Kultur- und Religionsgeschichte Südasiens
Cultural and Religious History of South Asia



Tue. 01st Feb., 2022
16:15-17:45 Hrs.

This is an online event.

Meeting ID: 832 6480 4133
Passcode: 737844

Abteilungskolloquium (WiSe 2021/22) | Colloquium (Winter Semester 2021/22)

▍ The ‘Cosmic Mother’ And Nation-Making: Female Gurus And Charismatic Authority In Late Colonial South Asia

Arkamitra Ghatak
(PhD Candidate)

This paper focuses on female gurus like Ānandamayī Mā (1896-1982), Sobhā Mā (1921-2004) and Mirra Alfassa (1878-1973) who enjoyed esteem as spiritual leaders in twentieth century South Asia. These women were considered human incarnations (avatāras) of the ‘Mother-Goddess’ by their devotees and disciples and were therefore believed to be in possession of divine powers.

This paper focuses on the ritual actions or ‘speech acts’ through which the female gurus and their hagiographers inserted themselves as messianic agents intervening at the cosmic level in order to enact the spiritual and material welfare, of India and the world. I argue that such actions like grand sacrifices(yagna), ‘rediscovery’ and ‘re-settling’ of putatively ancient holy sites as well as prophecies about the ‘global destiny of India as the source of spiritual wisdom’ had immense symbolic implications amidst the turbulent political circumstances in early twentieth century colonial India marked by the anti-colonial movement and communal disturbances which eventually resulted in the Partition of India(1947). Such actions generated intimate associations between the female gurus in their capacity as ‘living mother-goddesses’ facilitating the moral and spiritual regeneration of the Indian nation and the nation itself which by the early twentieth century was being popularly imagined as a ‘mother-goddess’ in Hindu nationalist discourse. As I show in this paper, not only did the ritual actions of the gurus and their teachings fit into and reinforce existing revivalist-nationalist discourses that presented India as an ancient sacred landscape which was the epicentre of an ‘eternal spiritual wisdom’, but such narratives, in turn, informed the articulation of charismatic authorities of the female gurus themselves as their hagiographers portrayed them as ‘living embodiments’ of the ‘spiritual wisdom’ that represented the ‘cultural and spiritual heritage of India.’


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