Category Archives: South Indian Hinduism

Hinduism in Sri Lanka

The origins of Hinduism in Sri Lanka have not been conclusively determined. However, it is known that the development of a multiethnic modern day Sri Lanka, primarily influenced by Buddhist and Hindu religious worldviews, has unfortunately resulted in devastating ethnic and religious conflict. Currently, it is believed that the expansion of Hindu Tamils in Sri Lanka occurred relatively close to the evolution of the major ethnic group identified as the Sinhalese (Holt 70).  The Sinhalese are thought to have originated from the assimilation of various tribal or aboriginal ethnic communities that occupied Sri Lanka during the early Iron Age, approximately 600 to 500 BCE (Holt 70). However, some scholarly sources state that the Sinhalese may in fact have migrated to and colonized Sri Lanka around 500 BCE (Nubin 95). Despite these variances, it is accepted that the Sinhalese developed sophisticated civilizations with innovative technological advancements such as water tanks, reservoirs and irrigation canals (Nubin 95). Most importantly, the Sinhalese would help establish, spread and safeguard the traditions of Buddhism that would eventually be protected by the governing states of Sri Lanka (Nubin 95).

In regards to the spread of Hinduism from south India to Sri Lanka, the earliest inscriptions and texts from the Pali chronicles (the Mahavamsa) state that the primarily Hindu Tamils occupied Sri Lanka from the early Iron Age onward, directly parallel to the evolution of the Sinhalese (Holt 71). It is important to understand that there is a distinction between Sri Lankan Tamils, considered a native minority, and Indian Tamils, who later immigrated to Sri Lanka or are the descendants of these immigrants (Nubin 146). With their migration, the Indian Tamils brought with them their own Tamil language and spread their Dravidian cultural influences amongst the people of Sri Lanka. Additionally, since Tamil Nadu, India and northern Sri Lanka are closely connected in terms of geography, this physical link has supported the continual spread of Tamils in Sri Lanka (Holt 71). These Tamil immigrants comprised various castes and positions of power in the Hindu societies of south India, and “brought with them a kaleidoscope of religious myths and rites reflective of Hindu worldviews” (Deegalle 39). Archaeological evidence supports this migration model for the spread of Tamil language and culture in Sri Lanka (Holt 71). Eventually, some Tamil traders became elite and their significant influence in northern Sri Lanka allowed Tamil language and Hindu culture to become dominant (Holt 71). However, the Hindu Tamil influence was not as strong in the central and southern regions of Sri Lanka, where most Tamils were assimilated into the majority, Sinhalese Buddhist tradition (Holt 71). Additionally, as the Sinhalese slowly gained control of Sri Lanka, they started to view both Tamil language and culture as invasive and foreign to their native Buddhist traditions (Nubin 146). This tension between the Buddhist Sinhalese majority and Hindu Tamil minority has resulted in severe conflict throughout the history of Sri Lanka, even up to the past few decades (Mainuddin and Aicher 26).

The peak of these clashes between the Sinhalese and Tamils occurred between the 5th and 9th centuries CE, when the Cola (pronounced Chola) dynasty, a Hindu empire of south India, increasingly pushed towards the Sinhalese-Buddhist kingdoms of Sri Lanka (Nubin 101). Under the rule of Rajaraja the Great (983 – 1014 CE), the Cola Empire, which had already established hegemony over south India, proceeded aggressively to conquer Sri Lanka (De Silva 25). The Cola Empire gained near complete control of the Buddhist Sinhalese kingdom by removing the Sinhalese king at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka and subsequently, Rajaraja’s son Rajendra completed the conquest of the island (De Silva 26). A significant and relatively permanent change created by the Cola Empire, which outlasted its period of rule, was the shifting of the capital from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruva (De Silva 26). The Cola Empire’s primary motive behind shifting the capital farther south was to protect their empire from potential invasion from southern Sinhalese kingdoms (Nubin 102). However, the southern Sinhalese kingdoms would eventually overthrow the Cola Empire, but the crucial shift of the political and religious capital allowed certain aspects of Hinduism established during the Cola rule to be maintained in Sri Lanka (Holt 87).

Importantly, the Cola conquest resulted in significant changes in the religious and cultural dynamics of Sri Lanka (De Silva 73). The rule of the south Indian Tamils of the Cola Empire allowed Hinduism to prosper in Sri Lanka, while Buddhism receded (Nubin 102). A crucial consequence of the Cola conquest was that it allowed Hindu-Brahmanical traditions and religious practices of Saivism to become dominant in Sri Lanka (De Silva 73). Furthermore, various characteristics of Dravidian (south Indian) culture including notions of art, architecture and the Tamil language, collectively had a substantial impact on the religious and cultural structures of Sri Lanka (De Silva 73). Under the Cola Empire, many Siva temples were built in major centers of worship in the Anuradhapura kingdom. These temples in Polonnaruva, Kantalai, Tirukkovil and other cities further assisted in enhancing Hindu Saivite traditions in Sri Lanka (Carter 164). Interestingly, despite the large amount of evidence about Saiva religious practices in Sri Lanka that arises after the Cola conquest, earlier inscriptions from the Mahavamsa indicate that the origins of Saivism in Sri Lanka may date back to the pre-Buddhist period (Carter 162). During this time period of around 400 BCE, the majority of Sri Lankans likely followed religious practices that closely adhered to Hindu Brahmanic and Saivite traditions (Carter 162). Archaeological studies of these religious practices in early Sri Lanka suggest significant phallic (Sivalinga) worship and worship of Saivite deities that closely resemble the principal religious practices of Hindu Tamils at the time (Carter 163).

