Dealing with Deities

The Ritual Vow in South Asia

Edited by Selva J. Raj & William P. Harman

Subjects: Asian Religion And Philosophy
Paperback : 9780791467084, 288 pages, January 2007
Hardcover : 9780791467077, 288 pages, April 2006

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Table of contents

Maps and Illustrations
Sites Associated with Rituals Vow
1. Introduction: The Deal with Deities—Ways Vows Work in South Asia
    Selva J. Raj and William P. Harman
2. "The Vow": A Short Story
    Shankarrao Kharat 

I. Getting What You Want

3. Negotiating Relationships with the Goddess
    William P. Harman
4. Shared Vows, Shared Space, and Shared Deities: Vow Rituals among Tamil Catholics in South India
    Selva J. Raj
5. Religious Vows at the Shrine of Shahul Hamid
    Vasudha Narayanan
6. In the Company of Pirs: Making Vows, Receiving Favors at Bangladeshi Sufi Shrines
    Sufia Uddin
7. Bara: Buddhist Vows at Kataragama
    Sunil Goonasekera
8. Performing Vows in Diasporic Contexts: Tamil Hindus, Temples, and Goddesses in Germany
    Martin Baumann

II. Getting What You Need
 9. Singing a Vow: Devoting Oneself to Shiva through Song
     Karen Pechilis

10. Monastic Vows and the Ramananda Sampraday
      Ramdas Lamb
11. Negotiating Karma, Merit, and Liberation: Vow-taking in the Jain Tradition
      M. Whitney Kelting
12. Vows in the Sikh Tradition
      Louis E. Fenech and Pashaura Singh

III. Getting Nothing At All

13. When Vows Fail to Deliver What They Promise: The Case of Shyamavati
      Tracy Pintchman
14. Two Critiques of Women's Vows
      Jack E. Llewellyn

IV. Conclusion: Some Promising Possibilities

15. Toward a Typology of South Asian Lay Vows
      Selva J. Raj and William P. Harman
Appendix: Essays Arranged According to Tradition

Explores the practice of taking ritual vows in South Asia, a lay tradition prevalent in the region’s religions.


Drawing on original field research, Dealing with Deities explores the practice of taking ritual vows in the lives of ordinary religious practitioners in South Asia. The cornerstone of lay religious activity, vow rituals are adopted by Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs who wish to commit themselves to ritually enacted relationships with sacred figures in order to gain earthly boons and spiritual merit. The contributors to this volume offer a fascinating look at the varieties and complexities of vows and also focus on a unique characteristic of this vow-taking culture, that of resorting to deities and shrines of other religions in defiance of institutional directives and religious boundaries. Richly illustrated, the book explores the creativity of South Asian devotees and their deeply felt convictions that what they require, they can achieve faithfully—and independently—by dealing directly with deities.

Selva J. Raj (1952–2008) was Chair and Stanley S. Kresge Professor of Religious Studies at Albion College. He is the coeditor (with Corinne G. Dempsey) of Miracle as Modern Conundrum in South Asian Religious Traditions; Popular Christianity in India: Riting between the Lines; and Sacred Play: Ritual Levity and Humor in South Asian Religions, all published by SUNY Press. William P. Harman is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.