David L. Haberman, Indiana University
“Bhakti as Relationship: Drawing Form and Personality from the Formless”

The word bhakti comes from the Sanskrit root bhaj– and is typically translated as “devotion,” but has a much richer meaning that includes to share, enjoy, love, or participate in. All this seems to imply a distinction between the enjoyer and the enjoyed. But what else might it entail? What is it that one is participating in?   I explore in this paper what I have learned about bhakti by studying the intentional anthropomorphic techniques involved in the worship of stones from Mount Govardhan, a sacred hill located in the heart of Braj. In the bhakti traditions of Braj where relationality is highly valued, special importance is not only given to embodiment, but embodiment of a particular nature: the human form (mānuṣha rūpa). The aniconic stones of Mount Govardhan are transformed into iconic personalities with the addition of eyes and other facial features. Powerpoint slides will be used to illustrate how bodily form and personality are drawn out of a stone with the aim of establishing, enhancing, and celebrating a divine relationship.

Bio: David L. Haberman is Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University-Bloomington. Much of his work has centered on the culture of Braj, the active pilgrimage site long associated with Krishna and known for its lively temple festivals, performative traditions, and literary creations. His current research interest is study of the relationship between religion, ecology and nature, with a focus on Hindu attitudes and practices. His publications include Acting as a Way of Salvation: A Study of Raganuga Bhakti Sadhana (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), Journey Through the Twelve Forests: An Encounter with Krishna (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), The Bhaktirasamritasindhu of Rupa Gosvamin (New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, 2003), River of Love in an Age of Pollution: The Yamuna River of Northern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), and People Trees: Worship of Trees in Northern India (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). Haberman is presently working on a new book tentatively titled “Loving Stones: Making the Impossible Possible in the Worship of Mount Govardhan.”