Monday, February 11, 2019

Deonnie Moodie's "The Making of a Modern Temple and a Hindu City"

Deonnie Moodie is Assistant Professor of South Asian Religions at University of Oklahoma. Her research has been funded by her home institution as well as by Fulbright and Harvard University, where she earned her PhD. Moodie is especially interested in religion in urban India and the ways people of various class backgrounds negotiate urban spaces as sites of devotion, memory, monumentality, labor, and leisure.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Making of a Modern Temple and a Hindu City: Kalighat and Kolkata, and reported the following:
Page 99 begins the third chapter of The Making of a Modern Temple and a Hindu City and outlines the most recent and accessible modernization projects launched at the Hindu temple, Kālīghāṭ, dedicated to the dark goddess Kālī in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). Upper-middle class city residents have generated public campaigns and public interest lawsuits over the past twenty years in order to clean up the physical space of the temple. Without regard for the formerly all-important issue of purity, they seek to remove beggars, sweep up dirt, and conceal the practice of animal sacrifice. In so doing, they build upon modernization projects launched before them (and that I examine in the previous chapters) – those that worked to bring the temple into the realm of modernist history and make it a symbol of Hindu identity in this former British colonial capital; and those that worked to make this a public temple in the eyes of the law so that it could be managed by public representatives rather than priests.

When I was living in Kolkata conducting fieldwork for this project, it was the efforts to physically cleanse the temple that most captivated me. Men and women were working so hard to make their city better – to make it something they could be proud of, and a place their kids would want to live. But then I began speaking with the priests who work at the temple. They felt that the goddess had empowered them to discern what ought to happen at Kālīghāṭ, and these outsiders were trying chip away at that authority. Then I sat with the beggars who live in the shadow of the temple – women who were born there and had never known another existence. The only means of subsistence to which they had access was being taken away. They want to be proud of their city too, and they want good opportunities for their children, but they also want to eat, and to maintain their close relationships with the goddess. The fourth chapter of the book features their stories.

What emerges is a picture of modern India that is both complex and raw. The modernization of this – among many other temples across India – signifies a deep cultural pride that refuses to give way to a homogenized and sterile version of modernity. Yet it also touches on the deep divisions among the “haves” and “have nots” and between the state and religious authorities in the world’s largest secular democracy.
Learn more about The Making of a Modern Temple and a Hindu City at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue