chapter  1
20 Pages

Staging Ritual Heritage: How Rituals Become Theatre in Uttarakhand, India

ByKarin Polit

The idea that rituals are dynamic and ever-changing is not new in anthropological discourses. In fact, the insight that rituals create and sustain solidarity as well as a sense of a common past, present and future through ever-changing ritualised actions was fi rst proposed more than a century ago by William Robertson Smith (1894). These original ideas had to be rediscovered recently as thinking about ritual and ritual actions had since become more or less a thinking about so-called primitive cultures and their presumed irrational traditions. The idea that modernity and ritualised performances could go hand-in-hand had long been rejected in ritual studies.1 However, as I will show in the course of this essay, rituals are not only an integral part of modern society but can also be a means to construct alternative modernities. It is the sense of a common past, present and future that is created in ritualised performances that makes rituals so well-suited to unite people and to project a modern, yet traditional character onto communities. Rituals produce the illusion of tradition, as Barbara Myerhoff (1984) has rightly pointed out. Ritual performances thus produce political, social and individual bodies of tradition.