Author: Ralph W Nicholas
Publisher: Chronicle Books
ISBN/UPC (if available): 8180280063
The essays collected in this book are based on field research carried out over an extended period in several villages in the Bengali-speaking area of South Asia. The center of attention is the religious life of ordinary people in rural Bengal.
They cover a broad spectrum, including the Bengali attachment to goddesses, the religious treatment of the calamities that befall poor people, and the analysis of myths, both historically and structurally. A long essay examines the rise of Sitala, goddess of disease, in south-western Bengal in the nineteenth century. It is accompanied by English translations of two versions of the Bengali Sitala narrative from that period.
The Sanskrit Candi, or Sri Sri Durga Saptasati, which is the authority for the ever more popular annual Durga puja, is analyzed in relation to the worship of which it is an integral part. Also examined are the structure of the annual cycle of religious observances and the social organization of Vaisnava and Islamic religious groups.
Through detailed analysis of the religious acts of ordinary people, including their rituals, the author builds up a uniquely complex picture of the world in its totality implicit in the culture of the villages of the Bengal delta.
Cosmology, a construction of the way the world is in its totality, is usually implicit in rituals, but it is often make explicit in myths. It seems at first sight difficult to understand myths as forms of practical activity. However, as I try to show, in Bengal it is in performance that the myth has its significance and it is performance that produces fruits.
-RALPH W NICHOLAS
The Bengali Calendar and the Hindu Religious Year in Bengal
Vaisnavism and Islam in Rural Bengal
Understanding a Hindu Temple in Bengal
The Village Mother in Bengal
The Fever Demon and the Census Commissioner:
Sitala Mythology in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Bengal
The Goddess Sitala and Epidemic Smallpox in Bengal
Sitala and the Art of Printing:
The Transmission and the Propagation of the Myth of the Goddess of Smallpox
in Rural West Bengal