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SAP Seminar Series, Branding Gods: Mediating Divinity in the Bazaars of Banaras, by Andy Rotman

Monday, November 26, 2018 at 12:15pm to 1:30pm

Uris Hall, G08
Central Campus

In 2002 India embarked on a plan to brand itself for tourism with its “Incredible India” campaign, which brought together every government sector to market the nation. The campaign was extremely successful in branding India as a tourist destination, and it also helped brand India within Indian marketplaces, such that the English word “brand” entered local vernaculars, as did new ideas about consumer and corporate identities. Now, after a huge influx of multinational products and advertising and a proliferation of malls—from fewer than 10 in 1999 to more than 750 at present—global capitalism has transformed India’s commercial culture. Brand loyalty, one shopkeeper told me, is this generation’s bhakti—their devotion, their faith.

The bazaar, however, is an important site of resistance and mediation for this process. It is a temple and training ground where objects and subjectivities are entangled in complex networks, creating, disciplining, and sacralizing various moods and modes of behavior. This is especially the case within the main bazaars of the Pakka Mahal area in Banaras—a center for religion, culture, and commerce for millennia. Based on more than a decade of research in these bazaars, my paper examines the ways that gods have functioned like brands in the bazaar—defining reputations, what it means to be reputable, and the logic of “trust” (vishwas)—and how this works with and against the conception that brands are, in fact, gods.  

Andy Rotman is a professor of Religion, Buddhism, and South Asian Studies at Smith College, and he has been engaged in textual and ethnographic work on religious and social life in South Asia for more than twenty-five years. His publications include Divine Stories: Divyāvadāna, Part 1 and Part 2 (Wisdom Publications, 2008, 2018), Thus Have I Seen: Visualizing Faith in Early Indian Buddhism (Oxford University Press, 2009), and a coauthored volume, Amar Akbar Anthony: Bollywood, Brotherhood, and the Nation (Harvard University Press, 2015).


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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program, History, History of Art and Visual Studies, Anthropology


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Valerie Foster Githinji

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Andy Rotman

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