Accepted paper:

Dressing (for) God: cloth as substance of Hindu consciousness in ISKCON


Urmila Mohan (University College London)

Paper short abstract:

I explore cloth as an analogical substance, material and technology of religious consciousness that mediates the realms of the tangible and the intangible among the members of the global Hindu group "International Society for Krishna Consciousness".

Paper long abstract:

Clothing in the global Hindu group "International Society for Krishna Consciousness" (ISKCON) is part of the emotive devotional tradition of "bhakti". Depending on whether the body in question is human or divine, clothing is both an everyday human activity lifted towards the spiritual realm as well as a transcendental service for a living deity image or "murthi". Yet this does not necessarily imply a static practice. I propose that phenomena like celebrity Bollywood designers dressing deities, the presence of Muslim tailors in temple sewing rooms and online debates over (in)appropriate dress are examples of how traditional clothing practices are reformulated to mediate new claims made on the ontology and cosmology of "Krishna consciousness". I propose a theoretical argument that it is the inherent flexibility of materials that allow them to act as analogies or models of religious consciousness and that it is the use and innovation of substances and techniques that coheres and sustains ISKCON. I will explore how, against a backdrop of Indian modernity, the materiality of cloth and clothing acts as an embodied form of spirituality and shapes a contemporary Hindu identity.

panel P26
Anthropology in the material world