Once the Sinhalese kingdom regained power approximately a century after the invasion by the Tamil Cola Empire, under King Parakramabahu I, the city of Polonnaruva was transformed into a dynamic center of cultural evolution (Holt 87). Although certain cultural aspects concerning literacy, art and fashion seemed to resemble or evolve from Anuradhapura roots, the city of Polonnaruva allowed for an extensive Hindu community to flourish (Holt 87). Sculptural and archaeological pieces indicate that a significant Hindu Saivite presence was maintained in Polonnaruva (Holt 11). This Hindu community followed Brahmanical traditions that were supported by the matrimonial alliances between Parakramabahu’s royal court and Hindu political elite in south India (Holt 87). Smaller, localized communities of Hindus also continued to thrive and their origins are likely based on Hindu mercenaries that served military interests of south India (Holt 87). Modern day archaeological evidence of religious figures that were worshipped during these times in Sri Lanka indicate a high degree of connection to the practices of Hindu Tamils in south India. Many sculptures depict the Hindu deities Siva, his wife Parvati, and their elephant headed son Ganesa (Holt 87). Importantly, these Hindu deities as well as Skanda (or Murugan) were widely worshipped by the Cola Tamils. These statues also strikingly resemble deities worshipped in south India and are likely derived from the Thanjavur styles of Tamil Nadu (Holt 87).

Modern day, pluralistic Sri Lanka is shaped by four main religions, and primarily two major ethnic groups (Carter 149). Currently, approximately 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhist, 15% are Hindu, 8% are Christian, and 7% are Muslim (Nubin 9). Importantly, we find that many characteristics of Hinduism in India are different from the Hinduism established in Sri Lanka. Among the Hindus of Sri Lanka, Saivism is predominantly practiced, whereas other Hindu sects are essentially absent (Carter 175). One reason for such a lack of diversity in the Hindu communities of Sri Lanka is due to the migration of largely Saivite Tamil Hindus from south India. Furthermore, the historical and geographical events that collectively established Saivism in Sri Lanka have also produced differences from Saivism practiced in Tamil Nadu, India (Carter 175). Specifically, Vaisnavism and Saivism are thought to be contrasting systems in India, whereas in Sri Lanka, Visnu and Siva worship is complementary (Carter 175). Additionally, there are some temples in Sri Lanka devoted to the worship of Visnu even though there is not a significant number of Vaisnavites in Sri Lanka (Carter 175). Despite some of these differences, the established religious practices and traditions of Hindus in Sri Lanka have remained relatively unchanged until recent times. Many components of Hinduism in Sri Lanka including religious, cultural and linguistic factors can also be traced back to Hindu religious and political practices of south India. For example, Brahmin priests, who conduct rituals and ceremonies in social settings and in Hindu temples, do not involve themselves in the politics of public affairs (Carter 149). It is believed that this indifference towards public affairs by Brahmins can be traced back to the construction of Hindu society in India (Carter 149). Conversely, the Buddhist Sangha in Sri Lanka has held a key voice in political issues and has received major support from the state (Carter 149).

Nearly all Sri Lankan Hindus are Saivites and adhere to the Saiva Siddhanta School that was developed during medieval times in Tamil Nadu, India (Carter 150). Specifically, Saiva Siddhanta reveres the Vedas and the texts known as Agamas, whereas in south Indian Saivism, the collection of hymns referred to as Thirumurai and other texts including philosophical treatises comprise the canonical literature (Carter 150). This literature has also influenced Saivism in Sri Lanka, which in the broader sense can be thought of as “a blend of the Vedagama tradition with that of the Saiva Siddhanta” (Carter 150). Hindus in Sri Lanka have also maintained many of the cultural and linguistic characteristics of their Tamil Hindu counterparts in south India. For example, alongside the worship of similar deities, Hindus in Sri Lanka have also constructed temples, sculptures and other architectural monuments by employing south Indian artisans and architects (Carter 150). Additionally, many components of south Indian culture, such as the classical art of Bharata Natyam, have been established and sustained in Hindu communities in Sri Lanka (Carter 150). Sri Lankan Hindus also make pilgrimages to Cidambaram, Madurai, Ramesvaram, as well as other major Saivite centres in south India (Carter 175). Furthermore, many major religious festivals, such as the Kataragama festival celebrating the highly venerated deity Kataragama (or Skanda), occur in Hindu temples built at holy pilgrimage sites in Sri Lanka (see Welbon and Yocum 299-304).

