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Subproject A8

Borders, Rituals and Reflexivity

Modern South Asian Languages and Literatures and Anthropology

Subproject Management

Prof. Dr. Hans Harder


South Asia Institute

Dept. Modern South Asian Languages and Literatures (Modern Indology)

Im Neuenheimer Feld 330


Phone: + 49 (0) 6221-54 89 26

Fax: + 49 (0) 6221-54 88 41


Prof. Dr. William Sax

South Asia Institute

Department of Anthropology

Im Neuenheimer Feld 330
69120 Heidelberg  

Phone: +49 (0) 6221-54 88 36

Fax: +49 (0) 6221-54 49 98


Lokesh Ohri M.A.

Jürgen Schaflechner M.A.


Project Program

In view of globalization, many scientists postulated the rise of a "borderless world of flows", where the notion of identity has outgrown the outdated concepts of national-state models.
However, this seems to be a Eurocentric point of view. In Asia, Africa, and other countries, the meaning of borders und the number of associated rituals have grown. This is especially true for South Asia. However, at the same time, borders rooting in the times before the independence as well as the "princely states" have been abolished, leading the associated rituals to fade or disappear entirely. Our core question is: "How does establishing or abolishing borders and their associated rituals affect the reflective process of identity construction among the borderers?" To explore this question, we will compare three ritual systems: (1) the pilgrimages in relation to Hinglaj Devi, whose temple is located in Balochistan/Pakistan, (2) the temple of Sitakunda in Bangladesh, and (3) a ritual system in the central Himalaya that currently experiences the abolishing of hitherto existing ritual borders.

The first of our three case studies centers on the temple of the Hindu goddess Hinglaj, situated in what is today Balochistan. The separation in 1947 made it almost impossible for Hindu believers to pilgrimage to the temple. This was particularly hard for those groups for whom the pilgrimage is a "holy duty". We will investigate how these groups reacted to the closing of the border. Our second case study explores Sitakunda, a temple complex in Chittagong consecrated to Hindu god Shiva. This temple complex is regarded as one of the most important contemporary Hindu shrines in the predominantly Muslim country of Bangladesh. The third case study concentrates on a region of the central Himalaya that is divided into a number of small territories, each ruled by a god by means of an oracle. The borders of these "divine kingdoms" were determined through rituals (such as processions and oblations) and forcibly defended. In the years following the independence, these borders became less and less important. Today, former archenemies meet to perform "heritage rituals" together, to arrange strategic marriages or to develop political strategies for elections. This has changed the content and meaning of processions, sacrifices and other rituals dramatically.

The main goals of our project are
•    to conduct an empirical analysis of the ritual dynamics (as caused by external factors, such as establishment/abolishment of borders, and internal factors, such as ritual reformation and reflexivity);
•    to pursue an interdisciplinary methodology through the cooperation between Anthropology and Modern Indology/Modern South Asian Languages and Literatures;
•    to contribute to ritual theory through the integration of perspectives from "border studies";
•    to introduce rituals of pilgrimage to the Collaborative Research Center SFB 619 with a focus on pilgrimage stories as an important form of "ritual reflexivity";
•    and to initiate a research group as well as workshops and publications about reconciliation rituals.

Our prime methods include the translation and interpretation of oral and written texts, analyses of the religious history, ethnographic participatory observations as well as analyses of pilgrimage stories (novels, films, news and documentations about Jaswant Singh's pilgrimage). We are certain that the close cooperation between Anthropology and Modern Indology to combine anthropological field studies and text analysis will prove to be highly fruitful.


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