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‘Marginal’ Scriptures in Contemporary Punjab: A Heterochronic Approach


· Anna Bochkovskaya Lomonosov Moscow State University, Institute for Asian and African Studies (Moscow, Russia)


07/27 | 16:10-16:30 UTC+2/CEST


Recent decades have featured an explosive growth of marginal religious or pseudo-religious communities (deras) in the Indian state of Punjab. Embracing a large number of Dalits who reside predominantly in rural areas, non-Sikh deras focus on religious and social issues; their leaders/neo-gurus have become very influential in many spheres, including economics and politics. In many cases dera leaders declare a universal character of their ideology, but at the same time all of them appropriate basic symbols of a religious identity and adjust them to own needs, which allows mobilizing new followers in Punjab and beyond. Since a majority of Punjab’s population are Sikhs, neo-gurus mostly focus on Sikh symbols including their main scripture, the Guru Granth. Attempts to produce own controversial sacred texts as ‘counter-scriptures’ or ‘alternatives’ to the Sikh holy book have been made by Sant Nirankaris, Dera Bhaniarawala and Dera Sacha Sauda – three of six deras whose activities are proclaimed ‘most dangerous’ by mainstream Sikh authorities. Another version of an alternative scripture is Ravidassias’ Amritbani Granth based on the hymns of medieval mystic poet and philosopher Sant Ravidas. This paper is an attempt to conceptualize the counter-scriptures phenomena using Michel Foucault’s idea of heterochrony that defines time-accumulating entities or places. Trying to simultaneously combine the eternal and the temporal as well as amalgamating different epochs (or ‘slices in time’, to cite Foucault), such scriptures contribute to the construction of new socio-religious boundaries and identities in contemporary Punjab.