In Banaras, then, state and public structures had been integrated symbolically through the person of the Maharaja and, as modern political forms emerged, the merchant elite allied with him. The Hinduized cultural style of the city had been shaped by the values and cultural patronage of merchants and other intermediary groups, who had maintained close ties through the hierarchically structured Banarsi society. Developments in the 1920s and 1930s strained these ties, however: among the most important of these developments were economic dislocation from the world depression, accompanied by an effort to ensure the moral authority of public arena activities through a Sanskritization
of popular culture. Alienated lower-class artisans instead developed their own collective activities, which ranged, depending on the context, from festivals staged by and for themselves to Islamic reformist activities such as Tanzim. The change should not be overstated: a shared culture of public arenas still exists in attenuated form today, in which activities featuring the Maharaja of Banaras continue to be seen as "significant" events shared by both elite and lower classes. Nevertheless, many public arena activities are created, organized, and sponsored from within the lower-class culture of the city—a measure of the changes in the processual nature of collective activities which has developed over the last century.
In this context, it is not insignificant that scholars have documented a significant expansion in recent years of a wide variety of collective activities staged publicly in Banarsi neighborhoods. As the welter of festivals around Ramlila[*] attests, the moral authority of the public arena is shared now among competing actors: the Maharaja, the state, and those interested in expressing lower-class community identity.