Rhythms of Life (Enacting the World with the Goddesses of Orissa)
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Rhythms of Life (Enacting the World with the Goddesses of Orissa)

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Item Code: NAL409
Author: Frederique Appffel-Marglin
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9780195694192
Pages: 304
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.0 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 480 gm

About the Book

The nine essays in this volume are based on the author’s fieldwork in puri, Orissa between 1975 and 1993. During this eighteen-year period, she focused on two sets of rituals-one, in and around the temple of Jagannatha, studied mostly through the lens of the rituals of the Devadasis; the other, the festival of Raja parba at Bali Haracandi, which celebrates the menses of the earth, sea, goddesses, and women.

These essays contain detailed and rich re-tellings of complex rituals with their attendant stories and myths. They have been put together fifteen years after the author left the field of Indian studies. What she sees in these essays today is that the world of goddesses, goods, spirits, demons, and the like, is real. However, the nature of this ‘real’ is strikingly different from the notion of the real as understood since the Scientific Revolution. Here she deals with a few ideas and categories that prevent such a realization-the subaltern; ‘the third-world woman; ‘the sacred; and ‘history; This volume will be useful to students and scholars of sociology, religion, and women’s studies. Those interested in studies on development and modernity, ritual and myth, and Indian dance forms, too will find this volume interesting.

About the Author

Frederique Apffel-Marglin is Professor Emerita, Department of Anthropology at Smith College, US. Along with the Harvard economist Stephen A. Marglin, she has directed several research projects questioning the dominance of the modern paradigm of Knowledge. She has published several books, three of them resulting from their joint work at the world institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER). After giving up fieldwork, she collaborated with intellectual activists in peru, and is currently finishing a book based on her work there. She now collaborates with a fair trade Organic Coffee Cooperative in the Peruvian High Amazon.


I have chosen nine essays that span some twenty years, which are based on my work in Orissa, carried out over an eighteen-year period between 1975 and 1993 through both extended Lengths of time and shorter visits. During these years I focused on basically two sets of rituals: those in and around the temple of Jagannatha in Puri, viewed mostly through the lens of the rituals of the devadasis; and the festival of Raja parba carried out at Bali Haracandi some 20 Kms south of pure, which celebrates the menses of the earth, the sea, the goddess and women. The essays in part I of the book all detail different rituals or the book all detail different rituals or festivals in or related to Jagannatha temple, and those in part II are all based on Raja parba. All the esseys have been published In scattered-and sometimes somewhat obscure-places.

Why publish these essays now in a book, especially given the fact that I make no attempt to update them in the light of more recent scholarship on India? Having left the field of Indian studies in 1993, having decided that fieldwork was no longer ethically or politically viable for me, and having been engaged in collaboration with intellectual-activists in peru ever since, why decide to publish these now as a book?

Although some of the latter essays in this book have been written rather recently, the fieldwork upon which they are based dates from much earlier. I have not engaged in this kind of fieldwork for some fifteen years now. These essays thus afford me the occasion for reflection from the vantage Point of that period of time, especially on the topic of fieldwork and the kind of Knowledge it is meant to produce. In an earlier publication, written at the beginning of my new relationship with the Peruvian non-governmental organization (NGO) PRATEC, I discussed at some length my reasons for quitting the practice of fieldwork. However, that discussion was entirely in the context of my newly begun relationship with this Peruvian NGO, and led to an extended reflection on the nature of the professionalization of knowledge, the autonomous university, and the separation between life and knowledge production, which characterizes not only anthropology, but knowledge-making in the modern university in general. What is not articulated there is how my experiences in India, both as a dancer and later as an anthropological fieldworker, were the crucibles that gave rise to my subsequent choices and reflection. Many of the ideas in that essay arose directly from my experiences in Indian.

One of the reasons why India disappears in my India disappears in my earlier reflection on fieldwork, anthropology and the professionalization of Knowledge in the modern autonomous university is the fact that towards the late 1980s and early 1990s, whenever I went to Orissa to do fieldwork, I was seized by a powerful inertia or passivity bordering on paralysis. It became increasingly physically impossible for me to take out my notebook, my pen and my questions. I simply wanted to be there, participate in the rituals and make offerings; I could hardly bring myself to do fieldwork. At the time I explained this by invoking all the readings I had been doing for several years on critiques of anthropology, and the existential crisis that this had provoked. What I now realize is that my years in India, particularly in Orissa, the people, the landscapes, the other-then-humans I interacted with in those places, were even more profoundly responsible for this state of affairs. They acted powerfully upon me, they changed me and the course of my life, and thus everyone and everything my life has been part of.

The publication of these essays gives me the opportunity to pay a debt not only to the memory of my revered and beloved teachers and the memory of a friend, colleague and mentor to whom the book is dedicated, but to all the people, landscapes and deities I found myself among in India and especially in Orissa, which profoundly transformed me, and taught me not only ‘about’ themselves, but as significantly about myself and about ways of being with the world in general that were totally unsuspected by the person I then was. This transformation profoundly altered the way I related to Knowledge-making within the modern university, namely within academia. It did this, I believe, through allowing me to open myself to what Levinas calls ‘the holiness of the holy’; through transforming myself form a secular modern person eager to professionalize herself of anthropology into a person feeling responsible not only to the human person she encountered, but to the ‘holiness of the holy in the other-then-humans and the world she also encountered there.

