You are cordially invited to a talk by Dr. Aftab S. Jassal (Duke University).
“Ritual Possession as Public Rhetoric in the Himalayas of North India”
Wed., January 27th , 3:30 pm
Hyde Hall, Incubator Room
Dr. Jassal is a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University and received his Ph.D. in West and South Asian Religions at Emory University in 2014. A scholar of classical and contemporary Hinduism, his research focuses on performance traditions involving epic storytelling, divine embodiment, ritual healing, and place-making practices in north India. He is particularly interested in how gods and their devotees enter into and maintain long-term, reciprocal and mutually transformative relationships through ritual. At present, he is completing his first book manuscript, titled In Search of Krishna: Place and Presence in the Himalayas, an ethnographic study examining how the Hindu god Krishna is known, experienced, and made present in the lives of his worshipers, including as the talk will demonstrate, in the guise of politician.
In north India, political leaders are referred to as net?s, and the term net?gir? is often pejoratively used for certain kinds of personal self-promotion and political maneuvering. However, deities can be net?s, too, in that they vie for their human constituents’ support, make decisions that impact people’s lives, and threaten to use force in implementing those decisions. “Political divinities” of this kind are routinely encountered as possessed dancers in a variety of large- and small-scale ritual contexts in the Himalayan region of Garhwal, Uttarakhand. In this talk, I examine possessed dancing, or n?c, to show how “political divinities” affect, and are affected by, matters of public importance, in tangible and far-reaching ways. I argue that n?c opens up a highly charged ritual zone for inherently pragmatic human-divine and human-human negotiations. This paper thus sees spirit possession as both ontological reality as well as an event imbued with sociopolitical power relations.