Although, possibly countless gods constitute the Hindu pantheon, for Tamil Hindus in both India and Sri Lanka, the gods Visnu and Siva are highly revered (Nubin 162). Visnu is referred to as the all-pervading god or “Blessed Lord,” who is the defender and creator of Dharma (Rodrigues 509). Visnu is usually depicted as a king with his wife, Laksmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune (Nubin 162). One of Visnu’s ten incarnations is Rama, who is the central character in the epic Ramayana. The other most popular incarnation of Visnu is the god Krsna, who is a cowherd and a warrior prince. Krsna appears in the highly important Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, where he primarily conveys fundamental teachings regarding devotion and following one’s duties (Nubin 162).  Siva is considered to be the most important Hindu deity for Sri Lankan Hindus (Nubin 162). Siva is referred to as the lord of the yogis or sometimes as Pasupati, “Lord of Animals” (Rodrigues 37). Siva is married to Parvati, the daughter of the mountains, and Siva is often depicted as an ascetic being, covered in ashes, meditating in the jungle with animals surrounding his presence (Nubin 162). For Tamil Hindus, the most powerful and creative expression of Siva is as Nataraja, “Lord of the Dance” (Nubin 163). Large collections of literature and poems dedicated to Siva are held by some Tamil Hindus to be as sacred as the Vedic scriptures (Nubin 163). Although the primary focus for Sri Lankan Hindus is on the worship of Visnu and Siva, the Mahavamsa-Culavamsa (non-canonical narrative on the religious history of Sri Lankan royalty) also references the Hindu deities Brahma, Laksmi, Indra, Kuvera, Skanda, Visvakarman, Brhaspati, and Sarasvati (Deegalle 41). However, since much of the content of the Mahavamsa-Culavamsa is of Buddhist legend, myth, or folktale, searching these texts for connections to Hinduism in Sri Lanka can feel like trying to find information on Taoism by reading Confucian histories (Deegalle 41). Notably, female deities are also important amongst Hindu Tamils of south India and Sri Lanka, and they often receive more devotion by worshippers (Nubin 163). These goddesses are the Sakti, or cosmic energy, that has the ability to be both a creative and destructive force (Nubin 163).  Additionally, many small Hindu villages in Sri Lanka may also have their own local stories or origins based upon the presence of a specific deity. Therefore, they may have built specific temples for worshipping these deities, which usually include Ganesa, Muruga, Vairavar, and Kali (Carter 183).

In the more recent colonial history of Sri Lanka, Hindu religious practices have become less extensive due to the persecution of these religious worldviews by European colonizers, and also due to an increasing Buddhist influence (Carter 165). Specifically, the Portuguese colonizers persecuted Saivites, who in turn responded by fleeing to India. The Saivites that remained in Sri Lanka found themselves struggling to assert their Saiva religious practices, as they were unable to participate in fundamental religious observances such as temple worship (Carter 165). The Dutch imposed similar restrictions, but eventually British rule near the end of the nineteenth century allowed for greater religious freedom for Saivites in Sri Lanka (Carter 165). Nowadays, Sri Lanka faces problems of segregation based on caste (“caste-ism”) and untouchability that continue to be prevalent because of the absence of social reforms in Sri Lanka that are, however, taking place in India to fight the hierarchical division of groups into classes (Carter 155). On the political forefront, the proportional representation that Hindu Tamils enjoyed in the Sri Lankan government was eliminated with the 1949 Indian and Pakistani Residents Act (Mainuddin and Aicher 35). Additionally, the 1978 Constitution enshrined Buddhism with the state, further increasing the political tension between the Hindu Tamils and Buddhist Sinhalese (Mainuddin and Aicher 37). In the next few years, radical Tamils formed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and led an armed combat against the Sri Lankan government during the Sri Lankan Civil War to protect their Tamil statehood (Mainuddin and Aicher 37). Furthermore, the continued warfare by the Hindu Tamil militants against the Sri Lankan government in the 1990s indicates that the separatist self-determination issue is not yet resolved. These constant struggles illustrate the extent to which the heterogeneous society of modern day Sri Lanka continues to sporadically encounter clashes between the revivalist Sinhalese, Buddhist majority, and the separatist Tamil, Hindu minority (Mainuddin and Aicher 28). These struggles will likely resurface in the future as the relatively young sovereign nation of Sri Lanka continues to address conflicting political and religious powers in attempt to define its true national identity.

 

References and Further Recommended Readings

Bastin, Rohan (2005) “Hindu Temples in the Sri Lankan Ethnic Conflict – Capture and Excess.” Social Analysis 49: 45-66.

Carter, John R. (ed.) (1979) Religiousness in Sri Lanka. Colombo: Marga Institute.

De Silva, Kingsley M. (1981) A History of Sri Lanka. London: C. Hurst.

Deegalle, Mahinda (ed.) (2006) Buddhism, Conflict and Violence in Modern Sri Lanka. New York: Routledge.

Holt, John (ed.) (2011) The Sri Lanka Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Durham, USA: Duke University Press.

Jayaram, Narayana (ed.) (2004) The Indian Diaspora: Dynamics of Migration. New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Kumar, Pratap P. (ed.) (2013) Contemporary Hinduism. Durham, UK: Acumen.

Mainuddin, Rolin G., and Joseph R. Aicher (1997) “Religion and self-determination: A case study of Sri Lanka.” Indian Journal of Asian Affairs 10:26-46.

Nubin, Walter (ed.) (2002) Sri Lanka: Current Issues and Historical Background. New York: Nova Science Publishers.

Olson, Carl (2007) The Many Colors of Hinduism: A Thematic-historical Introduction. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

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

Schwarz, Walter (1988) The Tamils of Sri Lanka. London: Minority Rights Group.

Welbon, G. R., and G. E. Yocum (eds.) (1982) Religious Festivals in South India and Sri Lanka. Delhi: Manohar.

Wickramasinghe, Nira (2006) Sri Lanka in the Modern Age: A History of Contested Identities. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Agamas

Brahmanism

Cidambaram temples

Cola (or Chola) Dynasty

Culavamsa

Dravidian (south Indian) culture

Kataragama

Mahavamsa

Saiva Siddhanta

Saivism

Siva Nataraja

Tamil Nadu

Thirumurai

Vaisnavism

Visnu

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to Topic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinduism_in_Sri_Lanka

http://countrystudies.us/sri-lanka/

http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/global-etiquette/srilanka.html

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Sri_Lanka#Religion

http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Hinduism_in_Sri_Lanka

http://www.saivism.net/articles/index.asp

http://kataragama.org/research/bechert.htm

 

Article written by: Harshil Patel (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Cidambaram Temple

Cidambaram Temple, also known as the Thillai Natarajah Temple is a sixteen hectare temple complex (Smith 4) located in the center of the city of Cidambaram in Tamil Nadu in south-eastern India, and was built and expanded between the 10th and 14th centuries. The official name of the temple is Sabhanayaka (Lord of the Hall) temple (Cush, Robinson, and York 143). This temple venerates Siva as Nataraja (Lord of Dance) in Sanskrit or Thillai Koothan in Tamil (Spencer).

