Category Archives: Assorted Aspects of Hindu Culture

Hinduism in Tamil Cinema

Tamil cinema is a difficult term to firmly define, and is a part of the much wider used term of ‘Indian Cinema’. A brief history of the development of Tamil cinema and of the politics surrounding it is helpful in understanding how and why Tamil cinema portrays Hinduism the way it does.

There was uncertainty among critics over what defined a film as Tamil early on in Tamil cinema’s development, for there was no firm or sole ‘Tamil’ element within Tamil cinema to define it (Hughes 22). While scholars agree upon the film Kalidas as being the first Tamil film, not everyone else agreed with this idea (Hughes 10). One film critic, for example, saw the film Valli as being the first Tamil film instead of Kalidas (Hughes 12). As the film critic differs in opinion compared to scholars, Hughes argues that this suggests that other ways of depicting the development of Tamil films do exist and that they would have been built upon differing criteria over the definition of ‘Tamil film’ (Hughes 12).

Tamil films at this time were not strictly to do with Tamil culture, language, or the location of the production. For example, the film Kalidas was filmed in Bombay like most Tamil films were between 1931 and 1934 (Rajadhyaksha 254). Part of the difficulty for critics with giving Tamil Cinema a firm definition was based upon the fact that many of these so called Tamil films, like Kalidas, had non-Tamil elements within them. The definition of a Tamil film was not solely based upon the film being shot in Tamil for it was usual for Tamil dramatists, actors, and musicians to be contracted by studios in Bombay and Calcutta and for them to be moved from the south (Hughes 9). Language was not always a firm definition for Tamil films either, as in Kalidas, most of it is in Tamil but the male lead speaks in Telugu (Rajadhyaksha 254).

Tamil films were also not simply to do with those who lived within Tamil Nadu as the production of these films at this time involved people throughout India and even people from abroad (Hughes 9). Production of films was not merely an independent affair as productions within the main Indian languages shared many things such as costumes, movie sets, stories, music, and even the actors with one another (Hughes 10).

Things began to change when Tamil films began to be produced mostly in the south, instead of places like Bombay (Mumbai), but this did not stop critics from questioning what was Tamil about Tamil Cinema (Hughes 16-17). Despite being locally based within their productions, Tamil films were still involved with a lot of different people from around India (Hughes 17). The producers and studios of Tamil cinema were also more interested in hiring people for their work experience over hiring those who spoke fluent Tamil (Hughes 17).

Another shift occurred within Tamil Cinema when the defining of ‘Tamil films’ became even more complex with the politics of the Dravidian movement (Hughes 18). Politics became more involved in these films as people, such as the DMK, began to use films as a means of pursuing their political desires. These political desires included the Tamil nationalists’ who argued that the Tamil culture, the Tamil people, and the Tamil language were the last bit of the original Dravidian culture that had once encompassed India (Younger 100). To do this meant that the nationalists had to cast out many aspects of Hinduism: Sanskrit and Hindi languages, the caste system, and even Hinduism itself as elements of an ‘alien’ ideology (Younger 100).

When paraphrasing Sumathy Ramaswamy, Ravi points out that the Tamil language is very important to the Tamil people as the language itself is now the ‘critical centre’ of the Tamil culture (Ravi 48). The Pure Tamil Movement wanted to get rid of the Sanskrit elements within the Tamil language (Hughes 19). They wanted to do this because they viewed Sanskrit as a language that had been brought by the northern Brahmin migrants and had been forced upon them (Hughes 19). The Tamil language was a means of going against the ‘alien’ ideology of Hinduism by using it instead of the Sanskrit and Hindi languages.  This common feeling of being in opposition to Hindi drew together many different types of people within the Tamil community when Hindi was being established as the national language of India (Ravi 48). Scholars also talk about a ‘cultural renaissance’ during the Anti-Hindi Agitation of 1965 which relates to this ‘opposition of Hindi’ for it contained anti-Brahminism ideas, the pushing away of traditional Hinduism as something from the north, and a growing distrust of anything northern (Forrester 22).

Politics are firmly connected and intertwined within Tamil cinema’s history for many politicians and their politics influenced what Tamil cinema produced. For example, C.N. Annadurai had a film called Velaikkari which scholars say had “a strong social theme and message” (Jesudoss 22) and he was also the founder of the DMK, the Dravidian political party, which opposed the Brahmin hegemonic notions of caste and religion (Jesudoss 22). Themes within Tamil cinema were largely influenced by the politics of groups such as the DMK and, therefore, these politics affected how different aspects of Hinduism were portrayed within Tamil film. Scholars often touch upon how Tamil cinema subverts popular Hinduism notions, such as the Brahmins being the elite, and focus a lot upon the ‘anti-Brahmin’ ideas that appear throughout many films.

E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker’s Self-Respect movement dominated Tamil films at this time and “brought anti-northern [and] anti-Brahmin themes” (Hardgrave 290). The hegemonic ideas (i.e. the caste system) of Brahmins being at the top of the system and the most powerful are linked tightly to many notions and ideas within Hinduism. These ideas are teased and questioned within Tamil film. For example, one scholar expresses how the Brahmin character, in a film with an urban setting, is often a character who is shown to be a self-righteous and principled individual who is trying to maintain traditional caste values (Ravi 49). When discussing how Nala Damayanti, a Tamil comedy film, differs from the usual conventions of Tamil cinema, Ravi explains that it seems to go against a usual Tamil cinema convention for it seems to have hero who is Brahmin (Ravi 52). Brahmins are rarely heroes in Tamil cinema (Ravi 49). However, he also notes that this character’s Brahmin-ness is condensed down into his dialect while it is from his actions that Ramji, the character, becomes associated with Tamizhan (Ravi 52). A Tamizhan is a “member of ethnic community defined by Tamil as his language and whose origin is in the southern sub-continent” (Ravi 52).

