Ann Grodzins-Gold

Ambiguous Ecologies in Jahazpur: Protected trees, degraded river

The municipality of Jahazpur is the administrative seat of a sub-district in provincial Rajasthan. I lived in Jahazpur from August 2010 through June 2011, revisiting in December 2012 and December 2013. My diffuse research aimed to gather understandings of how persons and places interpenetrate. This paper’s focus is on two contrasting ecological situations in Jahazpur: its densely wooded hilltop shrines and its blighted riverscape. The hilltops initially attracted me with doubly romantic vistas of religiosity protecting nature, and harmonious pluralism: a temple dedicated to Malaji, regional hero-god of the Hindu Mina (Scheduled Tribe) community, and the tomb of Gaji Pir, a Muslim saint. Both shrines are thickly surrounded with legends and dhokara trees whose valuable wood is scarce since the ravages of deforestation following the end of princely rule throughout Rajasthan. Each shrine belongs to a distinct and demographically significant group with political clout. Vigilant devotees as much as fear of divine retribution effectively protect shrine environments. Jahaz-pur’s Nagdi river once offered both utility and beauty to the entire population, but in recent years its flow has dwindled, choking on trash and sewage. Jahazpur residents are aware of having lost an important part of their shared environmental and cultural heritage, yet in spite of efforts to mobilize restoration, it has not yet been possible to reverse the river’s dete-rioration. By comparing the discrepant ecological pasts and present of Jahazpur’s hilltops and river, I hope to show di-verse and shifting configurations at the emotional and volatile intersection of religion, politics and urban environments.

Ann Grodzins Gold is Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Professor of Anthropology at Syracuse University. Her research and teaching are rooted in more than thirty years of ethnographic engagement with religion and culture in provincial North India. Gold has received fellowships from the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Fulbright Foundation, Fulbright-Hays, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Social Science Research Council and the Spencer Foundation. Her publications include numerous articles and four books. In the Time of Trees and Sorrows: Nature, Power and Memory in Rajasthan (2002, co-authored with Bhoju Ram Gujar) was awarded the Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Book Prize in 2004.

This lecture is co-sponsored by the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, UW-Madison