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Tools and Mythologies of Vishwakarma

Fri, April 1, 3:00 to 5:00pm, Washington State Convention Center, Floor: 3rd Floor, Room 302

Abstract

Whether mass-produced or artisanally crafted, tools in workshops and in factories across India are periodically set down and offered worship. While the dates, modes and rationale for such worship of occupational tools vary widely, this paper explores the intersections between the worship of mass-produced tools and myths associated with Vishwakarma. Vishwakarma, “Universe-Maker” and the Hindu deity of hereditary artisans is iconographically represented holding building tools, and often with a large halo of assorted tools around him; hammers, drills, pliers, set squares and more. The same words are used for “tools” and for “weapons”(i.e. astra, āyudh, hathiyār) in many Indian languages, establishing a continuum between Vishwakarma’s own tools and the protective weapons he is said to have crafted for other gods and goddesses. I argue that just as tools extend the actions of the embodied self into the material world, so too mythologies of Vishwakarma symbolically extend divine processes of creating through terrains of human making, including mass-production. How, I ask, are these mythologies variously mobilized amid industrialization in contemporary India?

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