These sorts of films have not always been readily accepted by everyone. The film Parasakathi was banned, for example, for a time as it questioned the status quo. It was a film that talked about social problems as well as religious superstitions, and it had a big effect on the middle class people because it had Tamil sentiments and ideals (Jesudoss 23). When the screenwriter was interviewed, he stated that he had wanted to “introduce the ideas and policies of social reform and justice in the films [(Parasakathi and Velaikari)] and bring up the status of the Tamil language as they were called for in DMK policies” (Hardgrave 292). DMK policies called for the Tamil language to be seen highly and in opposition to Hindi.

The director of Parasakthi was also unsurprised that it caused a reaction for he stated in an interview that it was intended to and that the reaction was unsurprising for they “were challenging the social law itself” (Hardgrave 292). The director of Parasakathi used his films as a means of making political statements about religion as he stated that the DMK are not against ‘the temple’ but are against the people, who he called evil-minded’, who use it (Hardgrave 292). He also went on to explain that the DMK are monolithic, which goes against elements of Hinduism, and that they do not agree with the bribing of god with puja (Hardgrave 292). Puja is a term to describe a way of worship through ritual in Hinduism (Rodrigues 343). The film Velaikari also attacked religious ideas such as puja, which was used within the film and showed ‘issues’ within religion, and is considered to be a ‘revolutionary film’ (Hardgrave 291-292).

After the success of films like Velaikari and Parasakthi, Tamil cinema created a series of films with social themes (Jesudoss 23). They also used stories that related to Tamil ideas of things such as valor and love as well as their affection for their own language (Jesudoss 22-23). As Jesudoss explains when paraphrasing Baskaran, scholars consider these films and Tamil cinema to have produced a ‘major revolution’ and he explains that this was unsettling to those in the higher castes (Jesudoss 23)

Tamil cinema is credited by scholars to have brought about social changes (Jesudoss 23). It was used to strengthen some social and religious ideas but also questioned and tested traditions and customs (Jesudoss 23). Tamil Cinema formed into a means of culturally expressing the Tamil culture/people (Jesudoss 23). Today, Tamil films are still engaging with this cultural expression idea (Jeusdoss 23): reinforcing Tamil identity, Tamil language, anti-Brahminism, and questioning/challenging of different aspects Hinduism.

 

REFERENCES AND FUTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Rajadhyaksha, A. and P. Willemen (1999) Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Forrester, Duncan B. (1966) “The Madras Anti-Hindi Agitation, 1965: Political Protest and its Effects on Language Policy in India.” Pacific Affairs Vol. 39, No. 1/2: p. 19-36.

Hardgrave Jr, Robert L. (1973) “Politics and the Film in Tamilnadu: The Stars and the DMK.”  Asian Survey Vol. 13, No. 3: p. 288-305.

(2012) “What is Tamil about Tamil Cinema?” In South Asian Cinemas: Widening the Lens. Sara Dickey and Rajinder Dudrah (eds.). New York: Routledge. pp. 8-24.  Special edition of  South Asian Popular Culture Vol. 8 No. 3.

Jesudoss, Perianayagam (2009) “Tamil Cinema.” Communication Research Trends Vol. 28, No. 4: p. 4-27.

Ravi, Srilata (2008) “Tamil Identity and the Diasporic Desire in a Kollywood Comedy: Nala Damayanti (2003).” South Asian Popular Culture Vol 6, No. 1: p. 45-56.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: The ebook: An Online Introduction. Online: Journal of  Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

(2008) Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry. Selvaraj Velayutham (ed.). New York: Routledge

Younger, Prakash (2010) S. Velayutham, ed. “Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of Indian’s Other Film Industry.” Canadian Journal of Film Studies Vol. 19, No. 1: p.99-102.

Related Research Topics

Kollywood

Kollywood vs. Bollywood

DMK

Tamil Identity

Tamil language

Politics within Indian films

Self-Respect Movement

Dravidian Movement

Anti-Hindi Agitation

Brahmin

Sanskrit

 

Related Websites

http://www.filmstudies.ca/journal/cjfs/archives/authors/younger_prakash

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/fan-clubs-and-films/article658948.ece

http://www.project-india.com/tag/dmk/

http://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/tamil-films-2014-our-top-20/article6730718.ece

http://www.quora.com/What-is-the-origin-of-words-Bollywood-Hollywood-Tollywood-Kollywood-etc

 

Article written by: Holly Travis (2015) who is solely responsible for its content

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The Vastu Tradition in Hinduism

The vastu tradition is said to be the ancient science of designing and constructing buildings and houses with a corresponding plot of land. The root word vas in vastu means to dwell, live, stay, and reside (Gautum 17) (Kramrisch 82). The vastu-shastra is the manual used for the architecture on how sacred or domestic building must be constructed. The vastu-purusa-mandala is a metaphorical expression of the plan of the Universe and depicts the link between people, buildings and nature it is used to position a building on potential plots of land (Patra 2006:215-216). This mandala is so universal that it can be applied to an altar, a temple, a house, and a city.  Hindu temples are meant to bring humans and gods together.

