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Making Virtuous Daughters and Wives

An Introduction to Women's Brata Rituals in Bengali Folk Religion

June McDaniel

Publication Year: 2003

Exploring the folk religion of India and the role of girls and women within it, author June McDaniel focuses on the brata (vrata) ritual in which moral lessons are taught and goddesses are revealed. Bratas are performed to gain such goals as a healthy family, a good husband, and a happy life. They are also performed so that the performers (bratinis) develop such virtues as devotion, humility, and compassion. This book presents data from fieldwork, along with brata stories, songs, poems, and ritual activities. It discusses Bengali folk religion, offers an example of ritual worship in folk Hinduism, and surveys a variety of bratas. The author analyzes the similarities and differences among these rituals in low-caste village life and in high-caste Hindu tradition, and notes that the development of these rituals involves a form of continuing divine revelation with women as the primary transmitters. Bratas act to maintain traditional Hindu values, but also emphasize the power of women, whose virtues can save their husbands from hell worlds and their families from disasters.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. v

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p. vii

I would like to thank the Fulbright Program, whose Senior Scholar Research Fellowship made it possible for me to do this research in West Bengal, and the College of Charleston, who granted me a year’s leave for μeld research. In India, I would like to thank Satyakam Sengupta, Pashupati Mahato, Soumen Dutta, Asha ...

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Notes on Spelling, Transliteration,and Pronunciation

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p. ix

The major ritual in this book is most well known according to its Sanskrit spelling, or vrata. However, it is spelled brata is this book, following local Bengali use and pronunciation. Some quotes about the ritual spell the word as vrata, and I have left those spellings in the quotes. Thus, the rituals are sometimes called bratas, and sometimes vratas. I hope that this is not too confusing to the readers. ...

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pp. xi-xii

This is a book about folk religion, the most popular type of religion of the majority of people who live in rural India. Folk religion is a type of mainstream Hinduism, without its focus on caste and purity rules and devotion to pan-Indian deities. Folk religion seeks to fulμll the basic needs of life—health and wealth and a good marriage—and as such it should be the sort of religion most familiar to ...

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1: Folk Hinduism in West Bengal

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pp. 1-11

In the rural areas of India, we see a variety of notions about the nature of gods and goddesses. They are not “high gods,” as we see in the pan-Indian brahmanical forms of Hinduism, but rather regional deities, intimately associated with villages and towns. Indeed, some would not be characterized as gods and goddesses by most people, for those supernatural entities given offerings and worship include ghosts, ancestors, water and plant essences, guardian spirits, and disease ...

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2: The Folk Goddess Tushu, Her Festival, Songs, and Brata

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pp. 13-28

One important aspect of Bengali folk religion is the prominence of festivals, or melas. Festivals are widespread in village Bengal and frequently involve music, songs, dance, worship of a natural object or sculptured image, and the sale of a variety of goods (food, garlands of flowers, worship items, plastic kitchen utensils). Some festivals are dedicated to gurus and saints, and there are usually pictures or posters with their images. ...

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3: What Is a Brata?

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pp. 29-40

While travelling in rural areas of India, an observer may see young village girls performing bratas. They stand with folded hands before the older women of the village, their mothers and grandmothers and neighbors, and listen to the stories of gods and goddesses. The girls learn to create miniature worlds, small forests and lakes and μelds, and to care for and nurture them. They learn that the deities are ...

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4:Some Bengali Bratas to Goddesses

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pp. 41-78

Following are some folk bratas to goddesses, taken from the collection of brata stories and rituals by Gopalcandra Bhattacarya and Rana Debi. This collection was written in Bengali and called Meyeder Bratakatha–1 (or Brata Stories for Girls). There are many collections of brata stories available in West Bengal, both in bookstores and at temples and shrines. In more rural areas, older women tell the stories and ...

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5: Other Bratas: Women, Nature, Gods, and Magic

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pp. 79-95

Some bratas are not dedicated to supernatural deities but rather to living ones: women who are viewed as particularly fortunate. Two that will be described here are dedicated to auspicious wives, those whose husbands are alive and healthy (according to informants, this brata focuses especially on older wives), and another is dedicated to young virgins, who are auspicious for their potential. A highly valued skill ...

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6: Brahmanical Bratas: The Rituals for Men

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pp. 97-104

In traditional brahmanical Hindu texts, the Vedas and Upanishads, dharmasastras and purañas, brata is an important term. In the Rig Veda, the term “vrata” was associated with the notion of divine order, and in later Vedic texts, it was used to mean command, religious duty, devotion to a deity, proper behavior, and religious commitment. The term “vrata” appears over two hundred times.1 It also appears ...

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7: Conclusion

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pp. 105-112

In recent years, much writing on India has focused on colonialism and its legacy. There is concern with the deleterious effects of British imperialism in the economic and political spheres and on the psychological and social outlook of the “subaltern” or Indian native. ...


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pp. 113-124


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pp. 125-127


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pp. 129-131

E-ISBN-13: 9780791487655
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791455654
Print-ISBN-10: 0791455653

Page Count: 131
Publication Year: 2003

OCLC Number: 55642408
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Making Virtuous Daughters and Wives

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • West Bengal (India) -- Religious life and customs.
  • Folklore -- India -- West Bengal.
  • Hindu women -- India -- West Bengal -- Religious life.
  • Vratas.
  • Hinduism -- Rituals.
  • Bengali (South Asian people) -- Folklore.
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