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Colloquium on Asian religions | Death in the Maze: The heritagization of ritual performances in the Garhwal Himalayas

When:Mo 21-03-2016 16:00 - 17:30

Speaker: Karin Polit (Heidelberg)

This paper will deal with the question of how and by whom ritual traditions are preserved, altered and commodified in Uttarakhand, India. My ethnographic example -- the performance of an episode of a great epic of India, the Mahabharata, called the Chakravyuha (maze), as part of a local ritual in the Garhwal Himalayas -- exemplifies how local elites have begun to recognize and make their cultural heritage visible within and beyond their region. The performance of the Chakravyuha episode of the Mahabharata is an especially spectacular re-enactment of the death of Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna that is performed as part of a ritual celebration in the region and has become a major performance in settings that stage the heritage of the region. My paper will analyze the transition of this performance from ritual setting to theater stage. I will argue that both have a significant influence on each other and that both ritual and stage performances are involved in a struggle for a particular regional modernity that is intended to free village rituals from the sticky aura of backwardness usually associated with possession while preserving local tradition and practice, especially in the light of global and national developments and in relation to feelings of belonging and local pride.