Religiosity, Space-making, Exclusion: ‘Kanwar Yatra’ Celebrations in a North Indian City

Published date01 June 2024
AuthorAvishek Jha
Date01 June 2024
Subject MatterOriginal Articles
Religiosity, Space-making, Exclusion:
Kanwar Yatra
’ Celebrations in a
North Indian City
Avishek Jha1
Through an ethnographic study of Kanwar Yatra celebrations in a north Indian city, this article seeks to
highlight the changing notions of public religiosity and mass celebrations in contemporary India. This arti-
cle will first show how the festival of Kanwar Yatra is invested with diverse forms of religious performance
and carnivalesque celebrations. In itself, these celebrations especially provide young people with avenues
for fun and entertainment that combine ideas of lower middle-class consumerism with religious fervour
in a public space. However, the evolving spaces that are built, even in the momentary conclusion of such
a festival, are based on wider strategies of belonging and identity, often complicated further with the
involvement of the state. Influenced by the projects of socio-cultural actors and political institutions, this
article ultimately argues that Kanwar Yatra celebrations reproduce ideas of spatial domination, exclusion
and surveillance of communities, with severe implications for minorities, especially Muslims.
Kanwar Yatra, religiosity, space-making, carnival, youth, exclusion
The recent and growing significance of the Kanwar Yatra celebrations in north India each year demands
serious attention. Over the last few years, the scale of this festival has reached newer heights in terms of
intensity, societal participation and state support (Kumar, 2018a; Panwar, 2019). This article will show
how the Kanwar Yatra celebrations are invested with varied forms of religious performance, devotion
and spectacle. It entails community mobilization and activation of social networks within the majority
community and the subsuming of caste identities into the wider ambit of Hindu identity. Marked by acts
of public religiosity, this festival is an apt example to understand the growing intertwining of religious
and national identity, state-led patronage of religious interests and the changing notion of religion as a
‘competing ideology’ in contemporary India (Ahmed, 2023). Moreover, the growing youth participation
Original Article
Studies in Indian Politics
12(1) 20–32, 2024
© 2024 The Author(s)
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/23210230241235368
1 School of Geography, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Corresponding author:
Avishek Jha, School of Geography, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC
3052, Australia.

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