Gods in A Democracy

State of nature, postcolonial politics, and Bengali Mangalkabyas

Authored by: Milinda Banerjee

The Postcolonial World

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  October  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138778078
eBook ISBN: 9781315297699
Adobe ISBN: 9781315297682


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This essay focuses on the contemporary reception of mangalkabyas, contextualized within a history dating to the late pre-colonial (fifteenth to mid-eighteenth) and colonial (mid-eighteenth to mid-twentieth) centuries of Bengali history. 1 Mangalkabya refers to a Bengali narrative genre dealing with tales of different goddesses and gods and the manner in which they supposedly helped human beings (and sometimes, animals) to gain social honor, political authority, wealth, and security. Composed in different parts of Bengal between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, and meant as much for oral recitation and singing (with large non-literate audiences) as for textual reading, most mangalkabyas were retold in the late pre-colonial centuries in several variations. While scholars have written on the genre in its pre-colonial context, little academic attention has been given to the manner in which mangalkabyas have been interpreted by Bengali middle classes as well as “subaltern” populations in our contemporary times. By addressing this research gap, I offer some broader theoretical arguments about the way in which a tradition of pre-colonial provenance has helped in decolonizing political thought and practice in modern Bengal.

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