Sacred to Profane

Writings on Performance and Worship

Edited by Anjum Katyal


6 x 9 inches, 250pp, 36 halftones. 2006

ISBN : 9781905422159 & 9781905422166

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A nineteenth-century mystic in rural Bengal brings a flourish of theatricality to his method for curing the sick in a gruesome cremation ground strewn with bones and half-burnt corpses. An entire town in north India transforms itself into a sacred geography as the divine saga of Rama is performed in its streets, with everyone from the maharaja to the common man and woman turning into both spectactor and participant during the month of the Ramlila at Ramnagar. A qawwali performance in a Sufi shrine both skilfully manipulates and gives fervent expression to intense spiritual devotion. An actor takes on the persona of the goddess Sitala in a Calcutta street performance that moves between melodrama and worship. In Tamilnadu, south India, a traditional sacred performance form learns to adapt to contemporary circumstances.


These essays explore the intricate connections between worship and performance, between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane’, between the world of the ‘spirit’ and the world of the audience. In the process they show up the multifaceted, complex layering and overlapping that make any public act of worship simultaneously an act of socio-historical practice.


The introductory essay by cultural studies scholar Sibaji Bandyopadhyay takes us on a roller-coaster ride through historical ideas of the performer and the concept of the profane, stitching together the key themes of the volume. Substantial appendices add valuable primary source material to the essays, and photographs in each chapter contribute a useful visual context.


Anjum Katyal is an editor who has also translated several plays and short stories. She lives and works in Calcutta.


Theatre And Performance Studies