Last Edited: Wednesday, November 02, 2011 12:12 PM -0500 | Last Updated: Wednesday, November 09, 2011 03:31 PM -0600

This single note (#7) from the Introduction to my Ph.D. thesis, relegated to a catch-all Appendix, suffices to demonstrate both the value of structuralism as a heuristic methodology and its woolly pretensions as a philosophy. Georges Dumzil (who had already expressed his own reservations...) had lent my thesis to his colleague Lvi-Strauss and encouraged us to meet the latter on my second visit to Paris in the mid-80's. Lvi-Strauss received us seated serenely in the Olympian heights of the Collge de France, and stated that he had carefully read the whole thesis with appreciation. However, he steadfastly countered my attempts to engage him in a re-analysis of the cycle of the "repressed laughter"--implying quite obviously that he had completely missed the real message of these myths--by affirming "cela n'tait pas mon propos" (i.e., he had not been attempting to do the same thing). For more parallels between Vedic-Hindu and Amerindian mythology, see the all-devouring fire.

Presented to the Sixth International Conference-Seminar of Tamil Studies, November 15-19, 1987, at the Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this paper is in essence a constructive review of David Dean Shulman's Tamil Temple Myths: Sacrifice and Divine Marriage in the South Indian Saiva Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980). Far from being specific to Tamil Nadu (or even South India), the motifs unearthed by Shulman correspond to a pan-Indian paradigm of the incorporation of local goddesses by the brahmanical/Agamic tradition. Attempts are also not lacking to exploit this cultural history to reaffirm womens' liberation from patriarchal values; see, for example, read "Marriage as Reaffirming Sacred Space by Maheshvari Naidu" by Maheshvari Naidu.


The concluding paper to Alf Hiltebeitel, ed., Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees: Essays on the Popular Guardians of Hinduism (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989), pp.427 -462, it comments on practically all the other papers and (re-) interprets their findings from the perspective of transgressive sacrality. Beware! - style is very laconic (often provocative...especially given the context) and many of the asides could do with more systematic elaboration.

Divine purity and demoniac power: a semiotic definition of transgressive sacrality

The royal murder of the brahman(ized) Dkshita: the inner conflict of Man

Incestuous marriage and embryogonic death in the folk-cult of Kttavaryan

Criminal gods and demon devotees: sacrifice, bhakti and terror


Sections that had to be dropped from the published paper:

Elizabeth and I were active participants in several seminars at Harvard, among which our favorite was the Buddhist Studies Forum, perhaps because most of the members were very sympathetic towards, if not personally engaged with, the religious tradition they were studying. Unfortunately, there seemed to be little coordination with seminar series in other departments on ethnic conflict in South Asia, on regional cultural histories in the Indian subcontinent, on death and dying from a global perspective, etc. The questions addressed to Buddhism in this proposal could even begin to be answered only in an inter-disciplinary cross-cultural context. Our own initial attempt to address them within an Indic perspective may be seen in "Between Lhasa and Benares: Pachali Bhairab of Katmandu (Towards an Acculturation Model of Hindu-Buddhist Relations), which was presented on 5th Nov. 1991 to the Harvard Buddhist Studies Forum.

Notes for the lecture given to the seminars organized by Prof. Michael Witzel on the Cultural History of Kashmir and Nepal. The pre-supposition behind the seminar series was that Indian culture could best be reconstituted not at a "national" level but on a region-by-region basis. Despite the focus on Kashmiri Shaivism, the approach is a processual one that outlines a cumulative history from Buddhism to Hinduism to Islam. I'd be happy to work with any scholar willing develop this into a full-fledged monograph faithful to the spirit of this outline. 

The 'prospectus' for the course on transgressive sacrality that I taught at the Experimental College of Tuft's University. It was a challenge - with mixed results - to get undergraduate students with no prior background up to speed on these rather abstract ideas.

