Miracle, magic, or science: Ritual bathing in modern India

Arpita Roy


The paper addresses ritual and quotidian aspects of bathing in thermal springs at Bakreswar, a Hindu pilgrimage site in India. Ascetics, priests, pilgrims, and scientists vouch for the mineral content and healing properties of the spring waters. Drawing on ethnographic field research, the paper identifies three broad trajectories of responses to the origin and importance of the springs in ways that align the local landscape with the grand scale of cosmogony: that of Vedic priests, Tantric ascetics, and scientists from the Department of Atomic Energy. In so doing it explores how different meanings of nature are configured across contrasting registers of religion, magic, and science, which reinforce their confrontation in the locale as an operational, everyday discourse.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/709798