Accepted Paper:

From Demon to God: Forging a new iconography for Mahishasur  

Author:

Moumita Sen (University of Oslo)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will focus on the forging of a new iconography for a "demon" in Hindu mythology who is being reclaimed by indigenous communities both as a god and as a champion of their political autonomy. Mahishasur stands now as the symbol of radical caste politics in India against Hindu nationalism.

Paper long abstract:

This paper will focus on the forging of a new iconography for a "demon" in Hindu mythology who is being reclaimed by indigenous communities both as a god and as a champion of their political autonomy. Since 2011, in a radical subversion of dominant Hindu narratives, several indigenous communities in Jharkhand and West Bengal have been worshipping the so-called 'demon' Mahishasur as their benevolent king and ancestor while framing the most important Hindu goddess Durga as a prostitute who tricked and killed him.

A part of this newly minted ritual-- which was deemed blasphemous by the Hindu nationalist party in power-- was to come up an image of the 'demon' who had so far only been pictured by Hindus as horned, fanged, green and writhing at the feet of the goddess at the moment of his death. The image of Mahishasur, among the clay-modellers of Bengal since the 20th C, has its own fascinating tryst with European art particularly naturalism. In this paper, I will look at how the contemporary caste minorities completely turn away from all existing images of Mahishasur to come up with their own. Several villages forged new iconographies—while there is no standardized image yet— for this political icon of minority rights in the face of Hindu nationalism. Through interviews with image-makers and organizers in the villages of West Bengal, I will show how local aesthetic ideals of masculinity, beauty and virtue are expressed in the new iconography of this emerging hero of Indian politics.

Panel P007
Aesthetics and the making of religious collectivities