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Volume Three - Issue Two

15 June 2010


Telling Stories: Hindu–Muslim Worship in South India

Afsar Mohammad

This essay explores a strikingly-different local sainthood practice in a South Indian village called Gūgūḍu in Andhra Pradesh. Focusing on specifically local story-telling practices about a pīr who represents a liminal space between Islam and Hinduism, this essay tries to capture the implications of various narrative strategies that these local devotees use to tell the hagiography of this local martyr-saint called Kuḷḷāyappa. The story of Kuḷḷāyappa is pivotal in Gūgūḍu's local religious culture, effectively displacing the better-known story of the Imam Hussain from Shi'a Islam. The ten-day rituals of Muharram in Gūgūḍu function like a stage on which various global Islamic practices and South Indian Hindu temple practices come to frame a local pīr tradition surrounding the life story of Kullāyappa – a story that is neglected in more formal texts.

Female Immigration as a Catalyst for Ritual Practice: A Social History of Hinduism in the United States

Amanda Huffer

Demographic shifts among Hindu populations in the United States are intimately related to the types of Hinduism that have flourished in the American diaspora. Prior to the 1965 Immigration Act, Hindu ambassadors, Hindu texts, and missionary accounts formed a Hindu imaginary highly influenced by neo-Vedantic ideology. After 1965, ordinary women and female gurus joined the small populations of Hindu male immigrants and Hindu gurus active in the United States. As a result, the neo-Vedantic version of Hinduism that had stood in for the whole of Hinduism prior to 1965 was forced to diversify because of the religious demands made by the gamete of immigrant Indian Hindu families and the multiple Hindu religiosities presented by popular Hindu gurus. This demographic shift impacted the transition of Hinduism in the United States from a masculinised neo-Vedantic interpretation (1820–1965) to its diversification (1965-present), of which a major component is the integration of the feminine.

Sasthī: Between the Forest and the Lying-in-Chamber: The Formation of a Goddess

Saswati Sengupta

Sasthī is considered to be the patron deity of childbirth, infant mortality, and children's welfare for the contemporary Hindu Bengali. This essay on Ṣaṣṭhī explores a twin problematic in the representation of the goddess. First: if Ṣaṣṭhī is ubiquitous to the mother-child relationship, why does she play such a minimal role in the broader sphere of religious culture shaped by upper caste male interest? Second: does the association of the cult of Ṣaṣṭhī with childbirth and women accord with the widely documented and much criticised association of women with regulated procreation, or can her distinctive maternal significance offer another, more independent and less regulated perspective on representation of women through Hindu goddesses? A range of sources such as śāstrik and laukika texts, proverbs, popular verses, and rituals reveal several Ṣaṣṭhīs: a group of rain goddesses, a group of foster mothers, a wife, an old woman, a goddess of the lying-in-chamber after childbirth, and also forgotten forms of tree worship. Thus we are reminded that the cult of feminine fertility has not always been a patriarchal project. It has also been a religious tradition that reflects the distinctive experiences of women themselves.

Jalarām Bāpā: The Public Expression of Regional, Vernacular Traditions among Gujarātī Hindus in the UK

Martin Wood

The scholarly literature concerning Gujarātī Hinduism in the UK has tended to pay attention to the public face of ecumenical, rationalised, or representative Hindu practices and beliefs. This has been at the expence of any scholarly enquiry into the role that regional, vernacular traditions play in the religious lives of Gujarātī Hindus in this country. This issue is brought into sharp focus when we consider that, despite being the focus of devotion for a significant number of Gujarātī Hindus in the UK, the regional vernacular traditions concerning the popular nineteenth-century Gujarātī saint Jalarām Bāpā have been virtually ignored by the academy. This introductory article argues that the Jalarām Bāpā tradition, through miraculous events and narratives, is offering a contemporary and alternative religious expression to that offered by representative Gujarātī Hindu traditions. Furthermore, it is doing so in a very public manner that appears to validate regional, vernacular traditions as opposed to marginalising or dismissing them.

Review Article

Kenneth Valpey

Found in Translation: Revisiting the Bhagavad-gītā in the Twenty-first Century A Review Article

The Bhagavad Gita. Laurie L. Patton. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin Books, 2008. ISBN 978-0-140-4490-3 (pb). liv + 234. £9.99 (pb).

Bhagavad Gītā: The Beloved Lord's Secret Love Song. Graham M. Schweig. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007. ISBN 978-0-06-075425-9 (hb). pp. 360. $24.99 (hb).

The Bhagavad-gītā's iconic character as representative of 'Hinduism' has become, over the previous century and into the present one, a matter of routine acceptance in both Hindu and non-Hindu circles; and its translations and re-translations into English and, increasingly, into other languages, are standard inclusions in bookstores' still small 'Hinduism' sections. Publishers happily commission new translations of the Gītā, well aware that a market exists for them. From instructors of college World Religions courses looking for a key classical Hindu text for their students, to seekers of ancient wisdom looking for India's contributions to their collections of time-honoured truths for today's world, there are Gītā-teachers and Gītā-readers out there who want to access and make accessible this iconic text via translation and possibly some explanation. Scholars familiar with the Bhagavad-gītā in its original Sanskrit may have one of two sorts of responses to the yet-again attempts to rework this ancient text into modern languages. Nay-sayers may see such publications as, at best, amusing efforts to interpret the text according to a given translator's personal agenda, or at worst, as a futile misuse of a modern language to crassly ignore the subtleties of the original language, historical context, or philosophical finesse. Yea-sayers who are both familiar with the original text and intrigued by the sheer multiplicity and variety of its translations may, on the other hand, welcome new translations as happy additions to the already rich mix: even if there is no time to read them, there is always room in one's personal library for more takes on this text that spills over with profundity in its apparent simplicity. And just maybe the new translation will convey the text more profoundly than previous translations. Whatever one's attitude towards 'the' Gītā and its translation(s), the phenomenon of its translational …