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(P08)
Street-shrines: religion of the everyday in urban India
Location Room 214
Date and Start Time 28 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 3

Convenors

  • Borayin Larios (Heidelberg University) email
  • Raphaël Voix (Centre for South Asian Studies, Paris, CNRS-EHESS) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair William French (Loyola University of Chicago)

Short Abstract

This panel aims at exploring the production and dynamics of street-shrines in urban India. Through ethnographic work at specific shrines, each paper will contribute to describe and question the discourses and practices that form an important part of everyday religion in Indian cities.

Long Abstract

Even while India remains largely rural, hundreds of millions of people live in cities and mega-cities across its territory. This massive urban concentration is accompanied by a number of social and material rearrangements and innovations that affect the lives of these city-dwellers. From the religious perspective, in the last twenty years or so, an increase in modern so-called "mega-temples" has become part of urban religiosity; as well as the emergence of charismatic movements featuring "mega-gurus" that attract millions of devotees in India and beyond. However the development of cities has also seen an increase of street shrines. Be they Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jain or shared between different faiths, these different roadside shrines have an ubiquitous presence in the cities of India, to the point that some of them surpass main temples, churches and mosques in popularity and patronage. However they differ from the latter main temples by the apparently informal nature of the practices and discourses that take place. The panel will investigate to what extent these shrines are important sites for the individual sense of belonging to particular localities and/or to particular communities. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in one specific site or on different connected sites, each paper will contribute to describe and question the discourses and practises at stake in what appears to be an important part of the everyday religion in Indian cities.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Introduction

Authors: Borayin Larios (Heidelberg University)  email
Raphaël Voix (Centre for South Asian Studies, Paris, CNRS-EHESS)  email

Short Abstract

The introduction to our panel aims at exploring the construction of our object of study. It raises the question: what do we need to consider when attempting to embark on the study of these shrines? What methods and theories can be used to approach these sites? This session will set up the analytical framework that will guide the discussions of our panel.

Long Abstract

The introductory session of our panel aims at exploring the construction of our object of study. At first glance, the researcher would spontaneously distinguish a street-shrine from an established temple. However, as we try to fix these apparently evident differences, suddenly the boundaries of the object become blurry and any evident criteria –be it the size, their legal status, ritual control, the communities, etc.– that could function as the defining marker of these shrines becomes hard to find. Therefore, this introduction raises the question: what do we need to consider when attempting to embark on the study of these shrines? What methods and theories can be used to approach these sites? In this brief presentation we aim to set up the analytical framework that will guide the discussions of our panel.

Varanasi's tiny temples and the making of Hindu worlds

Author: Chris Haskett (Centre College)  email

Short Abstract

In India's 'holiest city,' in the shadow of some of Hinduism's most important temples, how do diminutive local shrines make Hinduism happen?

Long Abstract

In the summers of 2013 and 2015, my team identified over 3,300 temples in the city of Varanasi. Many of these were inconspicuous, diminutive, local temples. While any number of individual major temple complexes and communities have garnered impressive scholarly attention worldwide, my research attempts to assess the impact of the many hundreds of temples in the lives of residents of Varanasi. In addition to considering otherwise neglected sites, this paper also offers a tentative foray into the use of GPS mapping technology and other digital data processing strategies for understanding who Hindus are and how temples make the Hindu world of Varanasi. By identifying the trends in distribution of temples throughout the city, we begin to see in tiny temples a resistance to the power of larger, more powerful temple complexes, in much the same way that de Certeau saw in modern Europe. However, we can also observe an emerging Hindu sense of sacrality of place and space, as well as the changing values reflected in new areas of settlement, as the city expands and new temples are built--or not.

Enshrining the heroic male body: Bhi(sh)ma at the wayside

Author: Tracy Pintchman (Loyola University Chicago)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores effigies constructed by Hindu women as objects of veneration by the side of the Ganges River where it flows at the edge of the city of Benares.

Long Abstract

This paper explores effigies constructed by Hindu women as objects of veneration at the side of the Ganges River where it flows at the edge of the city of Benares, also called Varanasi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, North India. Because these effigies are not temple icons but temporarily constructed wayside or "street" shrines (although not officially on a street), they also can do things that conventional temples cannot: they invite practices and interpretations that may fall outside the norms of "official" religion, in this case especially on the part of women, who are the primary worshipers of these effigies. The worship that takes place at the shrines I discuss has some basis in Hindu scriptural prescriptions, but their nature as informal shrines ungoverned by orthodox institutions opens them up to unconventional interpretations and practices. I argue that it is precisely the "wayside" or "street shrine" nature of these shrines—especially the fact that they reside fully outside of male-controlled, institutional space—that enables Hindu women to appropriate them, both narratively and ritually, for their own purposes and in ways that highlight women's values and concerns.