The vastu shastra is found originating in the Vedas the most ancient of sacred Indian text, tracing back to at least 3,000 B.C.E., if not earlier. The knowledge of constructing and designing a building is found specifically in the Sthapatya Veda, which is a sub heading in the Artharva Veda which is the fourth Veda. Principles of vastu-shastra can be found in several other ancient texts such as Kasyapa Silpa Sastra, Brhat Samhita, Visvakarma Vastu Sastra, Samarangana Sutradhara, Visnu Dharmodhare, Purana Manjari, Mayamata, Aparajitaprccha, Silparatna Vastu Vidya (Patra 2006:215). Hindu literature also cites that the knowledge of sacred architectural construction of buildings was present in the oral traditions since before the Vedic Period. According to Indian experts the vastu is possibly the oldest sacred architectural construction in the world up to date (Osborn 85-86). The oldest master known for vastu is Maya Danava, acknowledged as the founder of this ancient sacred Indian architectural tradition (Osborn 87). It is said that “man can improve his conditions by properly designing and understanding the location, direction, and disposition of a building that have a direct bearing on a human being” (Patra 2014:44). Based on the experience of several generations it has proved that the building and arrangement of villages and capitals in ancient India gave health and peacefulness. The principles regarding the construction of buildings that are in the vastu-shastra are used to please the vastu-purusa; they are explained by the mandala vastu-purusa-shastra. 

There are five basic principles of the sacred science of sacred architecture, the first of which is the doctrine of orientation (diknirnaya), which related to the cardinal directions: north, east, south, west. Second is site planning which uses the vastu-purusa-mandala and is the examination of the soil through categories such as taste, color, etc. Third is the proportionate measurement of the building (mana, hastalakshana), which is divided into six sections: measurement of height, breadth, width or circumference, measurement along plumb lines, thickness, and measurement of inter-space. Fourth there are the six canons of Vedic architecture (ayadi, sadvarga), base (aadhistaana), column (paada or stambha), entablature (prastaara), ear or wings (karna), roof (shikara) and dome (stupi). Fifth is the aesthetics of the building (patakadi, sadschandas) which deals with the nature of beauty such as principles of texture, color, flow, the interaction of sunlight and shadows, these are some principles of aesthetics (Patra 2014:44). The most important requirement in the manual is that the site of a new building must be placed where the gods are at play (King 69). If the temple is unable to be built by a tirtha (a sacred ford or a crossing place that must be by sacred water) then another suitable site should be found. This can be a riverbank, a river junction, a lake, or a seashore. It can even be mountains, hilltops, or forests/gardens. It can also be placed in populated areas like towns, villages, and cities (King 69 and Osborn 87). Water was said to be a fundamental part of the gods’ play, therefore a sacred temple must be near water but if no water was present then man-made a water source. Directions also hold a particular significance (north, northeast, east, southeast, south, southwest, west, and northwest) they help to clarify the principles of the vastu-shastra.

Once the land has been chosen with appropriate knowledge the ground is then prepared properly using the geometrical design known as vastu-purusa-mandala. Then before the mandala is placed a Priest must perform a number of mantras a sacred utterance that urges all living creatures in the plot to leave so that the new land for the building will not kill any living things (King 69). The soil in the desired area of land must undergo some tests to show whether it is suitable or not. One test that occurs is a pit is dug in the ground and then is filled with water, and the soils strength is then judged by how much water is remaining when the next day arrives. Of course with this in mind before these tests can be done the soil must be examined in the following categories: smell, taste (whether it is sweet, pungent, bitter, astringent), color (white for brahmanas, red for kshatriyas, yellow for vaisyas, black for sudras, the color of the soil and the caste correspond with each other), sound, shape or consistency. After all that is done and if the soil is suitable, then the fertility of the soil must also be tested by plowing the ground and planting seed and recording the growth at 3, 5, and 7 nights. Then according to the success of growth, it is decided whether the soil is fertile and helps decide if this is a good place to build using the mandala (Kramrisch 13-14).

It does not matter whether the building is going to be a house, office, or a school the knowledge from the vastu-shastra must be taken into consideration in order for the execution to be successful. The walls that strengthen the temple are known as prakaras and they may vary in size and number in regards to the size of the temple. When building larger temples like the one in Srirangam they are occasionally surrounded by seven concrete walls that represent the seven layers of matter: earth, water, fire, air, either, mind, and intelligence.

 

The geometry and measurements of the vastu (blueprint) planned site is a very complex science. The shape must be a square that is a fundamental form of Indian architecture; its full name is vastu-purusa-mandala [the sacred diagram by which a temple is configured (Rodrigues 2006:568)] consisting of three parts vastu, purusa, and mandala. Purusa is a universal essence, a cosmic man representing pure energy, soul, and consciousness whose sacrifice by the gods was said to be the creation of all life. Purusa is the reason that buildings must be created using a mandala of him, which means a diagram relating to orientation. A mandala can also be referred to as a yantra (a cosmological diagram). The vastu-purusa-mandala adopts the shape of the land it is set on so it can fit suitably wherever it is placed. The mandala therefore accepts transformation into a triangle, hexagon, octagon, and circle if the area is consistent and it will maintain its symbolism. Even though the ideal shape is a square, its acceptance of transformation in shape shows the inherent flexibility of the vastu-purusa-mandala (Kramrisch 21 and Patra 2014:47). When configuring a temple they use this mandala of purusa to enable them to place the proper things in the proper directions and proper places (i.e. north, west, etc.) such as where the worship places or bedrooms must be and so forth. If the rooms in these buildings are appropriately placed this will keep the building healthy and keep the people in it happy (Patra 2014:47).