My seminal paper concluded with the interrogation: "In view of the apparent absence of a transgressive dimension in Judaic sacrality, our Jewish friends could perhaps elucidate those features and structures of Judaism that would have tended to exclude such a dimension." So, you may well imagine my apprehension when I learned not too long before catching our flight from Benares to New York for the Assembly of the World's Religions, that the coordinator of my group-sessions on "Spiritual Disciplines and Practices" was the head of a Florida Jewish congregation. To my pleasant surprise, he welcomed my talk by declaring that few (even Jews) were aware of the important role that TS had played in the Jewish tradition, to the extent that in the 16th C. more than 90% of world Jewry hailed the 'heretical' Sabbatai Sevi as long-awaited Messiah. Rabbi Rami Shapiro, who had previously studied under (and to be) a Zen Buddhist master, enthusiastically introduced me to Gershom Scholem and (what he called) "Jewish Tantra." Scholem has been for me not just a confirmation of the validity of a dialectical approach to Indian religious traditions, but also a means of universalizing TS to embrace the Abrahamic traditions.

When Charles Mopsik subsequently got to know my work as a result of his collaboration with Elizabeth for Between Jerusalem and Benares, he drew my attention to the abiding role of TS already in ancient Judaism and scrupulously retained within subsequent Kabbalistic (and other) orthodoxy (as opposed to the apostate Sabbatians and Frankists). In the course of our personal interactions over several enjoyable Parisian summers, he introduced me to several other specialists of Judaism, some of whom (particularly Moshe Idel) were challenging the validity of Scholem's attempt to 'radicalize' Jewish history from a (crypto-) Sabbatian perspective. After moving to Boston in late 1989, my exchanges with Jewish scholars quickly extended to other areas of Judaism, and made this collective volume feasible.

Between Mecca and Banaras: Acculturation Model of Hindu-Muslim Relations  (1992)    

Though Sunthar grew up in Muslim Malaysia, his scholarly interest in Islam was really awakened as a result of his subsequent involvement with Elizabeth's field work in Benares on the pillar-cult of Lt-Bhairava, whose annual cosmogonic marriage was in earlier times celebrated by both lower-caste Hindus and Muslim weavers, as attested by the Muslim custodians of the surrounding prayer-ground (dgh), whom we interviewed in 1980? with John Irwin, the English expert on (pre-) Ashokan pillars, and with a former Indian student of D.D. Kosambi. We subsequently began researching the parallel cult of Ghazi Miyan in conjunction with the historiography of the 'unprecedented' Hindu-Muslim 'War of the Lt' of 1809, and had agreed to contribute a chapter on this topic to a collective volume on Living Banaras: Hindu Religion in Cultural Context being then edited by two geographers, Bradley P. Hertel and Rana P.B. Singh (at Banaras Hindu University). On our first visit to the US in 1985, we were visited at the Assembly of the World's Religions by William Eastman, the Director of SUNY Press, and took it upon ourselves to visit Bradley at Charlottesville (Virginia). Not only did we facilitate publication of Living Benares by SUNY, we also actively solicited contributions from colleagues such as Mary Searle-Chatterjee, whose paper on "Mythologizing the Past" (which covers Ghz Miy in Banaras) was published in the volume.

Sometime in 1990/91, subsequent to our move to Cambridge (Mass.), we were informed by the editors (Cynthia A. Humes now having replaced Rana P. B. Singh as co-editor) that SUNY Press had rejected our existing draft as too inflammatory on account of its focus on Hindu-Muslim conflict. Exploratory as it still was, our research already seemed to suggest that the religious controversy that led to the 1809 felling of the Bhairava-pillar offered key insights into Hindu-Muslim relations especially at a time when similar issues were just beginning to be raised around the Rm Janma Bhmi (but without the benefit of distance). Not only did we not receive any specific criticisms from the referees (which we'd have been glad to take into consideration), SUNY made the exclusion of our paper the condition for publication of the volume, thus leaving our friendly editors no choice.

