Ritual, Inversion, and Hierarchy at the Kumbh Mela, the Great Festival of India (HT15)

Location: Lecture Room 1, Oriental Institute
Speaker: Prof. Sondra Hausner
Date: February 9, 2015
Time: 5:00pm

At the Kumbh Mela, a religious festival that takes place every twelve years in four North Indian pilgrimage locations, multiple divisions in Indian society are put on display. The social distinctions between ascetics and householders are exposed in a classic example of ritual inversion: ascetics take centre stage while householders attend as worshipping pilgrims. By contrast, everyday hierarchies between women and men appear reified rather than reversed at the great festival: women ascetics remain on the farthest margins of both ascetic social orders and householder ones, behind the scenes or erased from view. This lecture will ask why gender relations seem more static than the categories of caste, occupation, or region during India’s largest ritual event.

Sondra L. Hausner is Associate Professor in the Study of Religion and a Fellow of St. Peter’s College. An anthropologist by training, she has worked on Indic religions, and particularly asceticism, since 1996, publishing Women’s Renunciation in South Asia: Nuns, Yoginis, Saints, and Singers (Palgrave, 2006), and Wandering with Sadhus: Ascetics in the Hindu Himalayas (IUP, 2007), which won the Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences. She has also published on living and legendary religious practice in the Himalayas, diaspora religions, gender and society, and Durkheimian sociology. At Oxford, she teaches the anthropology of religion in 19th and 20th century thought.