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Department of Social Anthropology


Dr Sukanya Sarbadhikary (Presidency University, Calcutta)

Afterlife Everyday: Bengali Sacred Archetypes of Domesticity and the Problem of Interiority

This essay brings together decisive sacred archetypes of Bengali homemaking: sounds of the evening shankh (conch), the goddess Lakshmi, and the female snake-deity, Manasa. It analyzes everyday home-ethics not simply through the European category of the ‘domestic’, but conceptually more elastic vernacular discourse of shongshar, which means both home and world. Thereby, it problematizes notions of privacy and sanctified interiority of homes, women, and the nation,afforded by postcolonial theory. In understanding shongshar as a religious everyday dwelling, it analyzes (contrary) worship ontologies of Lakshmi, the life-goddess, Manasa, the death-goddess,and the twists of these imaginations engraved in the material contours of the shankh. Moving beyond the interiority-exteriority dialectic, I posit space as an aperture within the folded conch and vastu (home). Postcolonial imaginations of domesticity did not consider ways in which homely interiority is already-always ambivalent; it opens up, dissolves, and is not in pure distinction with an outside. The shankh, as a quintessential symbol of mongol (wellbeing), and its turns, are analyzed as the material/spatial embodiment of shongshar’s daily life-texture. Its spiral twirls also take us into refracted shadows of time’s depth. This also helps reimagine the everyday temporality of the domestic space. So the paper reflects on time beyond sequential secular history, to include the Bengali home’s postcolonial understandings, precolonial materiality, and more essential notions of duration. Based on ritual texts, fieldwork among Lakshmi and Manasa worshippers, conchcollectors,craftsmen and specialists, and immersion in everyday viscosity, I explore a new ethical anatomy of the religious home, analyzing relations between life and concept.

Friday, 11 May, 2018 - 16:15 to 18:00
Event location: 
Edmund Leach Room Department of Social Anthropology Free School Lane, Cambridge