This is the first post in my new blog, which I hope will be longer-lived and better curated than my first (something like ApocalypticAI @ blogpsot). I’m launching this new website and new blog at a fascinating moment in my research: on the eve of my second trip to India and my first for Ayudha Puja.
Ayudha Puja translates to “rite of the implements,” “rite of the tools,” or–most commonly in my own conversations with scientists and engineers in India–“worship of the machines.” It is very commonly celebrated in South India, including among the scientists and engineers with whom I lived and worked in 2012-13 (the fieldwork for my book on India, which is nearly finished). Machines are often garlanded with flowers or anointed with sandalwood paste or vermillion. A Brahmin priest (or other pujari, the celebrant at a puja) offers sacrifices to gods such as Saraswati, the goddess or learning, food is blessed (becoming prasadam) and distributed to participants, and a small party is held.
The festival has, despite its popularity, been largely ignored in scholarly writing. The most interested remarks about the book come from David Arnold’s spectacular Everyday Technology: Machines and the Making of India’s Modernity. Arnold doesn’t have much to say about the festival; but he does note that it could be an important process in bringing foreign technologies into the local context. That’s an important idea; but surely there’s much more to be said about the festival, and a more sustained argument to be made. Along with a colleague in New Delhi, Dr. Renny Thomas, I am working on a paper about Ayudha Puja (overlapping with some of the material in my book and his completed dissertation). We will meet up in Bangalore, India at the Indian Institute of Science for Ayudha Puja in October of 2016. I’ll report more soon.