Social Science Research Council Research AMP Mediawell

In Opposition and Allegiance to Hinduism: Exploring the Bengali Matua Hagiography of Harichand Thakur

Mukherjee, Sipra
South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies

The article studies the Bangla hagiography of Harichand Thakur, the founder of the Matua sampraday, a sect that broke away from Brahmanical Hinduism in nineteenth-century Bengal. The paper explores how the hagiography takes on the added task of constructing the collective identity of the Matuas. It argues that for a vulnerable and marginalised community where the hagiography is among the few books published, the text serves to validate the community’s aspirations and authenticates its legacy. The sect, founded in opposition to the dominant Brahmanical hegemony that had kept them suppressed for generations, has been an upwardly mobile community in the twentieth century. The essay examines the changing presentations of the hagiography over a century to explore how the Matua community walks a fine line between opposition and allegiance to the majoritarian Hindu faith, and how the indeterminate boundaries between myth and history, fact and fiction, are used in this project of the community’s self-construction.