Another thing that the vastu-shastra states is that the layout for residences be placed based on caste; the brahmins (priestly class) are placed in the north, the kshatriyas (the warrior class) in the east, the vaishyas (the merchant class) in the south, and the sudras (the lower class) in the west.  When the land is purified and sanctified the vastu-purusa-mandala is drawn on the site with all the subdivisions helping to indicate the form of the building. The mandala is divided into 64 (8×8) squares and is meant for construction of shrines and for worship by brahmins, or 81 (9×9) squares and is meant for the construction of other buildings and for worship of kshastriyas (kings). These squares (nakshatras) are said to be the seats of 45 divinities that all surround a central open space that is ruled by Brahma (Chakrabarti 6-7 and Kramrisch 46). The square is occupied by the vastu-purusa his very shape of his body. His body with its parts, limbs, and apertures is interpreted as having the same boundaries or extent in space, time, or meaning and is therefore one with the 81 squares of the plan. The mandala is filled with magical effectiveness and meanwhile the body of man is the place of insight by the practice of the discipline of yoga (Kramrisch 49). The vastu-purusa-mandala is the vastu-purusa, his body is together with the presence and actions of the divinities located in the mandala, which is their yantra, the center is the brahmasthana and designates the center point of a building (it is a giant skylight) and its superstructure is the temple (Kramrisch 63).

The brahmasthana is the principle location in the temple because this is where the seat of the godhead will eventually be placed. A ritual is performed at this space in the vastu-purusa-mandala called garbhadhana, which invites the soul of the temple to enter the radius of the building. In this ritual a brahmin and a priest place a gold box in the earth during the ceremony of the first ground breaking. The interior of this box is an exact replica of the mandala squares and each square is filled with dirt. The priest then places the correct mantra in writing to call on the presence of the matching deity. When the base is complete the external features of the temple are brought to life through meticulously sculpted figures and paintings, these arts are generally conveyed as the forms of the divine entities (Osborn 90-91).     

It is said that the vastu-shastra is a very powerful ongoing tradition in India today and is in no threat of becoming extinct. The post secondary schools in India have classes to teach students about the variation of skills and techniques required in the science of sacred architecture. In these classes the literature is all written in Sanskrit, therefore in order for the students to learn the correct knowledge they must know how to read Sanskrit. They are taught everything required for vastu-shastra such as geometry, drafting, stone sculpture, bronze casting, woodcarving, painting, and so much more. When the students gain the correct knowledge and skills to be an architect in India they then graduate with a degree and then receive the title sthapati [(temple architect and builder) this title is named after Sri. M. Vaidyantha Sthapati a master architect, he was the designer and architect of some very popular temples and other Hindu buildings]. India has the most examples of sacred architecture that exist compared to all other countries in the world combined (Osborn 87). One of the more important requirements for vastu-shastra that is used today is the orientation of where parts of the buildings needs to be situated based on the points on the vastu-purusa-mandala. Hindu temples back in the nineteenth century were located at the heart of the city.  With that in mind today if one desires to go to a temple the most important temples are now all found in the suburbs, but they still have the same purpose, to bring human beings and gods closer together.

 

References and Further Recommended Reading

Boner, Alice (1966) Slipa Prakasa Medieval Orissan Sanskrit Text on Temple Architecture. Leiden: Brill Archive.

Chakrabarti, Vibhuti (2013) Indian Architectural Theory and Practice: Contemporary Uses of Vastu Vidya. New York: Routledge.

Gautum, Jagdish (2006) Latest Vastu Shastra (Some Secrets). New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.

King, Anthony D. (ed.) (2003) Building and Society. New York: Routledge.

Kramrisch, Stella (1976) The Hindu Temple, Vol 1. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Meister, Michael (1976) Mandala and Practice in Nagagra Architecture in North India.” Artibus Asiae, Vol.99, No.2: p.204-219.

Meister, Michael (1983) Geometry and Measure in Indian Temple Plans: Rectangular Temples. Artibus Asiae. Vol.44, No.4: p.266-296.

Michell, George (1977) The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to its Meanings and Forms. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Osborn, David (2010) Science of the Sacred. Raleigh: Lulu Press Inc.

Patra, Reena (2006) Asian Philosophy: A Comparative Study on Vaastu Shastra and Heidegger’s Building, Dwelling and Thinking. New York: Routledge, Vol.16, No.3: p.199-218.

Patra, Reena (2014) Town Planning in Ancient India: In Moral Perspective. Chandigarh: The International Journal of Humanities and Social Studies, Vol.2,  No.6: p.44-51.

Rodrigues, Hillary P. (2006) Introducing Hinduism-The eBook. Pennsylvania: Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, LTD.

Rodrigues, Hillary P. (ed.) (2011) Studying Hinduism in Practice. New York: Routledge.

Trivedi, Kirti (1989) Hindu Temples: Models of a Fractal Universe. Bombay: Springer-Verlag.