Worshipping Hanuman along the streets of Delhi: one god, many versions

Author: Deborah Nadal (Wenner Gren Foundation (New York))  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores the shrines devoted to Hanuman that dot the streets of Delhi. Below the huge statue of this god that stands out at the Hanuman Mandir of Karol Bagh, uncountable tiny shrines tell a divergent story of him and narrate a different relationship between him and his devotees.

Long Abstract

The paper will first provide an overview of some of the shrines devoted to Hanuman that adorn the streets of Delhi. It will also describe and highlight the special features of each of these depictions of the god that are in deep contrast with the huge statue of Hanuman that stands out against the sky of the Indian capital at the Hanuman Mandir of Karol Bagh. This statue depicts Hanuman as a masculine, strong, fierce, and also scaring god, who welcomes his devotees in a quite oppressive and tortuous temple where the direct contact with the deity is hampered by the superhuman distance put by the height of the statue. On the opposite, in the street shrines Hanuman shows all his humanity and tenderness. Here he is depicted as the loyal servant of Rama and Sita, the zealous leader of the monkeys' army, and the emblem of self-denial, mental strength and intelligence. However, the huge statue and the tiny shrines describe not only two different Hanuman but also two different kinds of worship, relations with the god, devotional purposes and devotees' categories. All these features will be analysed in the paper.

Street shrines and sacred publics in Amritsar

Author: Yogesh Snehi (Ambedkar University, Delhi (AUD))  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores a diverse spectrum of shrines in and around the walled city of Amritsar and proposes that street shrines correspond to lived neighbourhoods of the city and exemplify the pre-partition memories of belonging in modern India.

Long Abstract

Amritsar is generally associated either with Golden Temple as a major center for 'Sikh' veneration or Durgiana temple as a central shrines of urban 'Hindus'. While Golden Temple emerged in medieval India, Durgiana Temple emerged in the early twentieth century as a result of reform movements that led to polemical debates on religious boundaries in South Asia. However, the walled city is also dotted with unique street shrines that defy easy classification as 'Hindu' or 'Sikh' shrines. These shrines are a mix blend of pre-partition and contemporary shrines. The city also memorializes several Sufi mystics each year through urs celebrations in the memory of Baba Lakhdata, Baba Farid and local pirs that transform the streets of the Amritsar by engaging people from diverse spectrum of caste hierarchy. These practices continue to define the contours of sacred space in urban India that is generally believed to be etched into communal stereotypes. I explore these shrines, practices and associated semiotics to make sense of debates on religion in South Asia and argue that rather than following the 'sedimentary' theories of religious change we need to consider 'popular' religion as overlapping layers of religious practices that delineate the lived and everyday spatiality, and exemplify the pre-partition memories of belonging in modern India.

Construction/emergence of 'street' shrines in Hyderabad: a cultural study

Author: Safia Begum (University of Hyderabad)  email

Short Abstract

The present paper tries to understand the concept, origin and establishment of 'street' shrines by taking some of the shrines of Hyderabad's old city area as a case study.

Long Abstract

Sacred spaces are of various kinds and dargahs (shrine) are one among them. They can be further categorised according to the number of devotees it attracts- popularity, its distinct ritual practices, geographical location and so on. According to geographical location they can be further classified as the one on the mountains, lanes, on the middle of the road, graveyards etc. However, in recent times in Hyderabad, the shrines on the road, specifically the one in the middle of the road have garnered much attention. One of the reasons for their sudden attraction is the construction of flyovers. Moreover, these modern ways of road and traffic management created a kind of tension among the communities as well, specifically in Hyderabad, a city in India.

The present paper intends to look at some of the selective 'street' dargahs of Hyderabad's old city, a Muslim populated area, and examines their origin and establishment. The paper tries to examine whether the 'street' shrines are the feature of Hyderabad city or the outcomes of road development planning? Or can one actually use the term 'street' shrines for these dargahs? Further, the paper tries to understand what goes into the making of shrines by raising some questions like Who are these saints and their caretakers? What made the people to revere them? What is the participation of the community in maintaining these shrines specifically in the context of growing consciousness about the concept of shirk among Muslims? How the rituals are enacted here?

The roadside shines in the Greater Hyderabad: a balance wheel of many masses

Author: Baishali Ghosh (University of Hyderabad)  email

Short Abstract

The paper probes the crouching shrines on the roadside and middle of the roads in the Greater Hyderabad that often reflect the aspiration of becoming a temple. These shrines are vulnerable to ignite violence and register emotion and motion of the newly migrant dwellers and old inhabitants.

Long Abstract

The greater Hyderabad project of the government started with twelve municipalities and eight grams panchayats in 2007 that led entangled transformation of the natural heritage (Deccan rocky plateau), early local settlement and the emergent special economic zone (SEZ). What remained untouched in the budding landscape are the dwarf religious shrines. As a result, these stand either on the middle of the road or the roadside as 'urban totem'. However, the tiny religious shrines those were once frontiers of the early settlements start expanding with the pace of fast growing city. Thus, some quickly turn into massive religious architecture. Sometime, the religious shrines are also built over night to claim its existence since rear past. The local lords, such as political leader, real estate dealer, and influential local shopkeeper are the stakeholders of these religious shrines. These stakeholders are also responsible for the conversion of the city. These agencies control land, displaced people and migrated city dwellers.

