In Pursuit of Maheshvara: Understanding Kedarnath as Place and as Tirtha Open Access

Whitmore, Luke (2010)

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In Pursuit of Maheshvara: Understanding Kedarnath as Place and as Tirtha
Luke Whitmore

This dissertation offers a model for understanding how it might feel to be present in Kedarnath, an abode of Shiva located in the north Indian Himalayas. Kedarnath is closed to human habitation for half the year and is on the way to no other destination. I argue for a theoretical approach to the site that places the diverse facets of its anthropological, historical, and religious characters inside a single analytic frame. This frame is the idea that Kedarnath, both as "place" in a critical phenomenological sense and as a tirtha (Hindu place of pilgrimage) of Shiva, acts as a complex agent in the experience of those present in the site. Building on the ideas of Ronald Inden and William Sax (among others) regarding the complex agency of Hindu deities, I suggest that this idea may be usefully applied to a place of "religious power" (Sax's term). Kedarnath is understood and experienced by many to be the abode of Shiva, yet the site demonstrates power and significance in ways that are not only about Shiva's presence there. The power of the place for those present is created by the complex overlapping of understandings and experiences of Shiva's presence, the power and significance of the natural Himalayan environment, and the economic, social, and cultural importance of the site at local, state, and regional levels.

This notion of the complex agency of Kedarnath as both place and tirtha reflects my methodological argument for a holistic approach to the site. Thus, I examine diverse aspects of the site: historical, geographic, narrative, social, economic, visual, and practice-based. Looking across these different contexts and forms of discourse, representation, practice, and material culture, I show how they both produce and reflect complementary and contrastive understandings and experiences of the character and power of the site. I further show that the case of Kedarnath is generative for the consideration of the emplaced nature of Hindu deities in the world as well as the investigation of sites of religious significance more generally.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Chapter One: Introduction

Arriving into Kedarnath...1

A Narrated Arrival...2
The Attractive Power (Akarshan) of Kedarnath...3
The Multiple Views from Devdarshini...6

Approaching Kedarnath...11

The Genealogy of this Project...12
Research Aims...15
Topics of Inquiry...16
Conversation, Rapport, and Recording in Kedarnath...18
Positionality, Relationships, and Money...19
Scholarly Work and Ethnographic Circumspection...23
The Shape of This Work...26

Chapter Two: Understanding Kedarnath as Place and as Tirtha: An Overview

Situating Kedarnath...29

An Etymological Introduction: Kedara and Kidara...31
Bhrigutirtha: an Earlier Name for the Kedarnath locale?...37
Pashupatas in the Himalayas, Shaivism and Linga Worship...40
The Resting Place (Samadhi) of Shankara in Kedarnath...41
Kedarnath in the Middle and Late Puranic Period...43
Ke Darayami : Parthiva Worship and the Manifestation of Shiva at Kedarnath...44
Shaivite Institutions and Practice in the Ninth to Thirteenth Centuries...45
Nauling Kedar, "Garhwal" and the Naths...48
Garhwal and the Coming of the British...50
Kedarnath during the Colonial Period...53
Seven Centuries in Kedarnath...63
After Independence and into the Present...65

Present-day Kedarnath: People...68

Renunciants: a Special Variety of Kedarnath Local...73
Yatri groups...76

Spatial Organization...77
Temporal Rhythms: The High Season...83

Shravan and Bhadon in Kedarnath...86
End of the Season...88
The Historical Character of Kedarnath in the Present...89

Chapter Three: As Place and As Tirtha

Place, Space, and Religion...91


Phenomenology of Place...99
Place as a Unit of Analysis...102
Social Construction of Place and Critical Geography...103
Hybrid Emplacement and Visual Culture at Kedarnath...111
The Sacredness of Place, Space, and Landscape in Religious Studies...115

