8.5 Looking for Hinduism in Calcutta
- Academic consultant: Gwilym Beckerlegge;
- produced and narrated by G.D. Jayalakshmi
- Supradipta Dhar (student)
- L.K. Jha (electrician)
- B. Panda (priest)
- Dr Dhar (heart specialist)
- Brij Mohan Kumar Puri (company director)
- Keshab Chandra Sarkar (information officer of the Ramakrishna Mission)
The following clip will provide you with an insight into the particular forms that Hinduism takes in the Indian city of Calcutta. It also continues the line of inquiry pursued in the earlier parts of this course, into the use and meaning of the term 'religion', within another urban context - this time in India. In this clip you will not hear academics analysing Hinduism, but a number of practising Hindus talking about the part that Hinduism plays in their lives. Those you will hear are from different socio-economic groups, including individuals who have come to Calcutta as migrants bringing other forms of Hinduism with them. This final section of this course continues to raise underlying questions about how the term 'religion' is used and the legitimacy of applying this Western concept to the realities of other cultures.
Preparing for the programme
Before watching the programme, you should look at Section 7 of 'How should we study religion?' in this course, if you have not already done so. You will find it useful to keep the glossary at the end of this free course (Section 9) to hand while you watch the programme. Also, in sequences of Calcutta's civic buildings built during the period of British rule, look out for architectural examples of the classical legacy. In fact, many of the buildings in the hearts of both Liverpool, which you saw in the earlier clips, and Calcutta incorporate classical motifs, although used in vividly different cultural and social settings.
The city of Calcutta is the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. It has a population of well over 15 million and a floating street population. The city has been particularly associated with a style of Hinduism centred upon worship of the Mother Goddess, known variously as Kali or Durga, which is most evident during the festival of Durga Puja at the end of the monsoon season. The nature of Hinduism in Calcutta is greatly affected by the city's cosmopolitan character and its status as a commericial, industrial and artistic centre. Inward migration and socio-economic differences have left their mark upon the style of popular religion practised in the city.
Transcript: Looking for Hinduism in Calcutta
After the programme
It was suggested in the clip that, from the cultural pespective of Hinduism, it makes more sense to describe Hinduism as a 'way of life' than as a 'religion'. Do you think that we should adopt this suggestion?
Let's start by considering why some Hindus prefer to speak of Hindiusm as 'a way of life'. I think there are two main reasons. The first is that, to date, what we call Hinduism has been associated with an all-encompassing pattern of behaviour, regulating matters such as bathing, diet and occupation. Second, Hinduism tolerates varied beliefs and is mostly clearly visible as an entity in what people do, although much of that takes place in the home and in the neighbourhood. On the other hand, 'way of life' is such a blanket term that one is tempted to try to identify the religious aspects of this 'way of life' as distinct from, say, the political. To attempt to distinguish a separate religious strand within Hinduism is not just a reflection of a different cultural perspective; this is also how Hinduism increasingly presents itself today in urban contexts such as Calcutta.