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The Powerful Ephemeral

The Powerful Ephemeral: Everyday Healing in an Ambiguously Islamic Place

Carla Bellamy
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The Powerful Ephemeral
    Book Description:

    The violent partitioning of British India along religious lines and ongoing communalist aggression have compelled Indian citizens to contend with the notion that an exclusive, fixed religious identity is fundamental to selfhood. Even so, Muslim saint shrines known as dargahs attract a religiously diverse range of pilgrims. In this accessible and groundbreaking ethnography, Carla Bellamy traces the long-term healing processes of Muslim and Hindu devotees of a complex of dargahs in northwestern India. Drawing on pilgrims' narratives, ritual and everyday practices, archival documents, and popular publications in Hindi and Urdu, Bellamy considers questions about the nature of religion in general and Indian religion in particular. Grounded in stories from individual lives and experiences,The Powerful Ephemeraloffers not only a humane, highly readable portrait of dargah culture, but also new insight into notions of selfhood and religious difference in contemporary India.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95045-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Note on Orthography
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Prologue
    (pp. xvii-xxiv)

    I was led to the collection of shrines in northwestern India known as Ḥusain Ṭekrī, or Husain Hill,much in the same way asmost of its pilgrims: through a series of coincidences—events and circumstances and opportunities—that some would say were not coincidences at all.

    During a year of language study in the Indian city of Udaipur I lived as a paying guest in the home of a woman named Maya. Maya is a married Sindhi Hindu woman in her late fifties or perhaps early sixties who lives in one of the many suburbs that sprawl along National Highway 8,...

  7. INTRODUCTION. Ambiguity: Ḥusain Ṭekrī and Indian Dargāḥ Culture
    (pp. 1-30)

    This book is a description and interpretation of the everyday and ritual life of the collection of Muslim saint shrines that bear the name Ḥusain Ṭekrī; its primary texts include pilgrims’ narratives as they have unfolded over many years, the shrines’ major rituals, the bodies of pilgrims, local histories of Jaora state, and mass-produced pamphlets and books—on Islam, dargāḥ in general, and Ḥusain Ṭekrī in particular—written in Hindi and Urdu. Read carefully, I believe these texts help explain the cross-tradition popularity, power, and efficacy of Muslim saint shrines in India. As these shrines are places where psychological, physical,...

  8. CHAPTER 1 Place: The Making of a Pilgrimage and a Pilgrimage Center
    (pp. 31-48)

    Jaora, the town in western Madhya Pradesh that is home to Ḥusain Ṭekrī, is almost well connected with the rest of India by rail. Although some say a major wide-gauge railway station will soon grace the outskirts of the town, significantly improving employment prospects for the economically depressed town’s young men, for the time being, travelers from Rajasthan typically roll slowly into Jaora’s narrow-gauge railway station. From Jaora the narrow-gauge line eventually makes its way to the renowned Chishtī dargāḥ in the city of Ajmer, making it convenient, and therefore common, for pilgrims to visit both the Chishtī shrine and...

  9. CHAPTER 2 People: The Tale of the Four Virtuous Women
    (pp. 49-93)

    In his influential volumeThe Content of the Form, Hayden White argues that, in the context of the writing of history, narrativity is both a universal human inclination and inseparable from “morality or a moralizing impulse.”¹ In this chapter I present four Indian women’s descriptions of their relationships with Ḥusain Ṭekrī, and I explicate how their healing processes are reconciled with the universal need to give events an aspect of narrativity. While these four individuals are not historians writing history, both their projects and my own involve, in one way or another, the use of narrative to render the past...

  10. CHAPTER 3 Absence: Lobān, Volunteerism, and Abundance
    (pp. 94-128)

    On an average day in the courtyards of Ḥusain Ṭekrī’s rauẓas, pilgrims may be observed performing a range of dargāḥ-specific healing practices. Of these,khulī ḥāẓirīis certainly the most eye-catching, but looking beyond this violent, fearsome spectacle a visitor may also observe pilgrims engaged in several other healing practices that are common at Muslim saint shrines: inhaling lobān (the Arabic-derived Urdu word for the smoke of a rocklike form of incense),¹ wrapping chains and locks around various parts of the body, hanging ontojālī(the metal or stone latticework that covers the windows of subcontinental Muslim tombs and shrines),...

  11. CHAPTER 4 Presence: The Work and Workings of Hāẓirī
    (pp. 129-171)

    On my first visit to Ḥusain Ṭekrī, the older man from Udaipur who had helped me make my way from the Jaora train station to Ḥusain Ṭekrī encouraged me to attend morning lobān. Using the English word, he assured me that during lobān, he would be changed “automatic,” and I would see for myself the power of Ḥusain Ṭekrī. Sure enough, as the pilgrims gathered in front of the shrine of ‘Abbas and began their songs, my acquaintance, his eyes closed and his hands raised, began shaking his head from side to side.

    What I was seeing for the first...

  12. CHAPTER 5 Personae: Transgression, Otherness, Cosmopolitanism, and Kinship
    (pp. 172-214)

    Analysis of religious and caste identity in India is, to say the least, fraught: a colonial legacy, ongoing communal violence, and the tenor of some public conversations about terrorism have all contributed to an academic climate of concern, caution, and careful introspection. In response to this situation, some recent scholarship on South Asian religion has critically reexamined the categories of Hindu, Muslim, and Christian and suggested that they are neither fixed nor foundational elements of South Asian individuals’ senses of self and community.¹ More generally, scholarship on Indian society and religion has long grappled with the question of the extent...

  13. CONCLUSION. The Powerful Ephemeral: Dargāḥ Culture in Contemporary India
    (pp. 215-220)

    So goes one version of the tale of Band Choṛnewāle Bābā, whose humble roadsidecillāgraces the outskirts of Jaora.¹ This short story encompasses nearly everything that I have sought to argue about dargāḥ culture’s unique ability to facilitate healing. Like stories about the founding of dargāḥs and stories about the ghosts that cause pilgrimsjādū-based illnesses, the story of Band Choṛnewāle Bābā reflects tensions between Hindu and Muslim and ruler and ruled. The happy couples languishing in the king’s jail suffer unjustly, as do the ḥāẓirīwāle who self-identify as innocent (ma‘ṣūm). Like the sacrifices of Muslim martyrs and Rajput...

  14. APPENDIX A. Tārīḵẖ e Yūsufī
    (pp. 221-222)
  15. APPENDIX B. Ḥusain Ṭekrī Kyā Hai?
    (pp. 223-226)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 227-256)
  17. Glossary
    (pp. 257-258)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-268)
  19. Index
    (pp. 269-282)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 283-283)