India, marriage carries great social and cultural meanings. It ensures the
continuity of the male line and it is vital to the maintenance of caste
Ákos Östör, professor of
anthropology and professor of film studies, has spent the past three years
traveling to Bishnupur, West Bengal researching marriage rituals. His
results – documented with photographs and objects – is currently featured in
The Museum of Cultures in Helsinki, Finland.
It’s titled “Divine Gifts:
Marriage and Ritual in Rural West Bengal.”
Gifts” is funded by a three-year grant from the Finnish Academy of Social
Sciences and is supported by the University of Helsinki.
went to Bishnupur in 1967, and I wanted to go back to see the changes that
took place over this 40-year period,” Östör says. “I’m interested in how the
festivals, temples and rituals are changing, and the bazaar’s economic
was part of a three-member research team. His wife, Lina Fruzzetti,
professor of anthropology at Brown University and Sirpa Tenhunen, research
fellow of social and cultural anthropology at University of Helsinki, also
contributed to the show.
The exhibition features
several pieces from Östör and Fruzzetti’s personal collections of more than
40 years. It includes a crown of the bridegroom, a conch-shell ritual
trumpet, a golden cotton shawl used by the priest in weddings, a wedding
ceremony bell, pitcher and oil lamp and a kerosene lantern manufactured from
These are all common parts
of a Bengali marriage, known as a biye. The biye also consists of two major
elements: the payment of the dowry and the gift of a virgin.
“The gift of a virgin is a
ritual of sacred connotation, when the father gives his daughter to another
kin group as a divine gift,” Östör says.
In addition, the
exhibition represents kitchen and household utensils relating to women’s
every-day life; home altars, deities and ritual objects used in daily
worship; and Bankura terracotta horses and elephants given as votive gifts
to the snake goddess Manasha.
On Sundays, four
documentary films by Fruzzetti and Östör are open as part of the showing.
Each film reveals the everyday life in rural West Bengal and of devotion to
the goddess Manasha and the gods Krishna and Shiva.
Östör has also put his
research into two books, each published by DC Publishers in 2004. He’s the
author of “Calcutta Conversations” and “The Play of the Gods: Locality,
Ideology, Structure, and Time in the Festivals of a Bengali Town,” an
expanded edition of his older work.
“Divine Gifts” will close