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PhD in social anthropology
Associated member of the Centre for Himalayan Studies

Contact  : irenemajogarigliano [at]


Irene Majo Garigliano studied Indology, Sanskrit and Hindi at the L’Orientale University of Naples (Bachelor of Arts, 2006) and at Rome’s Sapienza University (Master of Arts, 2009). Her interest in social anthropology developed during her PhD course, co-supervised by Sapienza University and Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense University. She has been studying the Kamakhya temple complex since 2008.

Doctoral thesis

Her dissertation, defended in 2015, studies the Brahmans of the Kamakhya temple complex (Assam), and in particular the social and economic relations that take place among Brahmans themselves, as well as between Brahmans and pilgrims. The thesis examines the different roles the Brahmans play in delivering multiple services in light of the dramatic increase in the number of pilgrims visiting the Kamakhya temple complex today. This ancient pilgrimage site is considered by many Hindus to be one of the most powerful sanctuaries of the Devi (Goddess) in India ; every day it receives thousands of pilgrims coming from different regions of South Asia.

The thesis also examines a dispute (1997-2015) among Brahmans over the management of the temple complex. The economic and political dynamics that led to the formation of two opposing groups as well as the rhetoric used by each group are examined.

Her dissertation is in English and can be accessed here.

Irene Majo Garigliano has been studying Assamese as an autodidact since her first period of fieldwork (2008). The knowledge she has acquired of this language, although not complete, allows her to converse with the Brahmans and their families about various matters. Her distinctive profile has been forged by the ethnographic work that she has carried out, combined with an ethno-historical approach including the study of legal documents, and by her previous Indological studies.

Current research project

Irene Majo Garigliano is presently writing a post-doctoral research project concerning the micro-society revolving around the industry of pilgrimage at the Kamakhya temple complex. The project aims at analysing, within a unitary theoretical framework, the various ongoing transformations in :

  • the landscape of the village inhabited by the Brahmans
  • the internal organisation of the Brahman community
  • the choices of individual Brahmans
  • relations between the Brahmans and the pilgrims
  • the resulting image of the Goddess Kamakhya and of the other deities inhabiting
    the temple complex.

Documentary film

In the course of her PhD course, Irene Majo Garigliano twice observed the annual Deodhani dance at the Kamakhya Temple. Every August, a group of men (the Ghoras) are believed to be possessed over a period of three days by Goddess Kamakhya and other deities of the temple complex ; they dance to the beat of drums. During the dance, the Ghoras are regarded as deities : devotees worship them and beg for their blessing and advice. Throughout the rest of the year they are considered to be normal human beings.

Her research and the familiarity she developed with a number of Ghoras prompted her to make the documentary film Ghora. Waiting for the Goddess (2014), co-authored by the film-maker Alessandro Cartosio. The film follows two Ghoras during the delicate phase preceding the dance and explores the way they gradually part from their families and their day-to-day lives.

The film (38 minutes) has been screened at several festivals, universities and research centres in Europe. It can be seen here (VO, English subtitles).

Keywords : Kamakhya temple complex, Hindu temples and their administration, Brahman priesthood, pilgrimage, pandas, Hindu goddesses, law and religion, Assam, religions and philosophies of South Asia, Hinduism, Tantric studies, visual anthropology, possession, dance.

Fieldwork : Kamakhya temple complex (Assam, India)