Vasudev, Gayatri D. (Editor) (1998) Vastu, Astrology, and Architecture: Papers Presented at the First All India Symposium on Vastu, Bangalore. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Mandala

Vedic Period

Vedas

Tirtha

Caste System

Brahmanas

Kshatriyas

Vaisyas

Sudras

Vedic Gods (divinities)

Purusa Legend

Brahmasthana

Yantra

Sthapati

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://architectureideas.info/2008/10/vastu-purusha-mandala/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vastu_shastra

http://www.vastushastraguru.com/vastu-purusha-mandala/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V._Ganapati_Sthapati

http://www.vaastu-shastra.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yantra

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandala

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_temple

 

Article written by: Brandon Simon (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Kanchipuram (City of a Thousand Temples)

The city of Kanchipuram is located in the state of Tamil Nadu on the banks of the Vegavathi River, thirty-one miles from the city of Madras (Schellinger 435). It is known as Siva Visnu Kanchi, or simply as Kanchi (Schellinger 435). In the Hindu culture, there are seven cities that are held as sacred, Kanchipuram being one of them. Although the city has earned the name “The City of a Thousand Temples,” it does not actually have a thousand temples located within the city. The city does however have a sizeable amount of religious sites and monuments that are used for worship. Centuries of Indian history can be seen when one travels to this holy city. Kanchipuram was established by the Pallava Dynasty and was named the capital of their empire (Schellinger 435).  After the reign of the Pallava Dynasty the history of this city is very vague. It was controlled by many other dynasties none of which lasted any substantial amount of years.

During the reign of Asoka (who was an adamant supporter of Buddhism and actively worked to spread the religion throughout India), the city fell under the control of his empire and had Buddhist stupas built within it. Records of various pilgrimages suggest that the Buddha himself may have visited Kanchipuram, which explains the flourishing of the Buddhist tradition within the city, however, there are many other reasons for the city’s popularity that are based on fact and not on religious speculation. The first king to rule over Kanchipuram was Sivaskandavarman, who ruled in the middle of the third century BCE (Schellinger 436). His status as the first king of Kanchipuram has been disputed, though there is a certain mythological story of how a man named Virakurcha married the daughter of a naga (a serpentine type creature) and became the first king of the Pallava Dynasty (Schellinger 435). This story is purely mythological but still raises the question about Sivaskandavarman really being the first king. During the Pallava Dynasty, temple building in India turned from using wood as a primary source for building temples, to stone, a material that is much stronger and adds greater strength to the structure – this is why the temples in Kanchipuram have withstood weathering for centuries (Schellinger 437). Education grew during the Pallava Dynasty, particularly in the religious studies of Buddhism and Hinduism; Kanchipuram now has several colleges affiliated with the University of Madras (Schellinger 438). Over the centuries temples dedicated to Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism have been constructed by the followers of these religions (Schellinger 436). The fame Kanchipuram has gained as a holy city is undoubtedly due to the fact that it has been the site for visits from great spiritual teachers and the many magnificent temples that have been constructed to various gods and goddesses. Another factor is the religious teachings and enhanced sense of spirituality that one gains from venturing into the city, which is a major factor in the pilgrimages that the people of India make to Kanchipuram.

Kanchipuram has some of India’s most beautiful temples; one such temple is the Kanchi Kailasanathar temple. The emperor Rajasimha of the Pallava Dynasty is credited with commissioning the temples’ construction from 685 to 705 CE and dedicating it to the God Siva (Hudson 50), although there are other gods for whom the temple is also dedicated. It is the oldest temple in Kanchipuram and is famous for its architecture. An example of the famed architecture is one of the depictions of the god Siva carved into the temple as a begging ascetic on the south wall (Hudson 51), other carvings accompany this one and tell various stories that relate to Siva. This great temple was built in the 8th century by the architect Rajasimha and his son Mehendra (Dobbie 111), and is surrounded by smaller shrines. It is dedicated to the gods Visnu, Siva, Devi, Surya, Ganapathi and Kartikey, and its name means “Lord of the Cosmic Mountain” (Narasimha 96).  Another temple situated in the northern part of Kanchipuram is Ekambareswarar, which is the largest temple in the city and one of the main tourist attractions. It is dedicated to the god Siva; the temple is one of five major monuments built specifically to worship the god, each temple representing a different element (Ninan 132).  The legend behind this temple and one of the main reasons for its popularity is the story of Parvati. The legend states that Parvati, who was a companion of Siva, was praying underneath the temple’s mango tree, In order to test her faith and dedication, Siva set her on fire. Even while on fire, Parvati continued to pray and passed Siva’s test. She then constructed a Siva Linga (a mark used to worship Siva) out of sand to unite herself with Siva and the god came to be known as Ekambareswarar or “Lord of the Mango Trees” (Ayyar 71-72). There are many other legends pertaining to how this temple became one of the most revered places to worship Siva and a place of peace and spirituality but this is just one such example.

The Vaikuntha Perumal is the second imperial city built by Nandivarman II Pallavamalla, who was one of the emperors of the Pallava Dynasty (Hudson 52). It has many architectural marvels such as the massive vimana or towered sanctuary that rises above the temple and is said to be the place that the god of the temple dwells (Hudson 52). This structure has carvings depicting the establishment and history of the Pallava Dynasty, from its founding to the construction of the Vaikuntha Perumal (Hudson 52). Inside, a huge carving of Visnu is depicted as a god king and is facing west. On the outside of the temple there are three other sculptures facing the remaining cardinal directions (Hudson 53).

