University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Visual Constructions of South Asia (2014-15) > Death and sanitation: Imperial representations of The Ganges

Death and sanitation: Imperial representations of The Ganges

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes.

The Ganges is historically associated with bodily cleansing and ritual purity. Playing an important role in the vratas, the river has been ideologically associated with its ability to ensure eternal health and well-being. From sculptures of Mother Ganga during the Gupta period to contemporary photographs of GangaMela, visual representations have posited The Ganges as a site inextricably linked to cycles of life and death, purity and religious orthodoxy.

Imperial representations of the river, those emanating from the period of the height of the East India Company’s presence in East Bengal, are particularly concerned with the river’s significance as a site of death. The physical enactment of sati/suttee and public burning ghats challenge the colonial administration’s predominating Enlightenment ideals of health, hygiene and sanitation. Utilising a series of these representations including images from the Centre of South Asian Studies archive, the paper will explore the cultural disjuncture between indigenous and colonial interpretations of the river. Engrossed by this practice of immolation, it will be argued that these images of the river enter into European visual culture forming an inherent part of greater political narratives intended to consolidate imperial dominion in Bengal and beyond.

This talk is part of the Visual Constructions of South Asia (2014-15) series.

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