A History of Possession

Anne Murphy

in The Materiality of the Past

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199916276
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199980253 | DOI:
A History of Possession

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The Gurdwara Reform or Akali Movement of the 1920s brought into being the major religious and political organized body of the Sikhs in Punjab—the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee—in direct relation to the idea of a Sikh historical territory articulated through gurdwaras. Thus, while gurdwaras reflect a long precolonial history, their modern management reflects the interaction of the precolonial logic of the gurdwara with colonial and related social and political forces. The Akali Movement and the issues involved in it do not arise ex nihilo; they relate to earlier forms of management of religious sites in South Asia, and in some senses are extensions of preexisting concerns, in a new environment. This chapter examines these preexisting concerns in some detail to highlight how the new colonial environment altered the terms of the debate. It discusses the administrative/governmental formation of religious sites in three contexts: precolonial property in general; the role and status of specifically religious property in the precolonial period; and the British intervention and the formations of their property regime with reference to precolonial formations. It includes new readings of the court records of the Lahore state under Maharaja Ranjit Singh that provide a sense of the precolonial order of religious sites at the time of annexation. The goal here is to trace the ways in which the support of gurdwaras was articulated within broader sociopolitical and cultural contexts, within numerous working idioms for the support and role of religious institutions, such that the form of the gurdwara today, and its institutionalization, can be seen as a particularly modern form of commemoration and representation of Sikh pasts—with full recognition of earlier forms of the gurdwara that also constitute the modern gurdwara imaginary.

Keywords: Gurdwara Reform; Akali Movement; Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee; Sikh historical territory; religious sites; precolonial property; British intervention

Chapter.  17832 words. 

Subjects: Sikhism

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