Body in Motion: Sensory Perception of Women Pilgrims at the famous Shravan Festival of Jharkhand

With wet body, wavering saree, and swollen foot, a woman walks joyously towards her destination. On her shoulders are the Kanwars (bamboo sticks carrying water) decorated with colourful flower, an artificial snake and bells. The sound of the bells constructs a rhythm with her moving body; her body in swing sings a song for Shiva. The song depicting the love between Shiva and his consort Parvati enchants people; mesmerising them with the glory of love, indulging them in the love-courtesy between a bhakt and her lord.

Every year millions of pilgrims, in the month of Shravan (July-August) carrying water on their shoulder, walk barefoot to the pious shrine of Shiva, Vaidyanath Dham. A pilgrim walks for at least 4 to 5 days from Sultanganj, a town near Bhagalpur district to Deogarh, a district in the state of Jharkhand, India. Sometimes a pilgrim walks continuously, but most of the time the devotees take rest in the camps made beside the road. They eat, pray, sing song and sleep for a while, before moving ahead. A number of women devotees participate in the festival and pay their homage to the Lord.

In the paper, I will examine the oral narratives of women pilgrims of different castes to understand that how the caste plays a major role in determining the sensory perception of these pilgrims. Caste politics has remained ingrained within the South Asian, particularly Indian social history. Most of the time, therefore, pilgrim experiences or perceptions, I argue, are determined by the caste of a woman pilgrim. How do women of different castes perceive her journey? How the myths related to Shiva changes according to the caste of the woman? What does it say about the pilgrimage itself?

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