The temple is famous for the veneration a 3 foot tall bronze statue of Siva (Srinivasan 433) in a dancing position and the local myth that inspired the depiction and the worship of Siva in that form in Cidambaram. The statue is meant to be used as an utsava murti (processional image) in festivals (Cush, Robinson, and York 366), but is usually located in an inner gold-roofed sanctum called the Cit-Sabha or Hall of Consciousness (Srinivasan 433, Smith 5). Siva is also represented in the form of a traditional lingam, and in the form of an empty alcove representing akasa (ether, space, or sky) and transcendence (Srinivasan 433). It is said that the Cit-Sabha embodies Siva as well (Ferro-Luzzi 516). Other deities worshipped at the temple include Sivakamasundari, Ganesa, and Visnu among other deities connected with Siva. The depictions of each deity can be found in alcoves and ambulatories around the edges of the temple.

This temple is one of five temples in south India dedicated to Siva which each represent elements and the supposed geographic locations where Siva has appeared and performed miracles. These temples collectively are called the Panca Bhuta Sthalam, (Spencer 233, Isaac 16, Dey 49) and Cidambaram temple represents the element of akasa.

 

Temple History

The Nataraja temple at Cidambaram was built in the 10th century during the reign of Cola ruler Vira Cola Raja and is among some of the oldest temples in south India (Sullivan 58). Cidambaram temple has been the center for the worship of Siva in a dancing form since the seventh century (Smith 1), however the depiction of Siva as Nataraja was popularized by the Saiva Siddhanta school of orthodox bhakti Saivites sometime later (Cush, Robinson, and York 799).

Cola rulers through the 10th to the 13th centuries considered Siva, especially as Nataraja, to be their family deity and sponsored massive expansions of the Cidambaram temple complex and other Saivite temple complexes in south India. Along with the level of temple construction and renovation, they also made efforts to increase the scale and organization of worship at these temples (Davis 16). Vikrama and his military minister Naralokaviran are credited with renovating and adorning the Cidambaram temple, as well as sponsoring and developing services and facilities to encourage patronage and worship such as grand festivals, lit processional walkways, ocean pavilions, etc. with the goal to secure the Cidambaram Nataraja temple as the capital of Saivite worship in south India (Davis 19).

Cidambaram temple is sometimes simply referred to as “the temple”, and the entire city is sometimes referred to as a temple in literature (Spencer 240). Historically in the Saivite temple culture throughout south India, the main keepers and collectors of information were travelling saint-poets called nayanmars (Spencer 234), who were advocates of bhakti (devotionalism), and whose Tamil (Sullivan 195) devotional hymns are still sung today (Sullivan 211). However, there were multiple schools of thought in place in the area in medieval times who each would have a variation on thought and their own canon. For example, the accepted canon for Saiva Siddhanta philosophy was the Agamas (Srinivasan 432). Numerous nayanmars are remembered and venerated at the temple, and their poems have been passed down orally through generations. Recently, the process has begun of writing the poems and stories down for posterity. The veneration of priests, saints, and poets at Cidambaram is hierarchical with more well-known figures such as Umapati Sivacarya who wrote the poem Kuncitanghristava or “The Hymn of Praise to Nataraja’s Curved Foot” (Ferro-Luzzi 515) being remembered and praised more often than lesser saints which included women and Dalits (Spencer 235). The lineages of Saivite saints, priests, and teachers is hard to decipher because of a patchy record and an initiatory re-naming tradition (Davis 9).

 

Temple Mythology

Cidambaram is considered the center of the universe (Smith 2), as well as the place where Siva first performed the anandatandava, or dance of bliss (Srinivasan 432, Smith 1), in the presence of his consort Sivakamasundari, and three sages who were awaiting his arrival in Cidambaram while worshipping a lingam (Cush, Robinson, and York 143). Cidambaram is said to be the sky temple in the series of five temples in south India which represent elemental forms of Siva, the Panca Bhuta Sthalam (Dey 49). Each temple in this collection of temples is said to have a connected story of Siva appearing at that location in the presence of devotees to perform a miracle in a new form. At Cidambaram the miracle was the anandatandava and the form that Siva assumed was that of Nataraja or Lord of Dance (Smith 1). The traditional lingam which would usually stand in the inner sanctum of the temple, the Cit-Sabha, is replaced in this temple by a bronze statue of Siva performing the dance (Cush, Robinson, and York 143). The representation of the figure of Siva performing the anandatandava is steeped in symbolism.

