Accepted Paper:

Creating tradition in eastern Gujarat: the Pragat Purushottam Sanstha  


Gregory Alles (McDaniel College)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the manners in which a little known Swaminarayan lineage, the Pragat Purushottam Sanstha, provides a means for adivasis in eastern Gujarat to create traditions that adapt the adivasi cultural heritage to conditions of the present.

Paper long abstract:

A dynamic common in adivasi communities in Gujarat for more than a century has been a tension between adivasi traditions that involve meat eating, animal sacrifice, and alcohol consumption, on the one hand, and on the other "mainstream" values that see these activities as immoral and in need of elimination. Although presented by some adivasis as well as caste Hindus as a contrast between degenerate and pure Hinduism, this dynamic also parallels tensions between the Brahmin-Baniya Vaishnavism dominant in the state's center and the Rajput veneration of lineage goddesses historically common in its periphery, where adivasis also by and large live. Among adivasis in eastern Orsang district, located along the eastern border of the state, several distinct communities are active in promoting a "refined" form of Hinduism. One of the most successful is the Pragat Purushottam Sanstha, a Swaminarayan lineage little known among academics. It largely attracts people with more formal education and residing in relative proximity to the main road that runs from Vadodara through Chota Udepur to Alirajpur (Madhya Pradesh). This paper will identify the manner in which adivasis engage in the Pragat Purushottam Sanstha. Although loyalty to the movement does entail vegetarianism and abstention from alcohol, it is clear from ritual performances that it does not involve a complete abandonment of adivasi traditions. Rather, participation in the movement provides a means for adivasis to create traditions that do not abandon but rather adapt the adivasi cultural heritage to conditions of the present.

Panel P14
Circulation of cultural tropes in indigenous Adivasi India