Indian Curses and Power, Presented by Carl Olson


Carl Olson, professor of religious studies, presented at the annual meeting of the Conference on the Study of Religions of India at Drew University in Madison, N.J. on June 29. His essay was titled, “The Curse of the Indian Ascetic: An Examination of Narrative and Power.”

The essay describes the act of Indian ascetics using curses to punish those who have offended them, often present in Indian epic literature. In this case, ascetics are placed between less powerful human and more powerful divine beings. Their curse shows a development of personal powers (siddhas) associated with spiritual discipline.

The paper also investigates the power of words from the acts of truth and mantra perspectives. This enables the ascetic’s curse to be seen as a speech act and instills fear of the power of the curse. The essay also shows how speech acts in Indian epic literature work to express messages about the nature of power.