The speed of the dance is said to determine whether it will be creative or destructive, with a slower pace being creative and a faster pace being destructive (Cush, Robinson, and York 143). Siva as Nataraja is depicted with 4 hands, each having a specific meaning. The hand raised up in the abhaya-mudra (Cush, Robinson, and York 799) represents refuge, while the downward-pointing hand represents escape from samsara shown by the surrounding ring of fire (Cush, Robinson, and York 160). The other two hands hold a drum used for keeping time while dancing and a ball of fire, which each represent creation and destruction; fire can be creative in a Vedic sense by creating favor from the gods and the drum can be interpreted as destructive by marking the passage of time (Smith 1, Cush, Robinson, and York 160, Sullivan 148). In the 14th century in Cidambaram, the priest Umapati Sivacarya devoted a poem to the depiction of Siva in anandatandava entitled Kuncitanghristava, “The Hymn of Praise to Nataraja’s Curved Foot” (Ferro-Luzzi 515), the foot on the statue of Siva as Nataraja is said to grant anugraha (blessing) and salvation (Ferro-Luzzi 516). Siva’s other foot steps on a smaller person or demon named Apasmarapurusa in Sanskrit or Muyalaka in Tamil (Nayagam 120) which represents ignorance (Smith 1).

 

Temple Structure

The style of southern Indian temples is distinct from northern Indian temples. In the southern style, the gopuram (main towers) are raised high above the gates of the temple and set into the walls that encircle the inner sanctuaries, the walls are usually highly decorated and ornate (Sullivan 227). Cidambaram temple is one of the largest in south India, with the gopurams measured at 49 meters high (Sullivan 58).

The walls of the Cidambaram temple have been decorated with depictions of 108 Bharata Natyam (traditional Indian dance) poses (Cush, Robinson, and York 160). This style of classical dance is said to have originated in the surrounding area of Tamil Nadu and especially within Saivite temple culture (Tiruvalluvar 1201), and the temple also boasts a large performing arts hall shaped like a chariot called the Nrtta Sabha (Sullivan 58).

The Cidambaram temple is also set apart by the golden roof of the Cit-Sabha, extensive processional routes, and lamped walkways all added on by Cola rulers (Davis 19). Cit-Sabha, the innermost hall or sanctum of the temple contains three alcoves, the main alcove contains the three foot tall bronze statue of Siva Nataraja, with the other two alcoves containing the stone lingam usually representative of Siva and an empty space representative of Siva as the element akasa (Srinivasan 433). Several shrines to other deities are featured in the temple, most of whom have some connection to Siva in Hindu literature (Sullivan 58). All of the elemental Saivite temples are built in the same southern style but differ in their decorations and size.

 

Festivals

The main festival at temples dedicated to Siva is Mahasivaratri (Great Night of Siva) or simply Sivaratri (Sullivan 211). This festival is held yearly on the thirteenth night and fourteenth day in the dark half of Phalguna, the month that takes place in February to March in the Gregorian calendar (Sullivan 130). The festival is widely popular and devotees of many different deities attend. The festival consists of a night vigil at the temple which involves devotional hymns, darsana (auspicious viewing) of images of Siva either in statue or lingam form and highly decorated (Sullivan 130), and puja offerings which include sandalwood paste, flower petals, bilva and bel leaves, milk, curd, ghee, honey, rose water, and vermillion paste (Dwivedi 30, Sullivan 130). A drink made of cannabis, milk, and almonds is also said to be consumed at this festival (Dwivedi 30). The second day of the festival is a celebratory day reserved for feasting rather than solemn worship (Sullivan 130). The Mahasivaratri has many origin stories including Parvati venerating a lingam in Siva’s absence, a hunter accidentally venerating a lingam when out in the wilderness, and the gods Brahma and Visnu finding a pillar of fire which is revealed to be Siva in a different form (Dwivedi 72).

Other festivals include occasional processional temple festivals called mahotsava or brahmotsava in Sanskrit and tiruvila in Tamil. These festivals can last up to two weeks and involve the use of utsava murti (processional images) of deities used in festivals and temple rites (Cush, Robinson, and York 366). The icons are dressed in finery like silk, flowers, and gold ornaments and led down the streets either on the shoulders of followers, or pulled in chariots by devotees holding hemp ropes. There are also animals and musicians involved in these parades, which stop occasionally along the procession to allow people to view the gods and make offerings to them which is seen as very auspicious (Davis 15). Bronze figures and accompanying inscriptions show that this form of festival worship has been taking place in south India since at least the 9th century (Davis 16).

This festival takes place in Cidambaram as well with the obvious addition of the Nataraja statue. Other differences in the Cidambaram mahotsavas are the length and scale of the festival which is always very long, around fifteen days, and features two parades each day with the deities riding on different vahanas (vehicles). This culminates in the ratha-yatra where the deities are paraded on chariots which are much like individual moving shrines (Davis 15). At the beginning of any festival period devoted primarily to Siva, the temple flag is raised with the image of a bull on it which represents Siva’s vahana Nandi (Davis 30). Another practice which sets Cidambaram apart is the practice of applying a black balm to the statues, priests, servants, and lay people in hierarchical order if the festival is venerating Nataraja (Davis 51).

 

Staff and Important Persons

Important persons connected to the temple include the Saiva Siddhanta school of orthodox bhakti Saivites who popularized the veneration of Siva as Nataraja, as well as the other numerous lesser-known philosophical schools which helped inform the literature in medieval south India (Cush, Robinson, and York 799). Also of great importance were the travelling saint-poets called nayanmars (Spencer 234), whose Tamil devotional Saivite hymns recorded the mythology and chronology of the area and whose stories were passed down orally and are still told and sung today creating a rich illustration of the history of the area (Sullivan 211). Some of these poets became priests or teachers or gained fame from their writing which creates a useful image of the social landscape of the time.

