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Photo Essays

Vol. 2 (2022)

Sanctum Sensorium: the travelling deities of the Kullu Valley, India

  • Ishita Mahajan

    University of Edinburgh
March 31, 2022


Territorial deities that can travel, speak, dance and bathe are an integral part of the indigenous traditions of the Kullu Valley in the Indian Himalayas. These deities are active social beings whose existence is associated with action, particularly the movement of their chariots or raths. This photo essay explores how the rath becomes a vital symbol of divine corporeality and how it performs the deity’s identity in front of its followers. Created and carried by its followers, the rath not only materializes the deity’s relationship with its followers, but also performs its identity through behavioural patterns rooted in oral traditions. This idea is discussed through the example of the bathing ritual of the deity Naag Dhumbal where the deity’s human-ness is highlighted. The journey of the deity and its followers comes across as an important way of projecting the deity’s identity and accessibility. Divine presence, in its tangible form, is achieved through the cumulative eff ect of reverberating music, incense, movement and touch. The pictures attempt to enable a level of visualisation of the deity’s physical presence generated through an intense sensory experience, at the centre of which is the deity’s moving rath.