ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Crisis and the Goddess Cult

Invoking the goddess in times of disease and health crises, as with “Corona Devi” in the COVID-19 pandemic, is rooted in the mingling of Brahminical and tribal cultures.

We are witnessing an unprecedented pandemic that is destroying the everyday narratives of the old world and replacing them with a “new normal.” Although the pandemic has engulfed both “the Orient” and “the Occident,” the world’s response to it has been anything but homogeneous. While scientists across the world create vaccines and search for a cure for COVID-19, in some parts of India, the response to the disease has been superstitious—especially in the eastern states of Bihar, West Bengal, and Assam where some worshipped “Corona Devi,” hoping to placate the “coronavirus goddess” and expecting a cure for the virus.

History tells us that the creation of the goddess cult dates back to the early medieval period. In the latter half of the Gupta era, land grants on the peripheries of villages and towns, in present-day West Bengal and Assam, were made to Brahmins in recognition of their services, and came to be known as “Brahmadeya” lands. As a result, with Brahmin communities as the main transporters of Brahminism to peripheral lands, there was an assimilation of Brahminism and local tribal culture in more ways than one, which created a strong and diverse regional identity. Historian Kunal Chakrabarti details the religious processes that stemmed from this assimilation of the Brahminical and non-Brahminical deities. According to Chakrabarti, the proliferation of the mother goddess cult and Tantrism is not a recent phenomenon, and is evident from the Mangal Kavyas, Bengali religious texts composed between the 13th and 18th centuries. Ethnographic accounts too suggest the region’s long association with non-Brahminical goddesses. There was large-scale Brahmin migration in Bengal, after the Gupta period, to which tribal culture’s interaction with Brahminism can be traced—the assimilation of Brahminical deities with the existing goddess cult was a result of a “puranic process.”

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Updated On : 20th Mar, 2021
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