1st Edition

Pilgrimage and Politics in Colonial Bengal The Myth of the Goddess Sati

By Imma Ramos Copyright 2017
    138 Pages 10 Color & 28 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    138 Pages 10 Color & 28 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    138 Pages 10 Color & 28 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    From the late nineteenth century onwards the concept of Mother India assumed political significance in colonial Bengal. Reacting against British rule, Bengali writers and artists gendered the nation in literature and visual culture in order to inspire patriotism amongst the indigenous population. This book will examine the process by which the Hindu goddess Sati rose to sudden prominence as a personification of the subcontinent and an icon of heroic self-sacrifice. According to a myth of cosmic dismemberment, Sati’s body parts were scattered across South Asia and enshrined as Shakti Pithas, or Seats of Power. These sacred sites were re-imagined as the fragmented body of the motherland in crisis that could provide the basis for an emergent territorial consciousness. The most potent sites were located in eastern India, Kalighat and Tarapith in Bengal, and Kamakhya in Assam. By examining Bengali and colonial responses to these temples and the ritual traditions associated with them, including Tantra and image worship, this book will provide the first comprehensive study of this ancient network of pilgrimage sites in an art historical and political context.



    A myth of dismemberment

    Sati and her rise as a patriotic icon

    The formation of Hindu identity: From cultural to revolutionary nationalism

    Layout of the book

    Chapter One

    Kalighat souvenirs and the creation of Sati’s iconography

    Sati’s place in the visual rhetoric of motherland

    Sati’s portrayal in Kalighat pilgrimage souvenirs

    The invocation and reinvention of Sati

    The romanticisation of martyrdom

    Subverting Christian iconography

    Shiva, asceticism and Bengali masculinity

    Sati, suttee and the story of Padmini

    The enduring power of Sati

    Chapter Two

    Kamakhya’s erotic-apotropaic potency and the forging of sacred geography

    Martial and maternal: Kamakhya’s sculptures

    The promotion of fertility and protection: Kamakhya’s female archers

    Subversive sexuality: The reception of Kamakhya during the colonial period

    Colonial mapping versus sacred geography

    Bengal’s love affair with Kamakhya: Pilgrimage as a nationalist device

    Chapter Three

    Tantra’s revolutionary potential: Tarapith and Bamakhepa’s visualisation of Tara

    Understanding Tara

    Understanding Tantric ritual through Tara

    Bamakhepa, Tantra and revolutionary potential

    Terrifying and benevolent: Visions of Tara

    The sweetening of death

    Chapter Four

    Contesting the colonial gaze: Image worship debates in nineteenth-century Bengal

    Murtipuja, darshan and rituals of consecration

    Ram Mohan Roy and the Brahmo Samaj movement

    ‘Inconsistent with the moral order of the universe’: The Reverend Hastie’s views on murtipuja

    The backlash: Bengali responses to Hastie

    The Saligram idol case: Murti and artefact

    The Attahas and Khirogram Pithas: The charisma of antique murtis



    Reviving Sati’s corpse: Mother India tours and Hindutva in the twenty-first century



    Imma Ramos is curator of the South Asia collections at the British Museum in London. Her research interests revolve around the relationship between religion, politics and gender in South Asian visual culture.