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Making Faces

Making Faces: Self and Image Creation in a Himalayan Valley

Copyright Date: 2013
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    Making Faces
    Book Description:

    Taberam Soni, Labh Singh, Amar Singh, and other artists live and work in the hill-villages of the lower Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh, India. There they fashion face-images of deities(mohras)out of thin sheets of precious metal. Commissioned by upper-caste patrons, the objects are cultural embodiments of divine and earthly kinship. As the artists make the images, they also cross caste boundaries in a part of India where such differences still determine rules of contact and correspondence, proximity and association. Once amohrahas been completed and consecrated, its maker is not permitted to touch it or enter the temple in which it is housed; yet during its creation the artist is sovereign, treated deferentially as he shares living quarters with the high-caste patrons.Making Facestells the story of these god-makers, the gods they make, and the communities that participate in the creative process and its accompanying rituals. For the author, the process of learning about Himachal, its art and artists, the people who make their home there, involved pursuing itinerant artists across difficult mountainous terrain with few, if any, means of communication between the thinly populated, high-altitude villages. The harsh geography of the region permits scant travel, and the itinerant artisan forms a critical link to the world outside; villages that commission mohras are often populated by a small number of families. Alka Hingorani evokes this world in rich visual and descriptive detail as she explores the ways in which both object and artisan are received and their identities transformed during a period of artistic endeavor.Making Facesis an original and evocative account, superbly illustrated, of the various phases in the lifecycle of a mohra, at different times a religious icon, an art object, and a repository of material wealth in an otherwise subsistence economy. It will be welcomed by scholars and students of anthropology, material culture, religion, art history, and South Asian studies.134 illus., 128 in color

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3724-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-14)

    On a late afternoon in October 2001 the gods went to war on a large, dusty playground in the heart of a little hill town named Kullu, set in a narrow valley widely regarded by its inhabitants as the land of the gods—devabhumi. Police forces swung into action to contain the fracas. There was alathi-charge: policemen equipped with a long, wooden staff, orlathi, used it to separate dissenting factions. When I first arrived in Kullu for my research in October 2002, just a year after the event, I heard constant—though unspecific—murmurings alluding to this incident,...

    (pp. 15-34)

    Amohrais the material manifestation of divinity, its physical representation. It is between 8 and 12 inches in height, and 5 to 8 inches wide, made of cast metal or embossed on thin sheets of gold and silver. Castmohras are made ofashtadhatu;¹ embossed ones begin as lumps of gold or silver beaten into thin sheets and are then shaped by repoussé techniques into the face-images of deities.Mohras quite often display the upper part of the torso, particularly the neck and nipples (figure 2.1), but terms such as “bust” or “mask” ill-describe their morphology and function.² The...

    (pp. 35-74)

    In the creation of objects—in their design and in the patterns that embellish them, in the recognizable forms ofmohras andchhatris of the deity—the tools and technology, the method and manufacture of object and design, adhere to the past with fierce tenacity. Change occurs, but slowly, and it is subsumed in the larger repository of design and pattern until it appears to fit the constraints of form and function, to follow the seam of tradition. Both artisan and patron are deeply cognizant of the value of continuities, which are also a function of access to the aesthetic...

    (pp. 75-88)

    The predawn mist that routinely gathers in the accordion folds of the narrow valley had already begun to disappear, revealing distant mountain ranges and aretes, and more of the steep slopes descending into visual oblivion. It was midmorning, and the second week of work since Taberam Soni had begun fabricating thechhatri.Stationed on the southern flank of 11,000-foot-high Jalori Pass in Kullu, Shesh Nag, the tutelary deity of village Kot (population 300), had commissioned a royal parasol in gold, and Taberam was pounding away at the precious metal.

    Hunched over his work tools at times, straight-backed and smoking at...

    (pp. 89-102)

    Taberam Soni was asked what he thought of a practice that allowed him to create the object to be consecrated, then prohibited him fromtouchingit once it was deity.¹

    Kuchh chizen bahut shaktishali hoti hain.” Some things are too powerful, he said, then paused nary a moment before continuing: “Jaise parmanu. Parmanu bomb to vaigyanik hi bana sakte hain, lekin ban jane ke baad government ko de dena padta hai. Woh phir us-e chhu nahin sakte. Kuchh chizen bahut shaktishali hoti hain.” Some things are too powerful—such as atoms. Only atomic (nuclear) scientists have the knowledge to make...

    (pp. 103-114)

    The consecration of objects is not much different from the consecration of spaces and structures. The various components of ceremony and ritual remain more or less the same for the part as for the whole. As I was unable to witness the consecration of eithermohraorchhatriwhile I was in Himachal, I conclude with an account of the consecration of a new temple building for an old god in Kullu. Preparations had started weeks and months in advance of the date, with local families being contacted to participate in the sharing of ritual space and ceremonial expense: for...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 115-130)
    (pp. 131-132)
    (pp. 133-142)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 143-148)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 149-151)