Curating divinity: Religious souvenirs, shopkeepers and bazaar curation

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Radhika Chopra


This paper explores the universe of souvenirs of Sikh Gurus and martyrs available in the bazaars around Sikhism’s most sacred shrine, the Darbar Sahib in Amritsar. Rather like objects in museum exhibitions, souvenir art actively produces ideas of divinity and martyrdom. The deliberate arrangements of Guru and martyr souvenirs in shopwindows demonstrate the ‘sense’ of curation of ordinary shopkeepers in the bazaar. Shop displays, I argue, resemble the care of sacred art by museum curators. But there is more to shop displays than mere imitation. I analyse the vis-à-vis between the souvenir displays of two modern martyrs, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the militant leader of separatist Khalistan, and Bhagat Singh, the nationalist hero, that express bazaar understandings of martyr souvenirs as affective objects, possessing both ritual and political value. The curated displays in museums and shopwindows are critical in creating a conscious, purposive aura around modern Sikh martyrdom.

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