Theses Doctoral

Haḍimbā Becoming Herself: A Himalayan Goddess in Change

Halperin, Ehud

The dissertation examines the cult of the goddess Haḍimbā that is located in the Kullu Valley of the West Indian Himalaya (Himachal Pradesh). Massive transformations introduced in the region in recent years by means of better transportation systems, a developing capitalist economy, new technologies, and, most prominently, tourism have drastically affected life in the region and have destabilized traditional social and cultural patterns. These changes are engaged by the residents of the Kullu Valley in various ways that are informed and oriented by their traditional worldview and ritual system. The main chapters of the dissertation present and analyze three separate yet interrelated spaces that constitute a veritable theater of change.

In these spaces, in which Haḍimbā figures prominently, the identity of the goddess, the rituals performed in her honor, and the powers she is believed to possess are constantly negotiated and refashioned: practitioners foreground Haḍimbā's identity as a Mahābhārata demoness instead of equating her solely with the Purāṇic Durgā (ch. 1); they justify, protect, and increasingly offer her bloody buffalo sacrifices despite criticisms leveled against this practice by outsiders (ch. 2); and they uphold their views concerning the ability of their goddess to control local weather patterns, even as the climate is changing and competing paradigms offer new theories in this regard (ch. 3). It is in this sense—in light of these massive renegotiations of Haḍimbā's character—that she is "becoming herself." Concurrently, it is not only the goddess' but her devotees' identity that is being negotiated and refashioned.

Taken as a whole, the choices made by local people in these three spaces reveal their attempt to recast their marginality, the magnitude of which they have only recently begun to realize. They do so by pursuing new frameworks of reference that aim to challenge, if not subvert, the hegemonic narratives that are promoted in the region by outside forces. Thus, by highlighting Haḍimbā's Mahābhārata associations they offer a new kind of epic frame for national and religious identity; by insisting on the performance of animal sacrifice they invert and celebrate what is elsewhere considered a backward and illegitimate act; and by retaining their belief in the control of their goddess over her territory they defend their own agency and find a legitimate place for themselves and their way of life at the pan-Indian and global table. At the same time, the dissertation shows that local religious beliefs and practices do not remain untouched by these external pan-Indian and global paradigms and that in the interaction between them a new a hybrid worldview is being formed.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Hawley, John Stratton
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 10, 2012