Rituals and ceremonies are a part of daily life in Kanchipuram. Various temples, sometimes share the same rituals. For example, a ritual performed at the Ekamra temple is also performed at the Varadaraja temple. The ceremony features priests of the temple making offerings to Varadaraja five times a day (Hudson 58). Yet, before the offerings are made, the Brahmins (priests) must summon Visnu’s presence within the temple through the uttering of mantras (Hudson 58). This praying to Visnu essentially wakes up the god and sets into motion all other rituals that are to take place that day. Along with the daily rituals and ceremonies are festivals that take place throughout the year. Festivals are conducted according to solstices and equinoxes. They are timed to coordinate with a day in the life of a god, where the winter solstice is the sunrise and the summer solstice is the sunset (Hudson 60). The year is also divided into different sections of months in which various festivals are to be performed. The beginning of the year, January, is a time to be thankful for the sun and a time to renew friendships (Hudson 61). The end of a year is called Margali and is from December to January and is the time of the year for meditation at the temples of Kanchipuram and reflection on the new knowledge one has gained throughout the year (Hudson 62).

Kanchipuram silk weavers are credited with producing the finest saris not just in South East Asia but also in the entire world. One factor that sets Kanchi saris above other saris is the silk that these garments are made from. Hand-woven, they are designed for auspiciousness. This means that the saris are meant to bring good fortune and happiness to the women who wear them and is directly related to the auspiciousness of events and persons the wearer may encounter (Kawlra 62); this quality of the saris gives them a religious appeal to their buyers. Also considered a part of the stages of life for women, various designs and patterns of the cloth can indicate the women’s different statuses – for instance, whether or not they are married (Kwalra 62). The makers of the clothing are called Padma Saliyars, and along with being skillfully trained in the art of weaving, they also have to have great knowledge of auspiciousness and inauspiciousness. The weavers also conduct their lives and work with good practice so as to heighten their own auspiciousness and allow them to transfer this into their weaving (Kwalra 64). The weavers of raasi saris consult constellations in an effort to remain in accordance with the cosmos and avoid inauspiciousness. Failure to avoid weaving during certain times of the year is said to result in “bad luck” for anybody involved in its selling, weaving or even wearing (Kwalra 64). The shop that produces the saris is regarded as an auspicious shop and purchases made there have to follow an almost ritualistic transaction. This means that when a customer purchases from the shop the sari has to be exchanged in front of the shop deity and wrapped in white cloth to ensure purity and auspiciousness (Kwalra 65). This concept of auspiciousness is not a factual reason for the saris’ high value; a more concrete reason is likely the quality of the product and its importance in religious rituals and wedding ceremonies that take place within the city.

The city of Kanchipuram is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and spiritual cities in India. Its history is permeated in mythology and mysticism and can inspire a sense of wonder in the visitor or researcher. The large number of temples offers an interesting view into the Hindu religion and its practices. They have been the sites of many pilgrimages for the ascetic traveler and the aspiring scholar. Famous religious figures have been said to have traveled to the city and worshipped there. This has added to the fame of Kanchipuram, as well as its revered status as a “sacred city.” Depictions of various gods and the beautiful architecture of the city shed light on a not-so-distant Hindu past that has influenced many religious followers. The rituals and ceremonies that are daily occurrences in Kanchipuram give the city a sacred appeal to the outsider. Along with a very prominent religious appeal, some of the residents profit from the production of the city’s famed saris and offer potential auspiciousness for the person that owns one. Kanchipuram will undoubtedly remain a place where worship and spiritual teaching of the Hindu religion can occur and will hold its place as one of the most sacred cities in India.
References and Further Recommended Reading

Ayyar P.V. Jagadisa (1993) South Indian Shrines: Illustrated. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services.

Dobbie, Aline (2006) India: The Elephants Blessing. Cambridgeshire: Melrose Book Press Limited.

Gopal, Madan (1990) India through the ages. K.S. Gautam, (ed). Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.

Hudson, D. Dennis, and Stratton Hawley John (2010) Krishna’s Mandala: Bhagavata Religion and Beyond. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Kawlra, Aarti (2005) Kanchipuram Sari: Design for Auspiciousness. Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Narasimha Rao, P.V.L (2008) Kanchipuram: Land of Legends, Saints and Temples. New Delhi: Readworthy Publications.

Ninan, M.M. (2008) The Development of Hinduism. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Padman, Kaimal (2005) Learning to See the Goddess Once Again: Male and Female in Balance at the Kailāsanāth Temple in Kāñcīpuram. Oxford University Press

Schellinger, Paul E (1996) International dictionary of historic places: Asia and Oceania. Singapore: Toppan Co.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Siva

Visnu

Asurya

5 sacred cities

Tamil Nadu

Ascetics

Auspiciousness

Inauspiciousness

Naga

Dharma

Cosmos

Siva Linga

Buddhism

Jainism

Sari

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.kanchi.tn.nic.in/

http://www.sudarshansilk.com

http://www.kanchi-project.sai.uni-heidelberg.de/

http://www.kanchi.nic.in/temples.htm

http://www.kanchikamakshi.com/

http://www.transindiatravels.com/tamil-nadu/kanchipuram/tourist-places-to-visit-in-kanchipuram

