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Making Faces

Self and Image Creation in a Himalayan Valley

Alka Hingorani

Publication Year: 2012

Taberam Soni, Labh Singh, Amar Singh, and other artists live and work in the hill-villages of the lower Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh, India. There they fashion face-images of deities (mohras) out of thin sheets of precious metal. Commissioned by upper-caste patrons, the objects are cultural embodiments of divine and earthly kinship. As the artists make the images, they also cross caste boundaries in a part of India where such differences still determine rules of contact and correspondence, proximity and association. Once a mohra has been completed and consecrated, its maker is not permitted to touch it or enter the temple in which it is housed; yet during its creation the artist is sovereign, treated deferentially as he shares living quarters with the high-caste patrons.

Making Faces tells the story of these god-makers, the gods they make, and the communities that participate in the creative process and its accompanying rituals. For the author, the process of learning about Himachal, its art and artists, the people who make their home there, involved pursuing itinerant artists across difficult mountainous terrain with few, if any, means of communication between the thinly populated, high-altitude villages. The harsh geography of the region permits scant travel, and the itinerant artisan forms a critical link to the world outside; villages that commission mohras are often populated by a small number of families. Alka Hingorani evokes this world in rich visual and descriptive detail as she explores the ways in which both object and artisan are received and their identities transformed during a period of artistic endeavor.

Making Faces is an original and evocative account, superbly illustrated, of the various phases in the lifecycle of a mohra, at different times a religious icon, an art object, and a repository of material wealth in an otherwise subsistence economy. It will be welcomed by scholars and students of anthropology, material culture, religion, art history, and South Asian studies.  

134 illus., 128 in color

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-6


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pp. 7-9

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pp. ix-x

Writing is almost always spoken of as an isolated, isolating experience. That is not untrue, though my own days and nights of search and scribble were often shared, my world warmed by many hands. Where else to begin but with ma and papa, whose love is as...

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1 | Introduction

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pp. 1-14

On a late afternoon in October 2001 the gods went to war on a large, dusty playground in the heart of a little hill town named Kullu, set in a narrow valley widely regarded by its inhabitants as the land of the gods—devabhumi. Police forces swung into...

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2 | The Object

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pp. 15-34

A mohra is the material manifestation of divinity, its physical representation. It is between 8 and 12 inches in height, and 5 to 8 inches wide, made of cast metal or embossed on thin sheets of gold and silver. Cast mohras are made of...

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3 | The Process

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pp. 35-74

In the creation of objects—in their design and in the patterns that embellish them, in the recognizable forms of mohras and chhatris of the deity—the tools and technology, the method and manufacture of object and design, adhere to the past with fierce tenacity. Change occurs...

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4 | Speaking of Aesthetics

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pp. 75-88

The predawn mist that routinely gathers in the accordion folds of the narrow valley had already begun to disappear, revealing distant mountain ranges and aretes, and more of the steep slopes descending into visual oblivion. It was...

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5 | The Artisan

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pp. 89-101

Some things are too powerful—such as atoms. Only atomic (nuclear) scientists have the knowledge to make a bomb, but, once it is ready, they have to hand it over to governments (who decide how it is to be used). They cannot touch it anymore. Some things are too...

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pp. 103-113

The consecration of objects is not much different from the consecration of spaces and structures. The various components of ceremony and ritual remain more or less the same for the part as for the whole. As I was unable to witness the consecration of either mohra or chhatri while I was...


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pp. 115-129


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pp. 131-132


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pp. 133-141


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pp. 143-147

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About the Author

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pp. 149-162

Alka Hingorani is an independent scholar whose interests in Indian art lie geographically in the lower Himalayas (Himachal Pradesh), and thematically in issues of aesthetics and identity. An architect by training, she holds an advanced degree in photography and a PhD in art history...

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837242
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824835255

Publication Year: 2012