The Neighborhood of GodsThe Sacred and the Visible at the Margins of Mumbai

The Neighborhood of GodsThe Sacred and the Visible at the Margins of Mumbai

William Elison

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9780226494876

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Mumbai is not usually considered a holy city. Yet for many, if not most, people who live there, the neighborhood streets are shared with local gods and guardian spirits. This innovative ethnography examines the link between territory and divinity in India’s most self-consciously modern city. In this densely settled urban environment, where over half the population lives in unauthorized housing, or "slums," space is scarce and anxiety about housing pervasive. Consecrating space—first with impromptu displays and then, eventually, with full-blown temples and official recognition—is one way of staking a claim. But how do subaltern communities make their gods visible, and thus efficacious, in the eyes of others? And what are the implications for urban space when sacred icons exert powerful ideological effects in public? These are the questions at the heart of this book, which brings an ethnographic lens to a range of visual and spatial practices: from the shrine construction that encroaches on downtown streets, to the “tribal art” practices of an indigenous group facing displacement, to the work of image production at two Bollywood film studios. The book advances debates on postcolonial citizenship and urbanism in South Asia. And in proposing a new theory of darshan, or visual worship, it will stand as a creative intervention in the study of India's religious traditions—as well as of its modern ideological formations.