ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

The Biography of a Temple: Space, Ritual, and Meaning-Making in the Gajan (Hook Swinging) Festival of India


Dutta Subhankar - Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, Humanities and Social Sciences, Mumbai, India


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


 The relationship between space and ritual mechanism has often been connected with the mythical bearing of a locality, manifested through physical actions, doing, and performative imaginations. Focusing on the hook-swinging festival of the agrarian cult of Bengal, India, namely Gajan, the paper looks into the directionality of rituals- the patterns, the axes, the zones, and spatial orientation and movements. Gajan is a pre-harvest yearly festival of the rural communities of Bengal, concentrating on Shiva temples. With rituals of bodily penance and asceticism, the participants, called bhaktas, become the divine embodiment for the ritual days and the festive space becomes the sacred spot of the embodied selves, building a web of connection among various aspects of the community and ritual dynamics. The paper looks into the folk world of Gajan, articulated crucially from the oral tradition and performing bodies, where the place, people, and performance share a unique synergy in making a sacred ritual spot. The paper argues that the infinite possibilities of spatial orientations, directional changes, and combinatorial possibilities merge rituals, space, performers, and spectators into a theatrically organised repertoire where rituals are performative and performative with a ritual purpose. The paper relied on interpretative and empirical data from the ethnographic village study in Bengal, which unravelled the Gajan tola or the festival ground, as an organised sacred ritual space.