Based on research in present-day Varanasi, this project is a study of the Sanskrit text Devīmāhātmya, “Glorification of the Goddess”, approached in a site-specific context. The project is concerned with the relationship between the overarching, textual representations of a religious tradition – here the textual tradition of the Devīmāhātmya – and the interpretations and actions of religious practitioners in a socioreligious context where we find the Devīmāhātmya today. This overarching question is approached by an in-depth qualitative study of the practices, meanings and significances attributed to the Devīmāhātmya by people who use the text in a contemporary Hindu context.
In addition to qualitative interviews and participant observation, the popular Sanskrit editions of the Devīmāhātmya that circulates among the practitioners in Varanasi have been collected and analysed. These editions present the Devīmāhātmya as a ritual recitation (pāṭha) embedded in what we can term a ritual paratext consisting of mantras, ritual procedures (vidhi), visualizations (dhyāna), and hymns that are to accompany the Devīmāhātmya core text ritually. Underlying this ritual presentation and expressed through the various ritual texts, is a distinct Śākta worldview that both confirms to and goes beyond the core text of the Devīmāhātmya. Central questions in the project is how this worldview relates to practitioners’ understanding of the Devīmāhātmya and the Goddess in general, how their ritual performances confirms to or diverges from the ritual models of the texts, and how to theorize the relationship between textual semantics and embodied knowledge.
Dr Silje Lyngar Einarsen