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Folk Religions in South Asia

This lecture series is presented by Professor Tanuja Kothiyal (Dr B.R. Ambedkar University Delhi). Read more about her research here.


Part 1: An Introduction to Folk Traditions in South Asia - Typologies and Mythemes

About the lecture

Known for its more systematic and textual-rich religions, the South-Asian region also hosts a variety of folk religions that occupy liminal spaces between formal religious traditions. 

In this video, Professor Tanuja Kothiyal talks about folk religions in the region through an examination of various myths that are associated with sacrificial traditions, veneration of the deceased, and other such typologies. Through an extensive set of examples, Prof. Kothiyal establishes how most myths surrounding folk traditions in India operate on one or more of such “mythemes”, and how, even though there is a conscious decision made to associate such traditions with Hinduism, they are, in essence, different and mostly correspond to the immediate needs of the community that is directly related with them. 


Part 2: Little Tradition & Great Tradition

About the lecture

Folk religions, as mentioned previously, occupy the liminal spaces between formalized religions and come from a smaller geographical context. However, as the traditions expand, these ‘little traditions’ on the one hand associate themselves with the local folk cults and on the other hand with the larger formalized traditions with associations with deities that are more universally recognized and revered. 

Commenting on the processes of the processes of such intersections, Professor Tanuja uses the example of the myth of Pabuji from the state of Rajasthan, where tropes of deceit and immortality in the greater traditions are used as plot-points of continuity for the little traditions. Association of local folk cultures with avataric traditions not only create a bridge between local and more established formal religions, but also assist in the expansion of the former by bringing in a new set of devotees. 


Part 3: Marginal Practices and Folk Traditions

About the lecture

In the last video, Professor Tanuja Kothiyal explains the process through which a bridge is created between folk religious traditions and more established traditions in South Asia. However, in this process, the cultural practices of marginalized communities can be wiped out. In this segment, Professor Kothiyal uses the examples of traditions of Shahbaz Qalandar in Sindh in Pakistan and the Iravan shrines in Tamil Nadu in South India to depict the processes through the marginalized communities in both countries gain their own traditions that are not masked by the presence of a greater tradition above them.

Moreover, it is in the intersections of folk and marginal religious practices that a new kind of discourse on religiosity is found, that not only allows devotees to practice non-institutionalized methods, but also indicates processes through which a reverse of the bridging mentioned previously occurs.