ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

A Border or a Bridge? – a Study of a Minor Religious Sect of West Bengal




16 – Re-orienting Borderlands:Beyond spatial fixations in South Asia


In Bengal, the Vaishnava movement, popularized by Sri Chaitanya, had set forth an alternate path of equality through Bhakti among the masses of lower-order. But the Bhakti movement was submerged into larger institutional Hinduism after the death of Sri Chaitanya and it re-established the caste orthodoxy. However, in eighteen century there emerged many egalitarian ‘deviant sects’ of the Sahajiya-Vaishnava tradition- attracting followers largely from the lower strata of both the Muslim and Hindu society. Many of those sects still survive – ‘Kartabhaja’ is relatively significant for this study.

Aul Chand- a traveling Sufi saint initiated the Kartabhaja sect at Ghoshpara, Nadia. The area has witnessed drastic changes in its demography. Setting up of American Air Force base during the World War II displaced the original inhabitants; later the Partition of India led to the mass movements across the newly drawn border eventually changed the earlier caste and religion equations irreversibly, affecting the felt needs of the larger sections of the population of that area. By examining the literary texts and conducting fieldworks, my paper aims to answer how, with the growing majoritarian religio-political discourse in South Asia, the syncretic religious faiths create a form of liminal or in-between space for cultural identity, if at all. Therefore, can the borderlands, at some pockets in West Bengal, be seen as the ‘bridge and buffer’ zone for the inter-community dynamic interactions?