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Pilgrimage and PowerThe Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, 1765-1954$
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Kama Maclean

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195338942

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195338942.001.0001

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 The Power of Discourse

 The Power of Discourse

Representations of the Kumbh Mela, c. 1760–2001

(p.21) 1 The Power of Discourse
Pilgrimage and Power

Kama Maclean (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter presents a historiographical review and critique of textual sources documenting the mela (premodern, colonial Oxford, and contemporary accounts of the mela in a range of languages, but predominantly written by observers, as opposed to participants), in the interests of delineating the discursive nature of power. A discernible discourse of danger emerges, underpinning the administration and management of the mela; it was heavily informed by records of deadly battles between sadhu akharas in 18th century Haridwar and sealed with 19th century experiences with epidemic diseases, unregulated crowds, and what was perceived as esoteric or mysterious Hindu practices. The chapter draws attention to the power and prevalence of such representations and concludes with a consideration of the politics of photographic representation at the 2001 Kumbh Mela, when the High Court of Allahabad enforced a ban on photography at the bathing ghats, limiting the ability of freelance and agency photographers from all over the world to photograph the bathing rituals. It is argued that the representations of the mela, in writing and in photography, have served to historically constrain it, and often, by extension, India, for it was frequently argued that the scale of the crowds attending the Kumbh reflected a microcosm of India, neatly representing a cross‐section of its diverse regional, linguistic, and caste communities.

Keywords:   representation, danger, photography, travel writing, travel culture, Kumbh Mela

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