Undeterred, Sunthar pursued his researches into the syncretic aspects of the Ghz Miyan cult in which he received much help from scholars of Islam (particularly at Harvard), including Muslims like Ali Asani (chair in Indo-Islamic studies) and Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr (son of the famous Seyyed Hossein Nasr), expert in Islamic fundamentalism in South Asia, all of whom read the draft. He was invited by C.M. Naim, professor of Urdu and chair of the South Asia Dept. at the Univ. of Chicago to deliver in April 91 the principal arguments to an audience including Gyan Pandey, who had already published his book on communalism whose approach is supposedly validated by his analyses of these riots (in chapter 1). Our growing monograph underwent fission to produce a separate paper on Hindu-Muslim syncretism that Sunthar sent to Islam and the Modern Age offering to revise it per their critique and requirements. The only response we got was a bundle with a large number of off-prints of the already published paper (see below)!

Readers may now judge for themselves whether Between Mecca and Benares inflames Hindu-Muslim animosity or ever intended to do so. Non-publication of the paper did not prevent the Babri Masjid from being destroyed, leaving widespread Hindu-Muslim rioting in its wake, and the Vishvanth temple/Aurangzeb mosque complex has become the renewed focus of competing religious claims. History repeats itself, especially when it's not allowed to ask itself the really hard, basic and obvious questions!

Submitted under the title "Death and Sexuality in Hinduism and Islam: The Marriage of Lt Bhair and Ghz Miy,"  but published with the above title in Islam and the Modern Age, Vol. XXIV no.1, February 1993 (Zakir Husain Institute of Islamic Studies, Jamia Milia Islamia, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi), pp.20-69. Except for some minor corrections, this online version is exactly the same as the (otherwise not easily available) published text. Read Elizabeth's "Bhairava: Ktwl of Vrnas" first for an analysis and interpretation of the cult of Lt Bhairo, before sinking your teeth into this exercise in comparative religion (Hinduism and Islam) based on religious syncretism at the 'folk' level. The straightforward argumentation in this paper provides the best springboard into the complex meanderings of the monograph proper entitled Between Mecca and Benares .

Hindu-Muslim Conflict in Colonial Banaras: From the Lt Bhair Riots of 1809 to the all-Banaras 'Gandhian' Civil Disobedience of 1811  (1991) 

Whereas "The Marriage of Lt Bhair and Ghz Miy" looked at Hindu-Muslim interaction from the perspective of religious syncretism, here I attempt to interpret their socio-political relations. It is also my initial contribution to the analysis of 'communal' conflict in India.

Bhairava in Benares: Negotiating sacred spaces and religious identities (2002-2004)

This paper was published in Visualizing Space in Banaras: Images, maps, and other representations, edited by Martin Gaenszle and Jrg Gengnagel (Wrzburg: Ergon Verlag, 2004). Proceedings of the
Internationales Wissenschaftsforum der Universitt Heidelberg (IWH), Heidelberg, 22-25 May 2002. Elizabeth's presentation of our first draft at Heidelberg in May 2002 also heralded renewed exchanges (after our long 'vacation' from Indological pursuits) with not only the German research team but also with our Nepali (Nutan Dhar Sharma), Indian (Rana P.B. Singh) and American (Rich Freeman) colleagues and friends. We have received far more support from German anthropologists than from French Indologists. Elizabeth also had the opportunity to interact there with Sandria B. Freitag (see above).

Between Jerusalem and Banaras: Union and Unity in Hinduism and Judaism (1992)

Commissioned to write the third article of a tripartite contribution on "Union and Unity" comparing Tantra with Kabbala, Sunthar soon realized that juxtaposing these partial aspects of the two opposing traditions would lead to misleading conclusions.

Diana: Princess, Saint or Transgressor? Archaic Sacrifice and the Modern Media (1997)

The spontaneous outpour of public sympathy for a larger than life "princess of hearts" takes on a new significance in the light of the archaic sacrificial mechanisms that surround the tragic victim, and makes an ironical contrast to the obsequies of Mother Teresa. This newspaper-style essay suggests that ..

The original paper - short, direct and simple - intended for the non-Indologist and those unfamiliar with our work - its problematic, presuppositions, and fundamental insights. It offers a systematic interpretation of the origin-myth of Bhairava, Veda - Tantra continuity, 'normalized' present-day cult, etc. You'll find it easier to keep pace with the remaining papers on Bhairava once you've assimilated this one. There is a Serbo-Croat version of this paper in print.

