Tina Otten & Uwe Skoda (Eds.)
Dialogues With Gods
Indo-European Studies in Politics and Society
Possession in Middle Indian Rituals
(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
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
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:
, 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.
, 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).
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.
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
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).
, 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).
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.
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.
, 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).