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Tina Otten & Uwe Skoda (Eds.)

Dialogues With Gods
Possession in Middle Indian Rituals

Indo-European Studies in Politics and Society
(edited by Klaus Voll and Uwe Skoda) [ISSN 1867-9978], Vol. 6

Weißensee Verlag Berlin 2014, 300 Seiten, 34,80 €, ISBN 978-3-89998-222-0

The Book Series

About this book:
“Dialogues with Gods. Possession in Middle Indian Rituals” contains a range of articles – all of them with a sound ethnographic grounding – that explore and analyse various forms of communication with the divine. All authors conducted extensive field research in different parts of Middle India, particularly in Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, that is in a region where dialogues with gods, but also spirits or ancestors are frequently encountered, even though they occur in different contexts and at different times in the annual cycle. Many case studies presented in the volume relate to Adivasi communities (indigenous people or “Scheduled Tribes” as administrative category) with a rich tradition of possession and trance rituals, but are in no way limited to them alone.
The contributors employ diverse approaches in order to understand the ritual, social and historical contexts and facets of such verbal and non-verbal exchanges and utterances which are often combined with and occur during possession. This collaborative volume brings together experienced European and North American scholars focussing on the similarities in, differences of and the complex interactions between the diverse forms of communication with the divine. The themes covered in the volume are related to the fields of Social Anthropology, History, Art History, Area Studies / Asian Studies and Indology.

Dialogues with gods play a significant role in the establishment of political and religious power or counteract state and local power constellations. They might refer to a glorified or nearly forgotten past and can mirror pre-, post- and colonial power constellations. Authors in this volume analyse these dialogues with gods which deal with themes like the reaffirmation and reformulation of identity in a changing world, emerging Hindu values in the tribal belt through the patronage of tribal or local gods, ritual clothing as a reference for migration and social change, the role of music, or gender relations. The rituals and dialogues often show resemblances, which can be clubbed together as a polythetic class.
In a rapidly changing India, identity needs to be reaffirmed and reformulated. Carrin explores this field by tracing the relations between gender, language and the construction of the self. She explores ‘the lost speech of gods’ in Santal communities. Carrin demonstrates how patients and healers address the various deities, while some people assume that the gods have lost their speech over time or speak in a way that humans usually cannot understand. However, mediums understand the speech of the gods and are able to convey it to their audience. Carrin suggests that voices of the spirits might stand for the negative self, which is socially muted. Possession allows the person to speak about his or her own self. In this context, Carrin investigates how possession allows alternative formulations of repressed identities. From a different angel, but with a focus on identity, Hacker shows how social difference is performed through rituals. She describes the interaction between localized religious ideas and visual expression during the spring festival mandai, and Mallebrein describes mandei jatras as well. Hacker states that Bastar’s socio-religious practices mirror conflicting attitudes in a period of increased government and religious interventions in the name of progress and assimilation and she asked whether the ‘possessed’ body is mobilized here to reassert cultural identity and autonomy...
To conclude, the articles in this volume offer an extensive wealth of approaches to dialogic elements in rituals, and, in addition, contribute to several essential themes, which inform contemporary ritual practices in Middle India. In several ways communities undergo changes in modern India, and these transformations are reflected in altering gender roles, an emerging influence of the state, in various forms of [Hindu-]proselytization in tribal areas, in reformulating identities and last, but not least, in dialogues with their respective gods.

Notes on the contributors:
Marine Carrin, Director of Research emeritus, Centre d’Anthropologie Sociale, Toulouse, France. She currently works on ritual and power in Central Eastern India and Karnataka. Her recent publications include A Peripheral Encounter, Santals, Missionaries and their Changing Worlds (with Harald Tambs-Lyche, 2008) and Voices from the Periphery (with Lidia Guzy, 2012). A book on Santal Ritual Discourse is in press.
Lidia Guzy, currently Lecturer in Contemporary South Asian religions at Study of Religions Department, University College Cork, National University of Ireland, is a social anthropologist, scientist of religions and South Asia expert. Her research focuses on ethnomusicology, Adivasi religions and marginalised and endangered worldviews. Her recent publications are Marginalised Music. Music Religion and Politics from Western Odisha (2013) and Voices from the Periphery. Subalternity and Empowerment (with Marine Carrin 2012).
Katherine Hacker is an art historian teaching historical and contemporary South Asian art and architecture at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Her research interests focus on the intersection between visual culture and cultural politics in colonial and contemporary India. She has published articles in the journals Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics and Museum Anthropology and her book Crafting Bastar: Visual Culture in Rural India is forthcoming.
Roland Hardenberg is Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology and Head of Department at the University of Tuebingen, Germany. He presently focuses on ritual economics and leads a research project on religious resources and the conversion of values in Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan and Iran) and India (Orissa). His recent publications include The Renewal of Jagannatha’s Body. Ritual and Society in Coastal Orissa (2011).
Beatrix Hauser is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the Alpen- Adria-University of Klagenfurt, Austria. Her current research interests include changing aesthetics of Indian Ramlila performances, visuality and political performance, translocal cultural flows as well as the intersection of health and religion in anglophone postural yoga. Recently she edited “Yoga Traveling: Bodily Practice in Transcultural Perspective” (2013) and authored “Promising Rituals: Gender and Performativity in Eastern India” (2012).
Cornelia Mallebrein, Indologist, Anthropologist and art historian, affiliated with the University of Tübingen, concentrates her research on the living traditions of folk and tribal India. Her recent research discusses the present religious and cultures change and the questions of conversion. She has organized important exhibitions in India and the West on rituals and art of India. Her publications include The Divine Play on Earth. Religious Aesthetics and Ritual in Orissa (2008) and Die vertauschten Götter. Religionswechsel in Indien (2011, in German).
Tina Otten is Lecturer at Ruhr University Bochum and affiliated researcher at the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where she is presently involved in a project about rural change and anthropological knowledge in post-colonial India. She has worked on medical belief systems, oral epics, rituals and social and political-economic changes in rural Odisha.
Nicolas Prévôt is currently a Lecturer at the Department of Anthropology of the University Paris Ouest Nanterre and member of the Centre de Recherche en Ethnomusicologie (CREM-LESC, CNRS). He has conducted fieldwork in Middle India (Bastar, Chhattisgarh State) and in the Southern Balkans (Macedonia). His research focuses on the ontology and the power of music, especially in ritual contexts.
Uwe Skoda, Ph. D. is Associate Professor, South Asian Studies, at the Department of Culture and Society, Aarhus University, Denmark. Currently, he is working on transformations of kingship in a former princely state combining anthropological approaches with historical perspectives and a distinct regional focus on Odisha and Central-Eastern India. The project includes the relations between former rulers and Adivasi communities in the area. Starting from royal archives his research interests have increasingly shifted to photography and visual culture more generally, while his other research foci include political anthropology, specifically Indian domestic politics and Hindu-nationalism, as well as social organisation and kinship. He recently edited “Navigating Social Exclusion and Inclusion in Contemporary India and beyond” (2013, London: Anthem Press - edited together with Kenneth Bo Nielsen and Marianne Qvortrup Fibiger), and “Chronicles of the Royal Family of Bonai (Odisha)” (2013, Delhi: Manohar – co-edited with Rashmi Pramanik).