 

Article Written By: Josh Prefontaine (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Magicians and Sorcerers in Hinduism

Magicians and sorcerers have a long history in Hinduism. The ancient Atharva Veda’s most salient teaching is sorcery (Bloomfield xxix). This Veda contains mainly mantras used in witchcraft or sorcery, in the curing of diseases, for destruction of enemies, etc. (Whitney vi). Many scholars have categorized the hymns of the Atharva Veda in different classes, as the hymns are meant to: secure long life, get good wishes of the deities, ward off misfortune, pardon the misdeeds, obtain the kingship, as well as others (Whitney ix). Other examples of these hymns include: charms to cure diseases and heal wounds; imprecations against demons, sorcerers, and enemies; charms to obtain a husband, wife, or son; and charms to obtain prosperity in house, field, cattle, business, gambling, and kindred matters (Bloomfield vii-xiii).

Many of the modern performances of Indian magic are simply tricks. Perhaps the best known of all the feats performed by Indian conjurers is the mango-tree trick (Carrington 5). A seed is placed in some earth and a mango-tree miraculously grows in mere moments (Carrington 6-8). The secret of this trick is the pliability of the tree; the leaf and twigs of the mango-tree are exceedingly tough, and can be folded into a very small space without breaking (Carrington 9). Thus they will resume their former expanded condition very rapidly, without any traces of the folding process (Carrington 9). Perhaps another of the best known tricks is the dry-sands trick (Carrington 26). A handful of sand is placed into a bucket of water, yet when removed it is completely dry (Carrington 26). This trick relies on the preparation of the sand; the sand must be cooked with a small amount of lard which covers the grains of sand with a slight coating of grease, rendering it impervious to water (Carrington 26-27).

The folk understandings of tribal magic among the Oraons of West Bengal and the Chotanagpur area is quite different from modern street magic-tricks. Kali Mai has traditionally been the major goddess of the village black magician (McDaniel 231). When Kali Mai’s power is sought, he erects a mud altar for her and sacrifices a red chicken and a black goat, thereby granting the magician what he wishes (McDaniel 231). Among the Savara people, a tribal group known for their skill at snake charming, Chandi may be evoked for both love magic and exorcism (McDaniel 38). A man who desires a woman collects the dust from her footsteps and brings it to the shaman (ojha) who chants an incantation three times; afterwards he sprinkles the dust upon the woman and she finds herself attracted to him (McDaniel 38).

A good example of folk tantra is a small handbook called the Dakini Tantra (McDaniel 78). It is written in Bengali, though it contains many Sanskrit mantras and is used by local tantric healers (McDaniel 78). It contains various instructions on how to enchant people, cure various bites, how to deal with ghosts and witches, as well as practices to gain vak siddhi, so that whatever a practitioner says comes true (McDaniel 79). The krisna satkarma or black magic rituals, traditionally teach the tantrika how to control both the physical world and other people (McDaniel 80). This includes varieties of hypnosis, creation of paralysis, bringing disease or madness, and other rituals to gain supernatural powers (McDaniel 80).

Faith healing has long been practiced in India. The Atharva Veda refers to amulet use on many occasions; an amulet is a sacred thing charged with the strength of a spirit (Niyogi 26). Amulets could not only heal, but also protect the wearer from any evil consequences (Niyogi 26). The materials used to construct such amulets were of the utmost importance, along with certain preparations and certain observances of ritual formalities (Niyogi 26). Amulets made of rice could grant the wearer long life and to protect against demon possession splinters from ten holy trees were to be worn (Niyogi 26-27). Spirit possession also has a very crucial role to play in the area of faith healing (Niyogi 91). Most spirit possession occurs on Tuesdays and Saturdays, though in some villages such phenomena occur on Fridays or Mondays (Niyogi 91). Bhar Haoya is a type of possession trance, typically a passive experience in which the medium opens his/her body so that the expected spirit being may enter into it and express himself or herself through it, usually by using the medium’s vocal organs (Niyogi 92). The mediums emphasize that “nothing will be effective without faith, nor even the best doctors; but with sufficient faith one can be cured with plain water” (Niyogi 94). Other mediums do not need to enter into a possession trance, as they can heal the discomforts with the aid of healing spirits (Niyogi 111). It appears that these spiritual healers can identify the sickness of a patient just by having a look at him or her. However, it is difficult to confirm if these healers can actually heal the patients (Niyogi 111).

A Sanskrit fragment in a collection of Balinese hymns and fragments called the Mahamaya describes the supranormal effects of meditation upon Visnu’s maya, here to be understood as that god’s ability to change his appearance at will (Goudriaan ix). Maya is an important element in Indian religious history, essentially meaning ‘magic’ (Goudriaan 1). Very often in the Vedas the word maya stands for the creation of a real, material form, be it human or non-human, by means of which the creator of that form shows his incomprehensible power (Goudriaan 2). Maya is a neutral force; when used by the gods it is a force for good though in the human environment maya is liable to degenerate into deceit or illusions (Goudriaan 2). Maya can be used by sorcerers to present themselves in the guise of wild animals, as when the demon Marica confronts Rama and his companions in the form of a gazelle in the Ramayana (Goudriaan 4). The Jatakas describe Brahmins who act as sorcerers; they can create a rain of precious stones, they know the languages of animals, they understand the science of conjuring demons and spirits and they ward off diseases and snakebites (Goudriaan 230).

