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The Navaratri/Durgapuja Festival in India: Reinterpretations and Appropriations (2/2)

Panel Chair: Hillary Rodrigues | Tuesday, August 25, 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?

Jishnu Shankar

Baba Bhagwan Ram and the Navartri Tradition at Parao, Varanasi

Starting first with Baba Kinaram in the 1600s, and continuing through the years down to Baba Bhagwan Ram Ji in the 1900s and beyond, the Aghor tradition of asceticism has gone through many changes. While some of the more esoteric practices still exist to which only the initiated disciples have access, the social persona of the tradition has certainly not only changed, but become visible too. Instead of being located only in the cremation grounds and isolated places, many of these ascetics can now be found in ashrams which are not only easily accessible, but also socially active. One major visible change in the tradition is the reinterpretation of the earlier festivities. While the core philosophy associated with the festivals such as Navaratri still remains the same, Baba Bhagwan Ram Ji has tried to make them more socially in-tune by giving larger, and more prominent, access to women in the performance of these festivals. My presentation will look at these changes in the modern context.

Bihani Sarkar

Sanitizing the autumnal ritual of the Goddess: the influx of orthodox ritual elements into the Navarātra between the 12th and the 17th centuries CE

A significant transformation in the Navarātra between c. 1100 CE and 1600 CE is the gradual phasing out of Tantric rituals. Earlier forms of the ritual, as reflected in descriptions in Sanskrit and Prakrit before 1100 CE, contained antinomian elements such as the propitiation of wilder forms of the goddess connected with Kālī and demons to destroy enemies; and sanguinary sacrifice incorporating even the possibility of human sacrifice. However, from 1100 CE the Navarātra became more regulated by Brahmanical notions of purity so that Tantric rituals connected to the attainment of powers are “toned down” and provided with alternatives less offensive to the orthodox. This was a move towards greater brahmanical control and sanitization of forms of the Navarātra. In this paper I will trace this transformation by assessing Sanskrit paddhati literature, examining how the non-brahmanical character of the Navarātra was gradually replaced by the brahmanical and transgressive, controversial elements were synthesized with orthodox ritual aspects.

Silje L. Einarsen

Change, tradition, and innovation in Navarātri of Benares

This paper discusses recent trends and changes in Navarātri celebrations of Benares. The festival centres around two types of artistic presentations: the Rām Līlā play based on Benarasi poet Tulsidas’ Hindi rendering of the epic Rāmāyaṇa, and the Durgā Pūjā installations creatively arranged by neighbourhood youth clubs. Whereas the former represents tradition and Banarasi identity, the latter is perceived of as new and innovative, which manifests as skepticism and some resistance to the celebrations. Fieldwork nevertheless suggests that the popularity of the traditional Rām Līlā is decreasing whereas the Durgā Pūjā is increasing rapidly in both scope and public esteem. The paper will inquire into these dynamics of change, creativity, tradition and innovation in the festival culture of Benares.


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