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Title: The Brahmans of the Kāmākhyā temple complex (Assam). Customary rights, relations with pilgrims and administrative power.
Tutor: Torella, Raffaele
Issue Date: 29-Apr-2015
Abstract: My research is devoted to the priests of the Kāmākhyā temple complex (Guwahati, Assam). This old complex, headed by the Kāmākhyā Temple and formed by some twenty temples, is the only Assamese shrine to receive the visit of people from outside North-East India. Everyday thousands of people visit the Kāmākhyā temple complex and their number dramatically rises during festivals. Two criteria, bloodline and ritual training, organize the Brahmans’ activities; the combination of these two criteria makes up the profile of each Brahman and entitles him to specific activities. In my thesis I analysed the relative significance of the Brahmans’ activities related to the public worship (part I of the thesis) and of those related to the private worship (part II) in the light of the transformations the Kāmākhyā temple complex is presently undergoing. The increasing number of pilgrims has a profound impact on the internal organization of the priestly community and on the choices of single Brahmans - and also contribute in shaping the economic and social life of Kamakhya Dham, the village surrounding the temple complex). It emerged from my fieldwork that a contemporary tendency among the Brahmans is to delegate the public worship to fellow Brahmans and to concentrate one’s energies in dealing with the pilgrims’ religious demands and in providing them with basic facilities. The rapidly changing situation, along with the enrichment of some of the Brahmans, is clearly a fertile ground for contestation and identity affirmation. I extended the analyse to the discourses through which Brahmans having different qualifications and belonging to different groups legitimise their standing; through the study of legal documents, I explored the fractures and hostilities existing among the Brahmans which resulted in a eighteen-year-old dispute presently pending at the Supreme Court of India (part III). To sum up, the thesis aims to understand the complexity of the dynamics involving the Brahmans, the emergence of new interests and the way these contribute to shape the Brahmans’ claims and affirmations.
Research interests: Brahman priesthood, hindu temples and their management, pilgriamge, Hinduism, Tantrism, possession, dance and performing arts.

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