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Role of Religion in South Asia

Mujibur Rehman

By Carla Bellamy
Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 282, Rs. 795.00


The volume under review, a fine-tuned and reworked doctoral thesis, is a critical narrative of the interpretation of everyday and ritual life of a Muslim shrine known as Hussain Tekri. Carla Bellamy took a plunge into this rather adventurous journey with passion driven by irrepressible intellectual curiosity. Struck by a steady stream of visitors every Thursday to her landlady and friend Maya, something that clearly unsettled her New Yorkian rationality, Carla Bellamy discovered that she had a potential research question in front of her. She chose to pursue it despite many odds associated with research demanding enormous amount of fieldwork. She writes, ‘I decided to take a trip to Jaora to see what Husain Tekri was all about. The first visit to Jaora from Udaipur began with a genuinely frightening overnight train ride I had ever experienced in India. The slow moving narrow gauge train was empty and dark, and when we pulled into Jaora, it was a pitch dark night and the power was out, making it impossible to be certain about the station.’ Carla Bellamy, pursuing her research, has finally produced a book that stands as equal to or even better than other major works on the subject by scholars such as P.M. Currie and Richard Eaton.   The dargah culture, unfortunately, has not inspired much scholarship and there is no doubt, as this book reveals, that a lot could be deciphered not just about various aspects of religious lives, or cross tradition rituals, but how people shape their worldviews and perceptions of life and after-life. What is unique about this research is that it seeks to offer a critical narrative about the dargah culture. It is not just how ordinary people are connected with dargahs, but major dargahs such as Ajmer or Nizamuddin remain a reference point in South Asian politics even today. Often leaders from South Asia visit and make offerings. This book seeks to shed some light about some of these dimensions, less about relationships with the contemporary power structure but more about healing and other issues of daily lives, specially ordinary people.   Over the years, there are different facets of South Asian religious life which have been subjected to research, but one of the most effective methods that has earned a great deal of popularity among scholars interested in qualitative research is the ethnographic one. This book is an excellent example of it.   The ...

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