Worship in Transition

An Encounter with the Rājrājeshwarī Devī of the Garhwal Himalaya

Keywords: Rājrājeshwarī Devī, Kandara village, Garhwal Himalaya, dev bhūmi, Uttarakhand

Abstract

The state of Uttarakhand in India is referred to as dev bhūmi (Land of the Gods)  as it is home to several devī-devtās (local deities), sages, and ṛṣis whose presence renders the geography of this land a potent one. The soundscape of temples in Uttarakhand includes bells, chants, mantras, and ḍhol-damauñ, the latter referring to two rhythmic instruments which are used to facilitate divine possession. Kandara village is situated in Uttarakhand’s Rudraprayag district where there is a temple of a goddess named Rājrājeshwarī Devī who is said to be a form of goddess Durgā. During the times of Navrātri, the nine forms of goddess Durgā are worshiped. It is also one of the times where various religious practices in conjunction with worship take place in the Garhwal Himalayan region. As a result, an older idol of the devī was replaced by a newer one during this time in the Rājrājeshwarī Devī temple of Kandara village. Like in the case of the Rājrājeshwarī Devī, through her naur (representative/medium), the Rājrājeshwarī Devī engages with her devotees and ‘remembers’ their problems and conflicts which she attempts to resolve if asked. Through these transactions, a strong intimate bond at the level of everyday living is formed with a deity. This photo essay aims to provide a closer peek into the realm of lived practices and traditions from the Central Himalayas and to document such experiences which often lie in the zone of orality. The worship of the Rājrājeshwarī Devī holds not only a cathartic value but a protective function which she fulfills by ensuring good health and prosperity for the entire village. 

Author Biography

Shubha Ranganathan, Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad

Shubha Ranganathan is an Associate Professor of the Department of Liberal Arts, Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad. Her work is broadly located at the interface of culture, gender and psychology, particularly with reference to issues of health and disability. Her research is interdisciplinary, drawing on the fields of medical anthropology, disability studies, medical humanities, gender studies, and alternate paradigms within psychology such as critical psychology. She has been engaged in ethnographic research on local healing practices and lived experiences of mental health and disability. She has done extensive ethnographic fieldwork on trance and ritual healing practices in the Mahanubhav temples in Maharashtra. Her work also engages with issues surrounding the politics of mental health and disability. She is currently engaged in a research study on the lived experiences of caregiving from the perspective of caregivers of a child that is neurodiverse, specifically with autism spectrum. 

Published
10-Jun-2023
How to Cite
Gairola, V., & Ranganathan, S. (2023). Worship in Transition. HIMALAYA - The Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies, 42(1), 118-140. https://doi.org/10.2218/himalaya.2023.6678
Section
Photo Essays