The rise of modernist forms of the ‘world religions’ in the 19th and 20th centuries has had a dramatic impact on traditional, locally-based religious forms. In Bangladesh, village religious life among Muslims, Hindus or Christians had a common basis in the ongoing viability of the village community and its members, expressed in shared rituals and practices, such as those associated with rice, linked to the goddess Lokkhi (Lakshmi), or the complex series of ritual observances associated with marriage. Many of these practices relating to the sustainability of everyday life are associated exclusively or primarily with women, who are in Bengali thought linked closely with the household and its good fortune. Such practices, still very much part of village life in rural Bangladesh in the 1960s and 1970s, are being rapidly eroded and transformed under the joint pressures of modernist forms of religion and of national and international cultural influences. We examine this process with particular reference to rice rituals, marriage rituals, and cross-community shrine attendance. In conclusion, we ask how far the surviving body of shared Bengali cultural symbols and practices helps to counter the increasing polarisation of religious communities within Bangladesh.
Women's Studies International Forum Vol. 33, Issue 4, p. 354-364