Smoke Signals: Incense and Sacred Rituals in Bengal

Talk by: Parsa Sanjana Sajid
5 PM Saturday 29 October 2022

Bengal Shilpalay
Level 3 House 42 Road 27
Dhanmondi Dhaka


Abstract
‘Smoke Signals: Incense and Sacred Rituals in Bengal’ is a historical and personal exploration of ritual incense burning in Bengal. Smoke is penetrating, its traces sink and make home of porosity. Smoke’s transformative properties can be subtle, dependent as it is on other elements, fire, air, merely a whiff or a hint, carried on by the métier of substances heftier than its own. But smoke can lodge itself far deeper – inhaled, absorbed into hair or skin, stamped onto or transmuted by memory. Smoke can cloud or clarify. Smoke signals. Often as the backdrop or backbone of rituals, festivals, offerings, funerals, or even solitary purification and calming exercises among others, smoke from incense, on the other hand, orients our emotions in more decorous ways. As a transcultural practice dating as far back as the 24-25th centuries BC, the ubiquity over time, place, and cultures has made incense take on an assortment of meanings. The essay in particular draws on textual and visual references to explore Muslim sacred censing rituals in Bengal which itself is an amalgamation of cultures, traditions, and locations. It’s a foray into understanding the multiple lineages which form tradition and practice, the meanings we ascribe to them, and personal connections to rituals that develop as a result.

The essay is available online and is part of the curatorial catalog of an exhibition on material translations of Mughal and Rajput paintings called Bagh-e Hind.

Parsa Sanjana Sajid
Parsa Sanjana Sajid is a writer and researcher. Her interests span politics, art, culture, social movements and modern intellectual history, urban and social space. She has written for the Migrant Journal, March, the Funambulist Magazine, the New Internationalist, New Age among others. As a researcher she has been awarded grants from the Goethe Institut, the Association for Progressive Communications, Women’s Fund Asia. She is currently working on an edited volume on national attachments and identity formations to be published by Routledge.

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