Puranic Texts from Kashmir: Vitastā and River Ceremonials in the Nīlamata Purāṇa
South Asia Research, Vol 28(2): 123-145, 2008
23 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2014
Date Written: January 27, 2014
Focusing on the western Himalayan provinces of Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, the paper argues that the Indian hagiographic texts of the Purāṇas should be understood as a nuanced literature that effects a paradigm shift in liturgy and praxis, fusing polity and religion, in contravention to the earlier Vedic-Upaniṣadic texts and their commentaries.
The emphasis is on local literature, specifically the Nīlamata Purāṇa, which uses the popular iconographies of river goddesses to explore the geography of the area, as well as to usurp or associate it with the sub-continental sacred geography. Keeping within the Puranic tradition, the paper explores the ritual and ceremonials associated with rivers, while perceiving the process by which regional pilgrim centres (tīrtha) were formed on their banks, devising a sacred space parallel to the sub-continental cosmos. This reinforces the logic of the sacred river, the worshipped deity, in as much a process by which brahmanic dominance was asserted in the peripheral areas of ‘Hindu’ India, or ideologically contested regions, such as Kashmir. In the sacrality of the river Vitastā, brahmanism as an ideology reasserts itself by restating the tradition in relation to its sacral past, by creating a sacred space and devising a sacred icon to reclaim the sacred geography for the devout Brāhmaṇas.
Keywords: hegemony, iconography, Kashmir, Purāṇa, Vitastā, ritual, river ceremonial, river-goddess
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