The Emotive Quality of Narrative and Song in the Bengali Dharmaraj Pūjā

When and Where

Friday, April 08, 2022 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm


Frank J. Korom, Boston University


Bengal Studies Lecture

Abstract: Frank J. Korom, Professor of Religion and Anthropology, Boston University

Bhujangabhusan Chakravarti was a Bengali Brahman from Birbhum District, West Bengal who used to sing a key pālā (episode) of a medieval text known as the Dharmamangal at the annual pūjā for the Bengali vernacular deity known as Dharmaraj. The performed text is only a small portion of the written text, which is over 1,000 pages in length, but runs close to one hundred pages in transcription, which moves back and forth from singing to spoken exegesis to explain to the audience what is going on and why. The performer cleverly and skillfully weaves together singing and speech to dazzle the audience with his erudition, but there is also a pedagogical and rhetorical dimension underlining his commentaries. My paper explores the contours of song and speech as a form of code shifting that allows for the accomplishment of different things: for the performer, it brings about a sense of ānanda (bliss) and for the audience a sense of jñān (knowledge). For the audience, the latter is important because the medieval text is not readily available, nor is it understood by the largely non-literate participants. Bhujangbhushan thus fulfills a dual role as an entertainer as well as a spiritual teacher, fusing the two through his use of easily comprehensible verse. The conclusion suggests that ritual becomes efficacious in the act of performance by drawing out people’s emotions within a dialectical process involving both performers and their audiences.

Chair: Christoph Emmrich, Director of the Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Toronto

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Centre for South Asian Studies, Asian Institute, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy