Revelry, Rivalry, and Longing for the Goddesses of Bengal
Annually during the months of autumn, Bengal hosts three
interlinked festivals to honor its most important goddesses: Durga,
Kali, and Jagaddhatri. While each of these deities possesses a
distinct iconography, myth, and character, they are all martial.
Durga, Kali, and Jagaddhatri often demand blood sacrifice as part
of their worship and offer material and spiritual benefits to their
votaries. Richly represented in straw, clay, paint, and decoration,
they are similarly displayed in elaborately festooned temples,
thronged by thousands of admirers.
The first book to recount the history of these festivals and
their revelry, rivalry, and nostalgic power, this volume marks an
unprecedented achievement in the mapping of a major public event.
Rachel Fell McDermott describes the festivals' origins and growth
under British rule. She identifies their iconographic conventions
and carnivalesque qualities and their relationship to the fierce,
Tantric sides of ritual practice. McDermott confronts controversies
over the tradition of blood sacrifice and the status-seekers who
compete for symbolic capital. Expanding her narrative, she takes
readers beyond Bengal's borders to trace the transformation of the
goddesses and their festivals across the world. McDermott's work
underscores the role of holidays in cultural memory, specifically
the Bengali evocation of an ideal, culturally rich past. Under the
thrall of the goddess, the social, political, economic, and
religious identity of Bengalis takes shape.
Subjects: Religion, History
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