In Search of Nagaraja: Narrative, Place-Making, and Divine Embodiment in Garhwal Open Access

Jassal, Aftab Singh (2014)

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This dissertation examines how Nagaraja--a form of the god Krishna--is made present, experienced, and known in multiple ritual settings in Garhwal, in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand. Based on fifteen months of participant-observation fieldwork with low-caste healers, storytellers, musicians, and ritual mediums, high-caste temple priests, and lay devotees, I chronicle the intensive narrative and ritual work that makes the god present in the lives of his devotees. Specifically, in Garhwal, worshippers of Nagaraja-Krishna repeatedly speak of "making" (banana) or "offering" (dena) space/place (sthan) for the god. Building on this insight, I argue that sthan and divine presence are metonymically linked, and that Nagaraja-Krishna is made present through narrative and ritual practices of "place-making."

This dissertation traces place-making practices in a variety of different sites and on different scales, examining how space/place is made for the god in the body and home, the village temple, and finally, the region of Garhwal as a whole. The dissertation enacts this scalar movement by examining the god's presence in the human body, small-scale domestic rituals of divination and healing, public performances in village settings, to how he is worshipped as a temple deity at the regional level.

In so doing, this dissertation shows how Nagaraja-Krishna exists and is experienced in multiple forms in Garhwal. These different iterations of Nagaraja-Krishna do not cohere to produce one, stable entity; rather, his form changes depending on the specific place-making at work. The concept of sthan (space/place) is thus what connects different expressions of Nagaraja-Krishna across these sites. In making this argument, this dissertation expands understandings of Krishna in contemporary Hinduism by approaching the god from the perspective of popular, oral, regional, and vernacular-language ritual-performance traditions. This dissertation also contributes to studies of ritual and narrative by examining place-making as a practice that encompasses both discursive production and ritual performance.

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