In my paper I argue the emotion of the mass (devotees) and ambition of the mob create and regularize the shrines in the liquid city like Hyderabad. However the close encounter with the images and vernacular languages transmute the reception of the roadside shrine for daily commuters and drivers who often hold temporal conversation with such shrines in traffic. At the end I investigate my position as researcher and migrant dweller in the locus of rampant sentiment around the shrines that I address as 'anthropology of experience'.

Shrines, mobility and urban space in Goa

Author: Alexander Henn (Arizona State University)  email

Short Abstract

Wayside shrines show an astonishing dynamic in the cities of Goa / India. They not only persist in a milieu of drastic modern change. Many of them even cut across the orthodox divisions of Hinduism and Catholicism and exceed temples and churches in popularity.

Long Abstract

Wayside shrines — representing Hindu and Catholic divinities and saints — show an astonishing dynamic in the cities of Goa / India. They not only persist in a milieu of drastic modern change that often seems to be at odds with their traditional locations, aesthetics and purposes. Some of them even flourish enormously and exceed temples, churches and mosques in popularity. In this paper I argue that this dynamic is owed to the fact that the shrines respond to three forms of mobility that are occurring in particular in modern urban environments: 1) cultural mobility, that is, the diversification and fluctuation of religious ideas and practices, 2) social mobility, that is, the diversification and fluctuation of people from different castes, social classes and geographical regions and 3) physical mobility, that is, the movement of and movement in an increasingly dense and complex motorized traffic. In doing so the shrines allow a culturally diversifying, socially changing and geographically fluctuating population to engage with a variety of personalized deities and saints whose charismatic authority is not only quite independent from formalized local social hierarchies, but often also cuts across the orthodox divisions between religious traditions.

Locating Lokanātha Brahmachāri's cult in West-Bengal: wayside shrines and private temples

Author: Raphaël Voix (Centre for South Asian Studies, Paris, CNRS-EHESS)  email

Short Abstract

This paper proposes a description and an analysis of the emergence of Lokanātha Brahmachāri’s wayside shrines and private temples in contemporary Kolkata.

Long Abstract

Many East-Bengalis Hindus as well as Muslims started revering the yogi Lokanātha Brahmachāri - popularly known as Lokanātha Bābā - as a saintly figure after his death in 1890. In West Bengal, its cult started around the same time however, it is almost a century later, from the beginning of the late 1980's onwards, that his cult became an important part of public Hindu worship among different section of Bengali society. Drawing on an extensive study of Lokanātha Bābā's shrines in Kolkata, this paper will propose a classification of them. More specifically it will focus on the progressive re-localization of the saint's image: from way-side shrines to private temples and try to understand the social, economical and judicial dynamic at stake behind this move.

Ephemeral and permanent shrines on the streets of Kolkata: homelessness, worship, and prosperity

Author: Frank Korom (Boston University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores shrines adorning the streets of Kolkata, of which there are permanent and ephemeral ones. While people from all walks of life participate in their creation and maintenance, what separates them is class and economy.

Long Abstract

The paper will provide a visual narrative of the multitude of shrines that adorn the streets of Kolkata. Such shrines are either permanent or ephemeral depending on the resources of the patron. I argue that while the more affluent patronize the permanent structures, the ephemeral ones are equally significant, both in terms of artistic quality and ritual function. The conclusion will suggest that these shrines provide a roadmap of "popular piety," in which all participate on some level. As such, these shrines should be seen not only as religious objects but also as works of art, since they combine the pragmatic with the aesthetic.

From the heavens to the streets: Pune's wayside shrines

Author: Borayin Larios (Heidelberg University)  email

Short Abstract

Taking contrasting examples of street-shrines found in Pune city this contribution seeks to theorize how street-shrines contribute to the construction of a sense of belonging to particular communities and to certain localities by examining several social dynamics besides religiously motivated ones.

Long Abstract

This paper presents the results from a multi-disciplinary research conducted in 2016 in the city of Pune. The research focuses on urban street-shrines where everyday religious discourses are articulated, and hence, form a fruitful field for the research of the ritual, political and socio-cultural processes in contemporary South Asia. The paper investigates to which extend these informal shrines are important sites for, both, the individual sense of belonging to particular localities as well as to particular communities. It aims at theorizing these shrines and at answering what religious discourses are articulated through these shrines and what are the ritual, economic and political dynamics at play in the creation and maintenance of these shrines? It will also examine the role that urban conditions have been playing in fuelling identity-based conflicts and the identity formation of diverse social groups and how social actors forge connections between localities across national borders that increasingly sustain new modes of politics, economics and culture.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.