Place, Experience, and Critical Phenomenology...120

Critical Phenomenology, Place, and Religious Studies...125

The Complex Agency of Kedarnath Inside and Outside the Temple...127

The Production of the Experience of Place as Complex Agent...137

Chapter Four: In Pursuit of Maheshvara: Narrative Expositions of Kedarnath

Narratives and Narrative Exposition in the Contexts of Kedarnath...139

The Taxonomical Messiness of Place and Narrative Exposition at Kedarnath...144
The Utility of Genre and Repertoire Analysis for the Case of Kedarnath...151
Narrative Expositions of Kedarnath as a System of Related Genres...152

Oral Narrative Expositions of Kedarnath...156

1.1 Interview: with Tirth Purohit Vishvanath Tiwari...156
1.2 A Local Dharamshala Manager Accustomed to Orienting Yatris...163
1.3 A Bengali Dharamshala Manager Unaccustomed to Narrating Kedarnath...167
1.4 Fragments and Conversations...171
1.5 Garhwali Performance Traditions in and around Kedarnath...174
1.6 Renunciants and Narrative Exposition in Kedarnath...177

Pamphlet Literature found in Kedarnath...179

2.1 Shri Char Dham Yatra and its Greatness (Hindi)...180
2.2 The Greatness of Badri-Kedar (Hindi)...184
2.3 The Twelve Lingas of Light: Stories of Lord Shankar's Twelve Lingas of Light (Hindi)...191
2.4 Uttaranchal Tourism (Hindi)...197

Sanskrit Treatments of Kedarnath...201

3.1 Kedarnath and the Shiva Purana...202
3.2 The Upapuranic Kedarakhanda and Kedarnath...204
3.3 Kedarnath in the World of the Kedarakalpa...221

Narrative Exposition and the Complex Agency of Kedarnath...224

The Prevalence of Narrative Expositions...224
The Character(s) of Kedarnath found in Narrative Expositions of the Place...224
Context and Genre in Narrative Expositions of Kedarnath...227
The Kedarnath Framed by Narrative Expositions of Place...229

Chapter Five: As Place and as Tirtha: A Mosaic Portrait from the Kedarnath Bazaar

The Work of Visual Print Culture in Kedarnath...231

The Anthropology of Art and the Study of Visual Culture in South Asia...235
Print Images in the Kedarnath Bazaar for Yatris...239
Print Images in and around the Kedarnath Bazaar for Locals...241

Kedarnath Darshan: Temple, Deity, and Mountain Landscape...242

A Walk through the Bazaar: Print Images in Aggregate...264
Local Images and Their Concerns...267
Kedarnath Valley Images in Kedarnath...271
A Temporary Shrine of the Badri-Kedar Temple Committee...276
Video Disc Presentations of Kedarnath...282

Montage, Landscape, and the Portraiture of Complex Agency...284

Towards an Understanding of Place: Print Images in Kedarnath...289

Chapter Six: The Sensing of Akarshan: Practices in Place at Kedarnath

From Narratives and Images to Practices in Place...291

Clarifying Terms: Ritual, Ritualization, Practice, and Practices in Place...295

The Ghi Malish in the Temple at Kedarnath...300
Deora in Kedarnath...309

Nala Devi and Rampur Devi (August 29-30, 2007)...312
The Theatre of the Devta's Arrival...316
Nala Devi Arrives at the Temple...318
Nala Devi Deora, the 29th of August, Bhairavnath...320
Nala Devi visits Mahant Chandragiri...324
Nala Devi Performs Puja in the Temple...327
Nala Devi Heads Towards Bhairavnath...329

Renunciant Practice in Kedarnath...337
Walking and Movement...339

Walking from Garud Chatti to Kedarnath...340
Gathering Flowers and Gathering Brahma Lotuses...342
Gandhi Sarovar and Beyond...344

Playing Cricket in Kedarnath...347
Practices in Kedarnath: the Engagement of Both Place and Tirtha...350

Chapter Seven: Conclusions

Grasping the Akarshan of Kedarnath...353

The Stable Fluidity of Kedarnath's Complex Agency...354
Contrast and Complement: Narrative, Image, Practice...358

Beyond the Case of Kedarnath...363
Departing Kedarnath at the End of the Season...368

Appendix I: The Upapuranic Kedarakhanda...373
Appendix II: A Visual Introduction to Kedarnath...383

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