Preliminary survey of the extent, scope and significance of Bhairava worship

The Origin Myth of the brahmanicide Bhairava

The 'Supreme Penance' of the Criminal Kplika-Bhairava

The apollonian Vishnu and the Dionysian Bhairava: Bhakti and Initiatic Hierarchies

The 'structural' approach to transgressive sacrality in ancient Greece developed in the central paragraph of this section has been elaborated throughout this monograph and also in Sunthar's concluding essay to Criminal Gods. On our first visit to Dumzil, Sunthar had talked to him about the Jean-Pierre Vernant's collaboration with Madeleine Biardeau (and Charles Malamoud) especially in deciphering the archaic sacrifice with respect to its Greek and Vedic variants. The anthropological germ of Georges Bataille's dialectic of transgression actually goes back to an 'esoteric' thread in the lectures of Marcel Mauss, from whom the French scholars have inherited the sacrificial problematic. Dumzil generously took it upon himself to have Lvi-Strauss pass on Sunthar's Ph.D. thesis to Vernant (or was it the other way around?), and Sunthar was able to discuss with the latter at the Collge de France and was also given quite a few of his books, which are referenced in Criminal Gods. On subsequent trips to Paris, Sunthar also met with Vernant's collaborator, Marcel Detienne, a couple of times to discuss the latter's own contributions. Sunthar also talked over the phone with Maria Daraki (a real Greek!), who in her own book has criticized Detienne's interpretation of Dionysus, but was unable to meet her in person as she was leaving the next day for Greece. The commonality between Vernant's originally 'Marxist' (even communist, as Pierre Vidal-Naquet still seems to be...) inspiration and Biardeau's 'Catholic' outlook is the determination to understand culture as a totality. Detienne has been the most 'structuralist' (read: 'Lvi-Straussian') among the 'Greeks' and perhaps the least 'ideologically' motivated. Based on Sunthar's discussions with them, we have not encountered any valid objection to the radical, though tacit, re-interpretation of their work in our essays. Our understanding of ancient Greek civilization has much to gain by drawing parallel insights from the deployment of transgressive sacrality in Indian tradition.

The Transgressive Fifth Head of Brahm and the Pshupata Ultimate Weapon

The Royal Dkshita: Arjuna's Penance and Indra's Brahmanicide

The Sin-Eating Bhairava: Death and Embryogony in Ksh

The Khatvnga-Bhairava: Executioner, Victim and Sacrificial Stake

The 'Tribalizing' Ekapda-Bhairava and Anuttara in Trika Metaphysics

Mitra-Varuna and the niravasita-Bhairava: the Royal Mahbrhmana

This section was intended as a 'tour de force' reconciling the 'Indo-European' sociologism of Dumzil's trifunctional interpretation of the Vedic pantheon (Mitra-Varuna, Indra, Ashvins) with the 'primitive' dualism of Kuiper's cosmogonic approach to Vedic religion (Indra versus Varuna), but within a framework that simultaneously accounts for the subsequent development of the Hindu trinity (Brahm, Vishnu, Shiva + the Goddess) within Biardeau's 'anthropology' of bhakti. The core structure of India's national epic, the Mahbhrata, plays a key hermeneutic role in all these approaches, including our own from the vantage point of transgressive sacrality. Elizabeth's paper on "The king and the gardener" demonstrate how we may arrive at the same interpretation of the Vedic-Hindu pantheon through the detailed ethnographic study even of a single local cult.

Having read a remark by Dumzil that the mythological insights expressed in Varuna and Vidshaka (VV) were perhaps not irreconcilable with his own approach, Sunthar decided to attempt a resolution of the sharp controversy that had been raging between the French and Dutch approaches to Indian mythology. Under the pretext of writing a review of VV for the Indo-Iranian Journal, Sunthar secured a meeting with Dumzil at his home just a couple of days before returning to Benares. [to be completed]

The unraveling of the mutual imbrication of the traits of various epic heroes and Vedic-Hindu divinities is also the occasion for deciphering the ten 'secret names' of the royal Arjuna.

Bhairava worship Today in North India and Nepal