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"Bloomin' Idol Made O' Mud": Shrines and Darshan in the Short Stories of Rudyard Kipling


· William Elison University of California, Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, United States of America)


07/28 | 16:30-16:50 UTC+2/CEST


Hindu shrines, temples, and murtis (idols) figure in a set of stories by Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936) in which the author seeks effects of humor, horror, and wonder. In these texts, Hinduism–its iconography, mythology, and cultic practice–poses a challenge to the Victorian reader’s sense of what is rational and possible. Building on my own earlier ethnographic work, I look to the literature of the British Raj to examine an important question in the study of darshan, or visual worship. Along with the possibility of ritual failure, a theory of darshan must allow for the possibility of unintended success. That is, what if a murti “works” on an unbeliever? What happens when a sahib sees the god in a painted rock? I will discuss three short stories: “The Incarnation of Krishna Mulvaney” (1889), “The Mark of the Beast” (1890), and “The Bridge-Builders” (1893). I situate the three as examples of what I call the idolatry story, a form refined by Kipling in the context of colonial India but explored by other British and American writers of fantastic fiction as well. What are the implications of Kipling’s darshan experiments for the study of colonialism? For the study of Hinduism?