Cognition and experience: the goddess Kālī in the lives of her Bengali devotees

Samanta, Suchitra, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
McKinnon, Susan, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Khare, Ravindra, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Wagner, Roy, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Damon, Frederick, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

My dissertation discusses the perception and experience of the Hindu Sakti goddess Kali by her Bengali devotees in present-day Calcutta, Bengal. Specifically, I investigate a problem formulated by Geertz (1973), who noted that a complex continuum exists between a religious symbol and its ethos, but that a theoretical means of interpreting this remained to be done. My study suggests that one method of dealing with this problem is to investigate the transformations between, as well as structural continuities with, on the one hand, the cultural motifs which may be elicited from indigenous exegeses of icon and ritual, and, on the other, indigenous expressions of culturally specific means of "experiencing/perceiving" that the ethos of such a sacred involves.

My dissertation is, thus, organized into three sections. The first chapter in each ("cognitive") provides a description, exegesis and analysis of icon and ritual. The second discusses the emotional, social-structural and behavioral implications of the former at the level of "experience," not only in the broad sense of this term, but also, as "experiences," accounts and interpretations of supernormal interventions by Kali in devotees' lives which particularly validate the cognitive as "real" in the devotees' ethos. In Section I, Chapter 1 discusses the cultural motifs elicited in an analysis of the Kali icon. Chapter 2 presents the indigenous understanding of experience itself, and the locus of this, the individual mind, both crucial to experiencing Kali as Mother. This chapter continues with how Bengali conceptions of motherhood and the indigenous perception of the Kali icon provide a continuity between concept and experience. In Section II, Chapter 3 describes the rituals of Kali and analyses the thematic continuity in cultural meaning with the icon. Chapter 4 discusses the devotee's application within personal ritual of the central concepts discussed in Chapter 3, action given emotional and intellectual rationale in terms of experience within the Mother-child relationship. In Section III, (Chapters 5 and 6), I suggest that conceptually central rituals (sacrifice) are directly related to experience, here as conditions of "well-being" and "calamity" (mangal/amangal), terms especially meaningful within Bengali concepts of motherhood, both human and divine.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Kālī -- (Hindu deity) -- Cult -- India -- Calcutta
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