Some modern accounts of sorcery have received media attention in recent years. A tantrik in a Bankura village confessed to beheading a newborn and licking the blood dripping from its severed head; he performed this act in public and police had to rescue him from being lynched by the locals (“The Times of India” 2012 February 3). Such events are not uncommon in rural India, nearly 2,100 people accused of witchcraft have been killed between 2000-2012 (“The Washington Post” 2014 July 21).

Not all accounts of modern sorcery are malevolent. In November 1993, a small group of Swedish tourists was taken to the Bank of the Ganges to watch an exorcism (Glucklich 141). A young woman, who had previously had a miscarriage, feared that her neighbour had thrown a curse on her to abort yet another child (Glucklich 141). The exorcist, Ram Prasad, laid out a wreath of marigold flowers in a circle and took three clay pots to the river (Glucklich 141). One of the pots was filled with water, the second with water and wine, and the third with only wine (Glucklich 141). He then lit three lumps of camphor inside the circle of flowers and proceeded on to the clove ritual, which was the main part of the exorcism (Glucklich 141). He touched her head with the clove and said, “You are the Goddess of Religion (Dharma), I will not stay here, I will not stay here, I will completely not stay here,” (Glucklich 142). He then touched the clove to her stomach and added, “I will tell you again, Mother of Religion, if she has any problem in her stomach or a headache or anything else, it will go out” (Glucklich 142). He then changed his voice to that of the goddess and said, “I am finishing everything, it is completely clear (as milk of milk and water of water), you will be clear and pure like milk” (Glucklich 142). He then made a guttural grunt as he pulled the clove away from the girl’s stomach and said, “This sickness will be gone, look I am taking out the witchcraft” (Glucklich 142). He then placed the clove into the mouth of a live fish and released it into the river while repeating, “I will never come (again), I will never come” (Glucklich 142). He ended the ritual after the fish was gone and then told the girl to touch the water where the puja had taken place (Glucklich 142). Later that night, at his house, Ram Prasad performed another puja and chanted, “It has gone completely,” seven times, offered wine to Ma Sakti and a necklace of flowers (Glucklich 142). He put a divination rod on the floor and lit seven pieces of camphor on it (Glucklich 142). Later he asked it if the illness was completely out of the girl, and it indicated that it was (Glucklich 142).

Magicians and sorcerers have long had a place in India, and they shall continue to for the foreseeable future as they are so ingrained in the fabric of Indian traditions, beliefs, and society.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READINGS

Banerjee, Falguni (2012, February 3) “Tantrik confesses to child sacrifice in Bankura.” The Times of India. Retrieved from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/Tanktrik-confesses-to-child-sacrifice-in-Bankura/articleshow/11735141.cms?referral=PM

Bloomfield, Maurice (1969) Hymns of the Atharva-Veda, Together With Extracts From the Ritual Books and the Commentaries. New York: Greenwood Press.

Brunton, Paul (1934) A Search in Secret India. London: Rider & Co.

Carrington, Hereward (1913) Hindu Magic: An Expose of the Tricks of the Yogis and Fakirs of India. Kansas City: The Sphinx Publishing Co.

Frost, Thomas (1876) The Lives of the Conjurers. London: Tinsley Brothers.

Glucklich, Ariel (1997) The End of Magic. New York: Oxford University Press.

Goudriaan, Teun (1978) Maya Divine and Human. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Kapferer, Bruce (1997) The Feast of the Sorcerer: Practices of Consciousness and Power. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Keshavan, M. S.; H. S. Naravanan; B. N. Gangadhar (1989) “‘Bhanamati’ Sorcery and Psychopathology in South India A Clinical Study.” British Journal of Psychiatry; Vol. 154: p.218.

McDaniel, June (2004) Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal. New York: Oxford University Press.

McCoy, Terrence (2014, July 21) “Thousands of women, accused of sorcery, tortured and executed in Indian witch hunts.” The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/07/21/thousands-of-women-accused-of-sorcery-tortured-and-executed-in-indian-witch-hunts/

Niyogi, Tushar K. (2006) Faith Healing: Studies in Myths and Rituals in Medicine and Therapy. Kolkata: R. N. Bhattacharya.

Shah, Tahir (2011) Sorcerer’s Apprentice: An Incredible Journey into the World of India’s Godmen. New York: Arcade Publishing.

Sorcar, P. C. (1950) Hindu Magic. Calcutta: S. Gupta.

Unknown (2014, July 11) “3 arrested for murder of suspected sorcer.” The Hindu. Retrieved from http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/3-arrested-for-murder-of-suspected-sorcerer/article6200534.ece

Whitney, William Dwight (2000) Atharva-Veda-Samhita. Delhi: Parimal Publications.

Yelle, Robert A. (2003) Explaining Mantras: Ritual, Rhetoric, and the Dream of a Natural Language in Hindu Tantra. New York: Routledge.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Rsi

Svastayana

Marana

Ucchatana

Vasikarana

Stambhana

Vidveshanna

Siddha

Siddhi

Jadu-Tona

Totaka

Muth

Tantra-Mantra

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/266312/Hinduism/9024/Tantric-ritual-and-magical-practices

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_%28paranormal%29#Magic_in_Hinduism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_magicians

 

Article written by: Jesse Elliott (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.