The temple staff at Cidambaram are called diksitars because they undergo the initiatory process of diksa. This process involves numerous rites to be performed at different prescribed times before the initiate is accepted. The nitya-karman are the daily rites and show Saivite piety if they are done on one’s own behalf (atmartha), this category includes the nityapuja (veneration of a lingam), nityahoma (a small fire sacrifice), and suryapuja (sun worship). Daily rituals need to be completed before other rituals, they are the prerequisites. Naimittikarman, or occasional rites include pavitrosava and damanotsava and they are the prerequisites for the last set of rituals. The last set of rituals, on completion, marks the initiation of a diksitar as part of the Saivite community and released of earthly bondage. These rituals are therefore held in high regard as transformative. The initiate is consecrated as either a sadhakadiksa (mantra-adept), or as an acaryadiksa (priest) through a series of upanayana-like rituals including a mock cremation on the receiving of a special mantra (Davis 7).

 

References

Aghorasiva (1157) A Priest’s Guide to the Great Festival. Translation and notes by Richard H. Davis (2010) New York: Oxford University Press.

Cush, Denise, and Catherine Robinson, and Michael York (2008) Encyclopedia of Hinduism. New York: Routledge.

Dey, Nando L. (1979) The Geographical Dictionary of Ancient and Medieval India. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Dwivedi, Anil K. (2007) Encyclopedia of Indian Customs & Rituals. New Delhi: Anmol Publications.

Ferro-Luzzi, Gabriella E. (1996) “Reviewed Work: The Dance of Siva. Religion, Art and Poetry in South India by David Smith” East and West 46:515–17. Accessed February 5, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/29757302.

Isaac, Eric (1960) “Religion, Landscape, and Space” Landscape 9:14-18.

Nayagam, X.S. Thani (1970). Tamil Culture and Civilization. London: Asia Publishing House.

Smith, David (1996) The Dance of Siva: Religion, Art and Poetry in South India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Spencer, George W. (1970) “The Sacred Geography of the Tamil Shaivite Hymns.” Numen 17:232–44. Accessed February 5, 2016. doi:10.2307/3269705.

Srinivasan, Sharada (2004) “Shiva as ‘cosmic dancer’: On Pallava origins for the Nataraja bronze.” World Archaeology 36:432-450. Accessed February 5, 2016. doi:10.1080/1468936042000282726821.

Sullivan, Bruce M. (1997) Historical Dictionary of Hinduism. Lanham: Scarecrow Press.

Tiruvalluvar (2000). The Handbook of Tamil Culture and Heritage. Chicago: International Tamil Language Foundation.

 

Related Topics

  • Bhakti
  • Diksa
  • Bharata Natyam
  • Saivitism
  • Viasnavism
  • Cola Dynasy
  • Tamil Poetry
  • Poet-saints
  • South Indian Architecture
  • Processional Festivals

 

Related Websites

http://www.chidambaramnataraja.org/

http://templenet.com/Tamilnadu/panchabhoota.html

http://www.religiousportal.com/Pancha_Bhoota_Temples.html

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/39328

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-asia/south-asia/hindu-art/a/shiva-as-lord-of-the-dance-nataraja

Article written by: Katherine Christianson (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

 

 

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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Mariyamman


Mariyamman is a goddess that is primarily worshiped in Southern India among the Tamil speaking people. She used to be associated with the disease smallpox, but since its elimination she has become associated with other diseases. [For more information on smallpox and its effect on India see Egnor (1984)]. In Tamil Nadu folk etymology, Mariyamman’s name can be taken from maru ‘she with a changed body’ or ‘she in her many manifestations’ (Voorthuizen 254). Mari can also mean “rain” as well as “changed”, which are why she is also referred to as “the changed mother” or “the rain mother” (Egnor 31).  It is believed that she possess a power that is able to cure people even if they seem too ill, as well as to help people overcome other adversities that they may face. The majority of people that turn to her belong to the lower castes but she does assist all classes (Egnor 25). She also deals more with women and problems of fertility but she is also available to men when they need it. Many people continue to worship Mariyamman in order to stay on her good side so that she won’t turn against them and their loved ones. She has often even been described as “bloodthirsty” and is still to this day described as a “wild” goddess (Younger 493). Mariyamman shares many characteristics with Sitala, the north Indian smallpox goddess. [See Dasa (1995) for more on Sitala]. Mariyamman is on par with the other major deities in the area, in terms of her popularity, status, wealth and authority (Egnor 25).

Mariyamman was once thought to have inhabited villages or small towns in Tamil Nadu and to have lived among poor rural migrants in urban areas. At one point it was only low-caste priests that worshiped her, but since then her popularity has grown among the middle-class. To the villagers of Tamil Nadu, Mariyamman is their local deity who protects them against disease and misfortune. Statues of her stand guard at the borders of the villages and protect the people against unwelcome visitors (Voorthuizen 250). Sometimes Mariyamman can be represented as a black figure protected by a cobra; other times she has the head of a Brahman, but the body of an untouchable (Voorthuizen 250).

There are many stories that are tied to Mariyamman and how she is associated with smallpox. She can be both the cause and the cure of the disease. When she is the cause, it is believed to be an act of anger or revenge for improper worship. The disease can also be seen as demons that Mariyamman protects the village from (Voorthuizen 251). Some people believe that Mariyamman manifests herself in the symptoms of smallpox. It is believed that being infected with the disease means being possessed by the goddess. The pocks on the skin are said to be visible signs of her presence and are considered to be her eyes (Voorthuizen 251). The pocks can also be considered to be “pearls”, bestowed by Mariyamman, or “kisses” (Egnor 26).  It is thought that her looks can burn her worshipper’s skin and form deep pockmarks. In some stories Mariyamman herself suffers from smallpox, she walks among the villagers as an old women with a face covered with many pock-like sores (Voorthuizen 251). Some people also believe that Mariyamman is the disease itself and any attempt to remove that disease will only anger her and make it worse (Egnor 25).

