DIVINE AFFAIRS: Religion, Pilgrimage, and the State in Colonial and Postcolonial India

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Item Code: IDG627
Publisher: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
Edition: 2001
ISBN: 8185952884
Pages: 207
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.8" X 5.7"
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Book Description

About the Book:

"For centuries Jagannath, the Lord of the Universe, at Puri dominated cultural and political life in Orissa. Ishita Banerjee Dub's divine Affairs introduces us to the fascinating story of his transformation from a tribal wooden deity, to the state deity of the erstwhile imperial Gajapati kings and of the Rajas of Khurda/puri to Jagnnath's defamations 'Juggernaut' by British evangelicals and his emergence as a key symbol of modern Oriya identity.

"The focus of the study is the colonial and postcolonial period when Puri's vast temple complex developed into an arena of contestation between the priests, the Rajas of Puri-in their double function as Superintendents of the temple and as Adyasevaka of Jagannath-and the secular state authorities of the colonial regime and of independent India. The study reveals that it was not only the colonial expropriation of Jagnnath as a symbol of state authority, but also Brahmin and Non Brahmin agents, and in particular the postcolonial state, which undermined the ritual supremacy of the Rajas of Puri. This process culminated in the Shri Jagnnath Temple Act of the year 1955 bringing to an end the raja' superintendence but not the 'postcolonial predicament' of administrating eastern India's largest religious establishment by a secular state administration. Here, the state's inconsistencies and contradictions to regulate religious practices are caused by 'radically different notions of improving order and efficiency and the ideal of dharma', revealing too the enduring nature of colonial legacies. At the same time, the book also analyses Puri's two most important socio-religious institutions: the priests, and the great annual car festival. It demonstrates the anomalies that plague Puri's temple administrators, on the one hand, and the enduring greatness of Jagnnath and the devotion of his pilgrims, on the other.

"The book breaks new ground and provided important insights into the embeddedness of religious institutions in political processes in colonial and postcolonial India."


The tradition of pilgrimage (tirtha) has received the attention of historians, anthropologists, ethnographers, sociologists, political philosophers, religious investigators and many other. The cult of Jagannath at Puri has been an integral part of this varied, complex and multifaceted enquiry by Indians as well as Westerners. The cult of Jagannath, with its centre and its car festival at Puri has received scholarly attention in the past. The issues involved in this cult, such as relationship between the State and the temple, the codification of rules and regulations and many other modern orientations and perceptions are so intricate, complex and mysterious that the theme needs more studies on old as well as new issues.

Dr. Ishita Bannerjee Dube has attempted to throw light on some of the issues by sitting at the intersection o history and anthropology, structure and process, form and meaning. The thematic division of chapters include methodology, the myths and legends, relation between the king and the temple, the faiths, fights and fortunes of religious functionaries of the temple, and lastly the meaning, sprit and perception of the popular Jagannath car festival.

I felicitate Dr. Dube for this valuable presentation on the pilgrimage of Jagnnath Puri against the backdrop of history and anthropology. I do hope that the scholarly world will welcome this addition to the library of the pilgrimage studies.




Divine Affairs in an invaluable contribution to pilgrimage studies in Sough Asia. Uniting meticulous historical documentation and ethnographic sensitivity, Ishita Banerjee Dube's scholarship significantly improves our understanding of the complex ways religion and politics intertwine in a sacred center. She provides a detailed, subtle, and compelling portrait of Jagannath-the Lord of the Universe in Puri-not only as an object of political manipulations but as the all-powerful subject of worship.

Professor, Department of Religion
Syracuse University

About the Author:

ISHITA BANERJEE DUBE is a member of faculty of the Centre for Asian and African Studies, El Colegio de Mexico. She was a fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. Her articles have appeared in Subaltern Studies, and Estudios Asia and Africa. Dr. Banerjee Dube's forthcoming book is entitled emergent Histories: Religion, Law, and Power in Eastern India.


1. Introduction 1
2. Lord's Domain: Legends and Rituals23
3. Lord's Deputy and God's Patron: The King and the State72
4. Lording it Over: Devotees and Detractors126

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