Fieldwork in Religion, Vol 1, No 2 (2005)

Surrendering to the Earth: Male Devotional Practices in the Bengali Dharma Cult

Fabrizio M. Ferrari
Issued Date: 12 Feb 2007


The essential traits of the Dharma cult are grounded in the folklore of the agricultural people of Rarh (West Bengal). The annual worship of Dharma, the gajan, is here examined on a gender basis. By considering fertility as the leitmotif of the cult and Dharma worship the masculinization of an ancestral female cult, I shall focus on the presence of blood as the discriminator in ritual acts. I argue that while female devotees foster and care for the deity by virtue of their own body, men are in a position of 'guiltiness' and they must ritually become women. Thus the two intruding acts par excellence (ploughing the soil and sexual intercourse) are ritually replaced by piercing men's flesh. Self-tortures and immolation will be discussed in order to examine the gajan as the dramatic representation of the hierogamy among Bengali agricultural people in contrast with the rules imposed by the Brahmanic culture.

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DOI: 10.1558/firn.v1i2.123

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