not only related to the status and publicity of the puja organizers (local youth clubs), but also corporate sponsorship and advertising revenue. In this paper, I will focus on the network of political patronage, the motivation of the organizers, and the ways of employing the idea of ‘Art’ (broadly, high culture) in the Durga Puja of Kolkata.


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