In praise of the ordinary man: Popular media, social hierarchy and identity in a North Indian text

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    This article recounts a story found in a popular genre of religious literature known as vrat katha [ritual storytelling]. The narrative is of an "ordinary" low-caste man and his everyday struggles. It tells of the social and economic suffering experienced by the poor man upon encountering god (called Trilokinath/Vishnu) and receiving his blessing, mediated through a series of miraculous events. However, the transformative power of the events and fortunes that follow is undermined by a Brahmin who refuses to acknowledge the poor devotee, rebuffing his ritual gift [prasad] as polluted and considering him untouchable. The ambiguous nature of the gift and the ideology and practice of devotion [Bhakti] present an intriguing and complex picture of Hinduism, revealed in the multiple social roles and social contexts in which subalterns operate in the course of their day-to-day lives. I offer a critical reading of this fascinating story. What seems like a straightforward, standardised ritual text is analysed in terms of its competing and sometimes subversive views of "dominant" Hinduism. By examining the tensions and ambivalence in the text I argue for a more nuanced rendition of subaltern power and agency which cannot be reduced to that of resistance and opposition alone.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)517-533
    JournalAsian Studies Review
    Volume33
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2009

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