Mariyamman has many temples in which worshippers can come to. The temple in Samayapuram has one of the largest incomes and attendances. It is already one of the wealthiest in Tamil Nadu. It even surpasses its ancient and famous neighbor, the Vaisnava temple in Srirangam (Waghorne 232). Temple officials even claim that Mariyamman is the third wealthiest temple deity in India. The complex consists of the main temple, which is dedicated to Mariyamman, and six other smaller temples that are dedicated to other deities. This complex is constantly under renovation in order to hold the large amount of worshippers that visit it daily (Younger 494). Most of the worshippers that come to Samayapuram come from the neighboring city of Tirucirapalli. Worshippers come to this temple to ask Mariyamman to help with problems of fertility, sickness, marital and job problems. The reason that people come from Tirucirapalli is because they “see her as a deity who, like themselves, did not enjoy the respect of learned Brahmanas or kings of old, and does not win the approval of missionaries or the support of westernized civil servants today” (Younger 501). Mariyamman is believed to have stood up to their disrespect and because of that “ they feel that she alone can understand their individual problems, can provide a sense of unity and identity by tying together the jumble of lower castes which make up their society, can give them a sense of continuity with the village roots they still carry with them, and through those roots can tie them to the larger order of the cosmos” (Younger 501).

Another popular temple devoted to Mariyamman is located in a city called Camiyaporam. This temple also attracts a large amount of worshippers. The temple used to conduct blood sacrifices but since the Brahmin’s took control of the temple, it is no longer allowed. The images that are strewn about the temples make Mariyamman look more like a high deity. She is depicted with a white face in a sitting position, holding a cup of blood, which symbolizes the skull, as well as a dagger (Voorthuizen 250). These objects are meant to symbolize her fierceness.

There are many different festivals that are held each year in honor of Mariyamman. The month of Adi, the dry period of July-August, is when the festivals meant to honor Mariyamman generally occur. [See Egnor (1984) for more on Adi]. One of them is a flower festival, held in Pudukkottai. During this festival men and women dress in bright yellow saris and walk for miles carrying pots while families give offerings on bamboo poles. Some even shave off all their hair, while others dance ecstatically and fling themselves around (Waghorne 232). These are just a few of the things you would see during the flower festival. In another Mariyamman festival, in Narttamalai, the managers of a motorcycle plant, along with other businesses, have transformed the old festival into something new. Floats now carry proper utsava murti (portable bronze images) of goddesses on lotus buds (Waghorne 232). These floats and the people who come to see them, crowd along the old road that leads to the ancient Mariyamman temple-complex. One of the biggest festivals in honor of Mariyamman is held in Samayapuram. Approximately one hundred thousand worshippers attend this annual festival (Younger 494). During the second week of April, the road leading up to the temple is packed with people camping on the side of the road (Younger 495). Huge offering boxes become stuffed so full so quickly that a temple official has to stand nearby with a rake, pushing the money and jewelry into the box (Younger 495). This festival starts about a mile or two away from the temple and the trek consists of a hurried walk or dance that the people perform. They continue up the road towards the temple while other worshippers stand on the side of the road and watch. The intensity of the dancing builds up gradually until the worshipers reach the temple (Younger 496). From there they make offerings and gradually move onto the main shrine to worship the goddess (Younger 496). Each person performs their own kind of worship that is different from the others. Some people put themselves through a special ordeal and have a sacred weapon inserted through their cheeks or tongue. [For more information on this practice see Younger (1980)].  Some go even farther and build an elaborate shrine structure around them and anchor it to their skin by thirty or forty wires (Younger 496). Others come suspended by wires from a great boom mounted on a bullock cart and swing far above the crowd (Younger 496). To have your child touched or carried by one of these people is an important blessing. One person usually plays the role of the leader by dancing ahead and leading the party up the road toward the temple. In behind that person comes drummers that set a constant beat, two other people hold the Vowkeeper. [For more on the Vowkeeper and his position see Younger (1980)]. Others follow carrying water that they constantly throw over the head of the Vowkeeper (Younger 496). The movements of the worshippers are always sporadic. Worshippers cluster around women who have gone into a trance and claim to be “possessed” by Mariyamman (Younger 497). Once at the temple these women stand inside and out, telling fortunes to people that are walking past. The point of the festival is to reaffirm village and caste roots, as well as to associate Mariyamman of past heritage with present problems of the city (Younger 504). While the festival is considered to be old, it is the new temple renovations and the “new” power of the goddess that the audience talks about (Younger 504).

Clearly it is hard to label Mariyamman as just a goddess of smallpox when she is associated with so many other things. Her popularity has grown over the past from lower class worshippers to higher class Brahmins. Mariyamman’s popularity, the amount of her devotees and the amount of wealth spent in her worship does not seem to be dependent on the prevalence or even the existence of the smallpox disease (Egnor 27). Although there has been an increase in her popularity there is still very little literature that is connected with her. It is very clear that she is and always will be an important aspect of the Tamil speaking people’s daily lives and that she helps to bring a sense of identity to all her worshippers (Younger 495).

Bibliography and Further Recommended Readings

Dasa, Krsnarama (1995) Encountering the smallpox goddess: the auspicious song of Sitala. Princeton: Princeton University Press

Egnor, Margaret (1984) “The changed mother or what the smallpox goddess did when there was no more smallpox.” Contributions to Asian Studies, Retrieved from ATLA Religion Database.

