Money as a share in human grace
The featured image was taken at Betalada Village, Nilgiris District, Tamil Nadu, India 2012, during the local Makali-/Mariamman festival. The money-garland which decorates the idols of the goddess is a yearly donation made by V., a widowed woman of that village. Throughout the year she saved the money from daily wages which she earns from her hard work as a tea plucker. As she told me, she was doing this because she believed in the power of the two deities Kaliamman and Mariamman (to each of whom she donates a garland) as well as in memoriam of her husband ever since the latter had passed away. To her, saving the “garland money” from her daily wages was an everyday act of devotion and remembrance – her daily prayer, in her words.
Divinity and money in India
In India, idols are often decorated with money-garlands, and money is among the crucial paraphernalia in rituals, too. It is widespread practice that whenever people go to “see a god” they would place a single coin or small amounts of money on or before the idol. Quite similar or indeed complementary to the concept of darshan (i.e. sharing the substance of godly grace through the mutual act of seeing and of being seen), I would argue that the offering, display and transaction of money may be seen (in India) as just another way of sharing such a substance. That which is given and received creates a tie and a flow of substances between the giver and the receiver (sina kani, the golden tie). Moreover, through acts of giving and receiving and no less through the act of placing the money within the presence of god, the object itself is qualitatively charged with value.
[Writing this, I remember Parry 1989, who provided a related, though more ‘perilous’ implication with regard to the indian (monetary) gift, which transports and conveys the sins of the giver. Parry, too, locates the flow and value of Indian money within a more encompassing process of circulation that includes souls and substances and “which maintains the cosmic and social orders” (1989: 81).]