ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Adivasi Bhakti? – Rethinking Subaltern Religions


Vyas Maharshi - University of California, Santa Barbara, Religious Studies, Santa Barbara, United States


38 – Adivasis and Adivasi Studies


 Adivasi religions are usually associated with possession, spiritual healing, and exorcism rituals. However, this paper interrogates the presence of devotionalism in Adivasi religions and expands upon “Adivasi bhakti,” a conceptual category that explores the affective dimensions of subaltern religions of the Bhil Adivasi communities in western India. Scholars have expanded upon the boundaries of bhakti by exploring elements of devotionalism outside of mainstream Hinduism, such as in Sufi Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, and Jainism. However, Adivasi religions remain largely unexamined. This is partly due to two assumptions: 1) Adivasi religions primarily follow the model of “devotionless worship,” which is enacted through a transactional relationship between gods and their worshipers. In this model, worship is devoid of an emotional connection with the deity, and worshippers primarily venerate deities out of fear, for protection, or for material needs. 2) The second assumption is based on a fear that ascribing bhakti devotionalism to Adivasi religions might suggest connections with Hinduism and therefore validate the Hindu Nationalist claim that Adivasis are originally Hindus. I nuance these assumptions through an examination of mythologies and religious songs of Bhil oral traditions collected in Gujarati by Bhagwandas Patel. Finally, “Adivasi bhakti” is a distinctive category of its own that captures the affective relationship between Adivasi gods and devotees.