The strī in modernity: Negotiating female consumer body projects in contemporary India
The concept of the body in India is one fraught with numerous socio-cultural and theological discourses, each presenting their own specific ontologies of the various states of the body. Though the aim of this working paper is not to untangle the web of discourse which surrounds the female body in India, the attempt here is to integrate an inherently „Indian‟ understanding of the body into its representation as a „site‟ of consumption. If, as noted by Dissanayake (1993:39), the body is "a symbolic construct of great moment which serves to reproduce culture", then the body, in effect, presents itself as a locus of ancient ideals of womanhood, of culture and tradition but also the complexities of the changing social landscape of India in which women play an instrumental role. In this vein, the ways in which the body has been represented, regulated, disciplined, ritualised, cultivated and purified through the ages is of central importance to the understanding of how women negotiate their multiplicity of identities through acts of consumption. Although Indian culture is seen to be an amalgam of diverse traditions, it is also seen to be constantly in the making (Mohan, 2011). The Brahmanical Hindu tradition in particular constitutes what Holdrege (1998:341) terms an "embodied community", where the notions of traditional identity are embodied in the particularities of ethnic and cultural categories, where the body is represented as a "site of central significance that is the vehicle for the maintenance of the social, cosmic, and divine orders" (ibid: 341). If, as Dissanayake (1993:40) asserts, we are to comprehend the nature of the Indian self in all its manifold complexity and multilayeredness, there is a need to pay more attention to the idea of the body along with an understanding of the distinction between the „self‟ and „body‟ in Indian philosophical thought.
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