ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Religious Assemblages at Nagore: Faith, Tradition, and Commerce


Kumar Harini - Princeton University, History, Princeton, United States


28 – South Asian sacred spots: Nodal Points in Webs of Connections


 The Nagore Dargah, a Sufi shrine, and arguably the most famous pilgrimage site in South India, recently celebrated its 466th “urs,” a commemoration of the death anniversary of the 17th century saint Shahul Hamid. Nagore is a site rich in religious assemblages: Islamic rituals, Tamil traditions, a distinctive musical repertoire, people of different faiths, and a vibrant religious economy co-exist at this site for the fourteen-day festival and beyond. Thus far, the Nagore Dargah has been studied using historical and literary texts. But little is known about the experiences of lived religion and contemporary social life in and around the shrine. Using ethnographic insights gleaned from multiple visits to Nagore and neighboring Nagappatinam, this paper examines such assemblages, including those that are seemingly irreligious (such as the commercial activities surrounding the shrine) but vital to the sustenance of the “urs” festival. Eschewing the analytical trope of syncretism, this paper attempts to develop an alternative approach to studying spaces and practices that escape narrow definitions. It pays specific attention to two aspects of the Nagore Dargah: how religious patronage is secured through a network of “Sabus” (from the Urdu word “Sahib”), and the construction and procession of the mobile chariot (“koodu”), the most important object of the “urs” festival.