Bhakti Visualities

Imaging Devotion in the Visual Arts

Bhakti Visualities

Bhakti Visualities

150 150 Regional Bhakti Scholars Network

organized by Amy-Ruth Holt and Karen Pechilis

Madison South Asia Conference - Oct 17, 2019

The aim of the Symposium was to explore the Conference theme of ‘Artistry’, as well as to extend the RSBN Symposium discussions, now in their sixth year, in the new direction of a specific focus on images of bhakti. Paper presentations were selected to reveal the ‘bhakti visuality’ or visual agency of imagery to pull out emotive sentiment from individuals and larger communities, to promote new forms of devotion and its circulation and shape social context, rather than just reflect it. Presentations took into account the use of textual sources to define visual imagery, but prioritized less emphasized fields of study such as bhakti images generated by image-making in performance (ritual, performing arts, material culture) and in the production and circulation of artistic images (fine and popular arts). Both historical and contemporary examples of bhakti were engaged, involving a range of scholarly viewpoints across academic disciplines, differing religious perspectives, visual mediums, and diverse cultural regions and languages. This Symposium was organized by Amy-Ruth Holt (Ph.D. in Art History, The Ohio State University) and Karen Pechilis (Professor of History and Religion, Drew University).

Main research questions engaging the presenters included: How do images of bhakti promote bhakti or translate bhakti? What meanings are emphasized in images that engage bhakti? Which aspects of bhakti imagery appear continuous with tradition and which seem new? Presenters explored the question within the themes of performance of modern bhakti social messages; unexpected portraits of bhakti; materiality as bhakti presence; and mass-produced images of bhakti. Papers in this Symposium expanded our understanding of bhakti through the diversity of people who engage bhakti through image devotion and the unexpected yet recognizable ways of interpreting bhakti that divulge the extent to which the audience they create reaches beyond traditional religious communities.

7:30 – 8:30

All Conference Coffee/Tea

8:30 – 8:45

Symposium Meet and Greet

8:45 – 9:00

 Symposium Opening Remarks

Gil Ben-Herut, Regional Bhakti Scholars Network

Amy-Ruth Holt and Karen Pechilis

9:00 – 10:15

Theme: Performing New Bhakti Social Messages

Karen Pechilis
Contemporary Performance of the Abject 

Ashlee Andrews
Expanding Meanings of Bhakti Through Bengali American Women’s Home Shrine Image-Making 

Jeremy Saul
The Popularization of Royal Hanumans: Visually Reconfiguring Bhakti for Modernity 

10:15 – 10:30

All Conference Break 

10:30 – 12:10

Theme: Unexpected Portraits of Bhakti

Murad Khan Mumtaz
`Neither am I Hindu, nor Muslim’: The Legacy of Poet-Saint Kabir in the Visual and Literary Culture of Early Modern Muslim South Asia

Amy-Ruth Holt
Visual Affirmations: Nithyananda’s Self-Portraits in Temple Sculpture and Online Videos

Ankur Desai
Darshan in Twelve Ways: Visualizing Godhead in the Early Swaminarayan Tradition

12:15 – 1:45


2:00 – 3:30

Theme: Materiality as Bhakti Presence

Jack Hawley
The Iconic Surdas

Shandip Saha
The Visual Expression of Bhakti in a Vaiṣṇavite Community: Paintings and Photographs in the Devotional Life of the Puṣṭi Mārga

Harshita Mruthinti Kamath
Temple Padams on Copperplates: Visual Imageries of a Telugu Bhakti Poet

3:30 – 3: 45

All Conference Break

3:45 – 4:35

Theme: Mass Production and Circulation of Bhakti Images 

Richard Davis
The Beginnings of Mass-Produced Devotional Prints 

Shruti Patel
An Exercise in Negotiation: Visualizing Devotion at the Swaminarayan Museum in Contemporary Gujarat 

4:35 – 5:30

Identification and discussion of overarching connections and generative ideas from and across presentations. 

Also, thinking of topics for RBSN Symposium at Madison 2020.


Adjourn for Symposium group dutch-treat cocktail at Cask & Ale, 212 State Street, around the corner from Madison Concourse Hotel.