Upon a close re-reading of these essays, I became aware of something that lay father obscurely within them, something that could not easily find voice in an academic setting, but that nevertheless shines dimly through them. That something is probably what drove me to carry this project forward beyond immediate narcissism and ego gratification. Most of these essays contain an extremely detailed and rich retelling of complex rituals with their attendant stories/myths, the latter based either on stories that participant told me directly, or from a reading of classic textual sources that the rituals referred me thematically to. I immersed myself deeply and wholeheartedly in the world these opened up me. From the beginning, I did not adopt the view that rituals and myths were some sort of mirroring of the more basic, more real, world of social, economic or political formation. I granted them the same status as those other realities. This was most likely the result of my previous years in India, spent in passionate dedication to various forms of Indian classical dance with an eventual focus on Odissi, since my own graduate training militated against such view.

Such a non-academic, embodied dance experience is what-I am convinced-preserved me from succumbing to the then reigning theoretical frameworks that dominated the field of Indian studies. Even though I arrived in Puri in the fall of 1975 as your average Northern secular graduate student eager to prove herself as a bona fide anthropologist, my flesh, skin and bones opened me imperceptibly to another register. While I was indeed eager to articulate theoretically what was revealed to me, What remains beyond such articulation is the fact that all my years in India, both as a dancer and as an anthropologist, had profoundly transformed and, in a word, initiated me. I speak of an initiation since it touches something that remains difficult to articulate in the language of scholarship. With hindsight and the accumulated experience of a complicated spiritual-cum-intellectual journey that my work in Orissa gave rise to, what I see in these essays today is the realization that World of goddesses, gods, spirits, demons, and such, is real. It is not only the people with whom I conversed and with whom I participated in rituals and other events who taught me and influenced me, but also the other-then-humans who, I now realize, have agency as Well, an agency that acted to profoundly transform me.

Cleary, the nature of this ‘real’ is quite different from the notion of the real bequeathed to us by the scientific revolution and the enlightenment. In these essays, I do not venture much into that historical terrain, and restrict myself to grappling with some of the concepts/constructs preventing such a realization. I am different point in my journey, and have gone on to work more specifically on understanding the nature of the modern ontoepistemology. I will therefore make a stab at elucidating the nature of the reality that the rituals and narratives in these essays manifest. I will dare to tread the dangerous terrain of ontology and go beyond the safer and better-tread domain of epistemology where the essays mostly, although not entirely, remain.

Nevertheless, by giving narratives and rituals the same reality quotient as what in graduate school was referred to as the ‘material base’, I would say that in some way the effort began as I started writing about these topics. It began in the manner in which the best of anthropology has proceeded, namely epistemologically, identifying and then deconstructing those concepts, categories or words that hide a weighty Western baggage behind their seemingly neutral or universal surface. These kinds of effort gathered clarity and focus with the years, and are more in evidence in Part II of this book. The essays in Part II address some of the epistemological baggage that prevented me from seeing, or entering into, the reality I encountered in Orissa. They address the categories of the ‘subaltern’, the ‘Third World woman’, the ‘sacred’ and ‘history; These, of course, do not begin to exhaust the modernist categories that need to be deconstructed, but form a sample of the type of intellectual work required. Needless to say, many other have been engaged in a similar intellectual task, and I could not have participated in such a task without their help. I have drawn on this type of scholarship all along, and found it in many different fields.

The most challenging of the categories I inherited turned out to be that of (cultural or religious) beliefs. Incarcerating such realities in the World of culturally and religiously specific ‘beliefs’, held in the privacy of one’s mind and heart, robs them of their ontological presence, and thus of their reality. Clarifying the difference between such truth, which are place-time specific on the one hand and universals on the other, became necessary. Without such an effort, the nature of the reality and truth of these Orissan practices is either incarcerated within the world of beliefs held in the minds of humans or, alternatively, promoted to the level of a universal Truth and rammed down the throats of all ‘unbelievers’ as the one and only Truth. Hindu fundamentalists have been engaged in some form of the latter, following a pattern typical of the fundamentalist forms of any religious tradition. The latter phenomenon betrays the effectiveness of the missionizing accomplished by the modern scientific form of education, which has made its version of universality the only valid one. Fundamentalist movements in every religion have confused this type of absolutism with the non or pre-modern forms of place-time specific truths.

Thus, for me, these essays at some level speak of the seemingly paradoxical nature of such place-time specific but nevertheless transcultural truths, while also explicitly addressing some of the modernist categories that prevent us from recognizing this.




Publisher's Acknowledgements





Are Goddesses Real?



Regenerating the World through lllness, Death, and Female Sexuality


Types of Oppositions in Hindu Culture



Female Sexuality in the Hindu World



Who has the Potency?


(With Dennis Hudson)


Death and Regeneration


Brahmin and Non-Brahmin Narrtives


Smallpox in Two Systems of Knowledge


PART  ll

Deconstructing Modernist Categories

The 'Subaltern'; the 'Third World Woman';

the 'sacred' History'


Gender and the Unitary Self


Looking for then Subaltern in Coastal Orissa

(in collaboration with purna Chandra Mishra)


Feminist Orientalism and Development


(with Suzanne L. Simon)


Secularism, Unicity, and Diversity


The Case of Haracandi's Grove


Rhythms of Life


Ritual Time and Historical Time




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