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Carving out a White Marble Deity from a

Rugged Black Stone?: Hindutva Rehabilitates

Ramayans Shabari in a Temple

Pralay Kanungo and Satyakam Joshi

In the contemporary context of communal politics in India, Hinduism and Hindutva,

despite their semantic similarity, are often treated as two distinct categories. While
Hinduism broadly represents a plural, diverse and inclusive universe, Hindutva
manifests a narrow, monolithic and exclusivist political Hinduism, also commonly
called Hindu nationalism. While the former may be seen as a kind of accommodat-
ing faith or mosaic of faiths, the latter is identified as an intolerant and aggressive
political ideology (Nandy, Trivedy, Mayaram, and Yagnik 1995: 5699). V. D.
Savarkar, who had conceptualized and defined Hindutva in the 1920s, consciously
distinguished it from Hinduism, even making the latter subservient to the former.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its familythe Sangh Parivarhave
vociferously carried Savarkars legacy forward. At the same time, while orchestrat-
ing Hindutva the Sangh Parivar has often conflated it with Hinduism, as it finds the
rich resources of Hindu religious traditions extremely useful for mobilizing Hindus
and constructing a unified Hindu identity. Thus, the Sangh Parivar portrays Hindu
myths and folklores as Hindu history, selectively reinventing Hindu sacred spaces
and symbols and resurrecting Hindu mythical and historical figures, gods and
goddesses, traditions and customs.1
This paper explores why and how the Sangh Parivar reinvented Shabari, a mar-
ginal Adivasi woman in Ramayan, adding her to the Hindu pantheon of goddesses
and rehabilitating her in a majestic temple in a tribal locality of Gujarat. The first
section of the paper contextualizes the site, the Dangs District, analyzing its commu-
nity profile, religious and cultural traditions, and, more importantly, competing
religiosity and conflicts. The second section focuses on the strategy and efforts of a
Hindutva missionary, Aseemanand, in the making of the Shabari temple, critically
reflecting on iconography and representation. The third section shows how the
Sangh consecrated this temple by organizing a grand spectacle called Shabari
Kumbh in 2006, going beyond the four Kumbhs sanctioned by Hindu traditions.
Finally, it shows how this temple has become a center for the dissemination of

International Journal of Hindu Studies 13, 3: 27999

2009 Springer
DOI 10.1007/s11407-010-9080-5
280 / Pralay Kanungo and Satyakam Joshi

Hinduism as well as the promotion of Hindutva politics.

Our study is primarily based on information collected from a number of field visits
and interviews. Besides consulting archival records, pamphlets and newspaper
reports, we depended a great deal on oral history and the memories of local Adivasis.
The authors have also attended religious processions, festivals, and congregations
and talked extensively to a cross-section of local people. In short, this descriptive
and exploratory study attempts to construct a narrative of developing Hindutva
against a backdrop of the social, cultural, and religious milieu of the Dangs.

Dangs, Gujarat: Cultural and Religious Context

Dangs is the smallest district of Gujarat with a total population of 186,729, of which
93.8 percent, living in 311 villages, are classified as Scheduled Tribes,2 consisting
of three major communities: Bhils (33 percent), Kokanis (40 percent), and Warlis
(14 percent). Bhils are the original inhabitants of the Dangs, while the Kokanis or
Kuknas and Warlis came much later from the neighboring areas of Maharashtra and
Gujarat respectively. Kuknas, numerically the majority community, migrated to the
Dangs from the coastal region of Konkan around the fourteenth century. Despite
diversity and non-homogeneity, these tribal communities had over a period of time
evolved a common Dangi identity in terms of social structure, norms, customs,
culture, and language.
The Adivasis of Gujarat came under the influence of Sanskritic Hinduism much
before the arrival of the British. Colonialism accentuated this process by connecting
the Adivasis with and exposing them to the outside world, which was dominated by
upper-caste Hindus. Colonial and related princely state administration gave a further
boost to the pace of Sanskritization/Hinduization (A. Shah 2003). The Bhagat move-
ment was another important landmark in this process of Hinduization. Bhagats were
Adivasis who worshiped Vaishnavite or Shaivite deities and had reformed their lives
accordingly; they gave up meat, fish, and liquor and followed the path of bhakti,
singing bhajans and celebrating devotion to their deities (Hardiman 2002). Gandhian
ashrams set up in the Adivasi areas also had a latent Hindu orientation (Shah 2003).
The impact of Hinduization is evident in Dangi cosmology. The Dangis, whether
Kukna, Bhil or Warli, share a common cosmology which incorporates the local
pantheon of deities as well as Hindu gods and goddesses. Prominent local deities
include: Dungar Dev (mountain god), Mavlima (goddess mother), Kansari Devi
(grain goddess), Silaiya and Simaliya Dev (deities symbolizing the village boundary
and hill), and Gam Dev (protector of the village), the snake and the tiger, and ghosts
of ancestors. Multiple kathas (oral recitations) are devoted to local deities, normally
delivered by Bhagats (priests). The major kathas include Kanasari Katha, Dangi
Ramayan, Dungar Dev Katha, Mavlima Katha, and Thali Katha (King Mansingh
and Queen Savlis tale). It is interesting to note that Hindu gods and goddesses are
integrated in the narration of these kathas; for instance, the Bhagat invokes Mahadev
(Lord Shiva) and Parvati (Shivas wife) before starting any katha.