After a presentation in Bergen (Part I)

Every first Wednesday of the month, the academic staff of the discipline of the Study of Religions at the Department of Archaeology, History, Cultural Studies and Religion meet in order to hear either a guest or an employee of the University presenting the latest of their work in short talks followed by rich discussions.

This Wednesday it was my turn to present my postdoctoral project on “Religious Literacy in Christian Nubia”. I believe that those who attended my talk got a first glimpse of the importance of Christian literacy preserved in the archaeological sites of the medieval period in northern Sudan. At least this was the impression that I got during the discussion, as well as later on when with two colleagues some more detailed issues were touched upon. These colleagues work on different fields of our discipline, but the coming two entries will show how we manage to interact and produce interesting results both for the academic and the general audience.

So, one of the topics that I touched upon in my presentation on Wednesday concerned the very important role that the graffiti and dipinti play in the frame of Nubian literacy. A role that is so significant that inscriptions on both natural rocks, walls, and pottery hold the first position statistically among all sorts of epigraphic finds from Christian Nubia. For these statistics, please use DBMNT or see Ochala’s article from Dotawo 1. The idea that hundreds of graffiti and dipinti could find their place on walls of religious buildings (the best example being undoubtedly Banganarti), attracted the attention of Knut Aukland, a PhD candidate working on Devotion and Leisure: Hindu Pilgrimage and Domestic Tourism in India.

In the frame of his doctoral project, Knut travels often to India and he narrated to me the tradition he witnessed of setting up in temples commemorative plaques so as to guarantee the protection of one of the Gods for those named in the inscriptions. Perhaps these are not graffiti in the technical meaning of the term, but they are surely an eloquent testimony of both the way commemoration in script guarantees the protection of the invoked divinity and of the role of the priests in controlling this scriptural tradition and making profit out of it. Many intriguing thoughts arose to my mind after bringing my discussion with Knut to a close. We arranged that he shares some pictures with me, witnessing this tradition and agreed that I could post them with some comment in the blog. Here they are:

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Before the week came to a close, I met again Knut and chatted a bit more, concluding that he’d send me some comments on these photos. I quote Knut’s comments hereby:

The town of Vrindavan is dedicated to Krishna. Many of Krishna’s divine pastimes are said to have taken place here.

The pilgrimage priests of Vrindavan have adapted to the changing travel patterns and attitudes of pilgrims by limiting their services to guided tours. These tours inevitably end up in temples that have been created especially for pilgrims. Here they attempt to inspire pilgrims to give donations to Krishna in the name of their children and forefathers in exchange for blessings, good fortune, fulfillment of wishes and protection against untimely death. Well–off pilgrims are recommended to give a more substantial donation to have their names engraved on marble plates that are put up outside and inside the temple.

Giving donations to priests has been integral to the Hindu pilgrimage tradition, but the reputation of pilgrimage priests is increasingly deteriorating. This can be witnessed on a thread on TripAdvisor where the contemporary pilgrims describe their experiences of giving donations in Vrindavan as part of a hoax devised by scheming priests…

A description of a guided tour with pilgrimage priests in Vrindavan is found in Jack Hawley’s At play with Krishna (1992: 31–4). An article currently under review from myself, entitled “Krishna’s curse in the age of global tourism”, will also see the light of day soon, hopefully. The article is part of a larger PhD project looking at Hindu pilgrimage and domestic tourism.

The project situates itself within the burgeoning study of the intersection between religion and tourism on which I teach a course for which there is a promo video.

Great stuff I’d say and thanks a lot Knut for sharing all that with us! Are you not curious about what the second part of this blog will have to reveal?

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