ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Divine Interventions: Exploring Sovereignty in Kullu, India


Mahajan Ishita - University of Edinburgh, Religious Studies, Edinburgh, United Kingdom


11 – Rethinking governmentality: Sovereign agency beyond the state in South Asia


In the largely rural landscape of the Kullu district in the North Indian hill-state of Himachal Pradesh, most villages are presided over by territorial village deities which exercise significant influence over the everyday lives of their followers. Many of these deities are recognised as land-owning ‘perennial minors’ by the district administration. The state and the deities work closely as two distinct centres of authority, in the post-colonial context of Kullu, which at times leads to conflict. The deities, who speak through their mediums and move using their agile chariots, can often be seen charging into government offices when the state undermines their authority. Backed by the general public, deities’ intervention has proven successful in deciding the fate of multi-million-dollar projects in the valley leading to concerns about mixing religion and governance. In my paper I seek to unravel the complex post-colonial relationship between the deities and the state in the current socio-political context of Kulllu. The social agency of the deities is interconnected with followers’ active and collective contributions towards sustaining the deity’s traditions. Drawing from my fieldwork conducted in Kullu, in 2021-22, I aim to discuss the idea of a deity’s sovereignty and how it translates into the sovereignty of the rural communities across Kullu where divine interventions are employed to challenge and regulate the state’s authority.