Urmila Mohan

Urmila Mohan

Clothing as Material of Religious Subjectivity in ISKCON India.

I am a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at University College London. I specialise in the anthropological sub-discipline of material culture that focuses on the relationship between materials, society and culture.

My project was part of a doctoral study of clothing as religious materiality in the Hindu group called ISKCON or “International Society for Krishna Consciousness”. The India Travel Award helped fund my research trips to the sacred town of Vrindavan to study the embroidery industry and to the Calico Museum of Textiles, Ahmedabad, Gujarat to view Indian textile artefacts. I collected valuable data on contemporary innovation in deity dressing and dressmaking and the revitalisation of zari and zardozi embroidery techniques within a worship context. By understanding how deity clothing is innovated from these traditional techniques in a contemporary Hindu group, I was able to proceed with constructing the core of my argument wherein the opulence and beauty of deity dress is integral to religious preaching and expansion as well as the construction of a personal relationship between deity and devotee. The most memorable experience for me has been my effort to learn the embroidery technique of zari. I now have a renewed respect for the artisans who labour at this craft for hours on end in Kolkata, Vrindavan and other parts of India, and produce the clothing that ornaments the bodies of both deities and humans.

am currently writing my doctoral dissertation. The India Travel Award has helped support my career as an early researcher in the field of anthropology. Since early 2013, I have presented papers at conferences in the UK, US and India. I have been active in organising and chairing panels and conferences on the subject of material religion. I am the co-editor of a scholarly blog on Material Religion (http://materialreligions.blogspot.com) and am working on manuscripts for publication in journals and edited volumes.


“Dressing God: Clothing as Material of Religious Subjectivity in a Hindu Group”, chapter in Kuchler and Drazin (eds.) The Social Life of Materials: Studies in Materials and Society, Berg, September 2015.

"Hindu Prayer Beads as Efficacious Aids in Devotion", paper presented at conference on Matérialités religieuses, Musée du quai Branly, Paris, January 22, 2015.

"Devotional Agency and the Technological Enchantment of Deity Garments", paper presented at panel on Material and Sensory Attachment: Intimate Engagement in Religion and Politics, American Anthropological Association, Washington, D.C., U.S., December 5, 2014.

"The Bodily AND Material Cultures of Religious Subjectivation", Conference convened with Prof. Jean-Pierre Warnier, UCL, London, U.K., June 2014.

“When Krishna Wore a Kimono: A Case of Clothing Failure”, paper presented at panel titled When Things Do Wrong: The Material Culture of Failure, American Anthropological Association, Chicago, U.S., November 2013.

“The Mundanity of Transcendence: Materialising Religion in ISKCON India”, paper presented at panel on Bodies of Veneration, EASR/BASR Conference, Liverpool, U.K., September 2013.

“ISKCON’s ‘Temple of the Vedic Planetarium’ as a Space for Mission, Monument and Memorialisation”, paper presented at panel for Mediating Modernities, conference organised by Srishti College of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore, India, and School of Arts & Communication, University of Malmo, Sweden, January 25th, 2013.