Peace but No Quiet: Vibrations and the Making of a Hindu Soundscape

Most locals would agree: Pushkar is a place of “peace.” Indeed, “shanti” is a word heard day after day, a casual observation flowing mantra-like from mouths across the bazaar, and in restaurants, hotels, and temples. But those who have been to this pilgrimage and tourist town in the heart of Rajasthan know that Pushkar is not a quiet place. There are, among other things, honking horns, crackling loudspeakers, hawkers with their wares, sadhus demanding alms, trance music, and tractors. Peace, but no quiet. This talk will address this ostensible paradox by exploring the creation and maintenance of “peace” in Pushkar. Far from attempting to silence Pushkar’s rich soundscape, locals instead find peace by adding yet more sound to the atmosphere. They do this with songs and recitations, sacred words set on speakers and intended to send good vibrations through the ether. In such a setting of competing soundscapes, vibrations bring peace where there is no quiet. But what is the nature of this “peace”? And where does this vibratory rhetoric come from?

Drew Thomases is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University. His work focuses on the anthropology of religion in North India—more specifically, Hindu pilgrimage and practice—though he is broadly interested in tourism, globalization, environmentalism, and theoretical approaches to the study of religion.

His current book project analyzes the dynamics of religion and tourism in the pilgrimage site of Pushkar, Rajasthan. Titled Guest is God: Pilgrimage, Tourism, and Making Paradise in India, the manuscript explores the various ways in which local efforts toward creating heaven on earth highlight the entanglement of modern Hinduism and the Indian tourist economy. Drew’s research has been funded by the Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, the Fulbright IIE, the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, and Columbia University’s Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life.