Playing God


This project will develop an understanding of the cultural expressions and religious experience of the North Indian migrant in Mumbai today. We will investigate the migrant’s engagement with the city by focusing on the study of the public display of religious identity. Specifically, we will study the celebrations of Ram Lila and Chhath Puja – the pre-eminent religious festivities of the communities from UP and Bihar – in three distinct zones of Mumbai: the old city, the suburbs, and the periphery. These ‘Hindu’ celebrations have become focal points of tension and confrontation among Hindus themselves in the city because they speak to the assertion of regional identities and economic imbalances.

We will explore the north Indian migrant community’s map of the city’s sacred geography. In the process, we hope to explore the constitutive features of ‘urban community’ and to better understand the role of religion in the making of the consciousness of urban communities. The project will also explore the patronage structures, political alignments and audience composition of these religious celebrations.

This study aims to understand the manner in which migrants in Mumbai adjust to the threats and pressures on them while simultaneously contributing to the transformation of the city’s cultural landscape. How does the migrant construct his identity in the city? What are its constituent elements? This study hopes to make a contribution towards clarifying our understanding of the place of the migrant in contemporary Mumbai.