Book: Translocal Lives and Religion
Chapter: 2. 'In-Between' Religiosity: European Kāli-bhakti in Early Colonial Calcutta
One of the most engaging socio-cultural traits in late 18th- and early 19th-century India was the disarmingly engaged and comparativist manner in which European travellers responded to the multi-layered and deeply syncretic field of devotional spirituality in eastern India. The predominantly-śākta orientation of early modern Bengali configurations of religious devotion led, especially in the vicinity of the rather-heterodox city of Calcutta, to the familiarization of European migrants to the Goddess Kālī, Herself representing a certain subaltern, tāntrika aspect of Hindu devotional practices. Antony Firingi, (Æntōnī Phiringī) originally Hensman Anthony (?‒1836), was a folk-poet/bard, who, despite being of Portuguese origin, was married to a Hindu Brahmin widow and well-known throughout Bengal for his celebrated Bengali devotional songs addressed to the Goddesses Kālī and Durgā, towards the beginning of the 19th century. He was also celebrated for his performance in literary contests known as kabigān (bardic duels) with the then elite of Bengali composers. His āgamani songs, celebrating the return of Goddess Durgā to her parental home are immensely-popular till today and he was associated with a temple to Goddess Kālī in the Bowbazar-area of North Calcutta that is nowadays famous as the Phiringī Kālibāri (foreigner’s Kālī temple). In this essay, the literary-cultural construction of a religious hybridity, operating between and cross-fertilizing Indo-European cultural conjunctions, is examined through the study of individual, “in-between” religious agency, in this case of Hensman Anthony, who comes across as a figure representing the condition of the transcultural subaltern.