Ferrari, Fabrizio (2007) “‘Love me two times.’ From smallpox to AIDS: contagion and possession in the cult of Sitala.” Religions of South Asia, Retrieved from ATLA Religion Database

Pintchman, Tracy (1994) The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Voorthuizen, Anne van (2001) Mariyamman’s sakti: the miraculous power of a smallpox goddess. Boston: Brill

Waghorne, Joanne (2001) The gentrification of the goddess. Quebec: World Heritage Press.

Younger, Paul (1980) “A temple festival of Mariyamman.” The Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Worship

Samayapuram

Festivals

Rituals

Tamil

Smallpox

Renuka

Spirit Possession

Smallpox

Folk etymology

Maru

Class/caste system

Fertility

Sitala

Deity

Vaisnava temple

Tirucirapalli

Camiyaporam

Blood sacrifices

Brahmin

Pudukkottai

Utsava murti

Sacred weapons

Noteworthy Websites Related to Mariyamman

http://www.experiencefestival.com/mariyamman

http://www.themystica.com/mythical-folk/~articles/m/mariyamman.html

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

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

http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/woman_in_india/47978

Article Written by: Christina Mills (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Silappadikaram

The Silappadikaram is a Tamil epic that is speculated to have been composed around the fourth to sixth century AD (Zvelebil 178). It is said that of the Dravidian languages “Tamil has maintained the greatest purity and has preserved some of its original literature” (Adigal VIII). Of what are called the “Great-Poems” or the “[f]ive major poetical works in Tamil” only the text of the Silappadikaram and two others survived (VIII). The author, Prince Ilango Adigal, was the supposed brother of King Senguttuvan who appears later in the story, although no other Tamil poems mentioned that the king had a brother (Zvelebil 179). There are two existing commentaries, one which is ancient (the Arumpadavuri) and the other from the fifteenth century by Adiyarkunallar (Adigal IX). This story has been translated into various languages but most are not exact in depicting the tale like the original language (Zvelebil 172).

The Silappadikaram begins in the city of Puhar in the kingdom of Chola, a bustling trading town in which Kannagi and Kovalan are to have a marriage arranged by their parents (Holmstrom 3). After the marriage Kannagi “spent most of her day learning about the household” and “[s]he knew that both Kovalan’s parents and her own looked to her to maintain the traditions and honour of her family…” thereby illustrating her devotion to her role as a wife (6,8). This role involved learning her duties as a partner and homemaker from her mother in law, then implementing her skills in a way to make home life harmonious for Kovalan and herself. Years later a dancer named Madhavi captures Kovalan’s eye.  Kovalan starts another life with this woman, even having a child with her, all the while neglecting Kannagi (12-13).  Kovalan becomes increasingly charitable in his new life, especially to those who have made mistakes, and he ends up frittering away his fortune (14). He starts to sell his and Kannagi’s own possessions and feels an overwhelming sense of guilt and restlessness (15).

One day he returns to Kannagi declaring “[a]ll these years I’ve lived with a woman who cannot tell the difference between truth and falsehood. On such a woman I have wasted all my ancestral wealth. I bring you nothing but poverty. I am bitterly ashamed” (25). Kannagi tells Kovalan to take her anklets, given to her by her mother as a wedding gift, to help him get his fortune back (25). This act shows her dedication to her husband even after years of loneliness and abandonment.  Kovalan decides they need a new start so they sneak out of Puhar at night and start their journey to Madurai in the Pandya kingdom (25-26). They stop and talk to the “renunceint” Kavundi who decides to go with the couple on their long journey (27).

Many events happen along the trip, quite a few with lessons attached.  For instance, a monk reminds the group that “each of our actions is like a seed that is sown and is bound to bring a harvest of its own kind,” which told of how karma affects people based on their behaviour (30). Another lesson comes from Kavundi who, after turning two people into jackals when they teased Kannagi, stated that “[d]isrespect is no small thing”. This once again illustrates how one’s life should be lived, in this case in regard to the treatment of others (32).  They also stop at a temple where “Aiyai, goddess of hunters” is being worshiped (35).

When the group finally gets to Madurai, Kavundi leaves Kovalan and Kannagi in the care of Madari an animal herder (47-49). When Kovalan goes to the smith to try and sell one of Kannagi’s anklets, the smith thinks Kovalan stole the piece of jewellery from the queen (53). King Nedunchezhiyan was informed of this and put out the order “[s]ee if the thief has the queen’s anklet in his possession. If that is really so, kill him immediately and bring me the jewel to the queen’s chambers” (56).  The order is carried out and Kovalan is killed (58). Kannagi receives the news of her husband’s unjust death and is devastated. She calls out to the Sun God who replies “this city which accuses him shall be destroyed by fire” (63).  Kannagi goes before the king and shows him his mistake, for the queen’s original anklet had pearls whereas the one taken from Kovalan had rubies (68). Kannagi gives the Sun God the order to “not on any account spare the wicked” and the city is burned (70). Only the goddess of the Royal Pandya house, Bharatan, was left (72). The goddess tells of how both Kovalan and Kannagi were connected in a past life. In that life Kovalan had killed Kannagi’s husband by mistake; this caused Kannagi so much grief that she had thrown herself off a cliff (74). The goddess told Kannagi that “[a] virtuous life is good in itself, but may not prevent the sins of a past life from bearing fruit”, putting into perspective why these unfortunate events had happened to Kovalan and herself (74).

The next segment of the book is a chapter about the Cheran King Senguttuvan. He heard the story of Kannagi and how she was carried from the Chera kingdom by the gods to join her husband (77). Senguttuvan decided to get a block of stone from the Himalayas to carve a likeness of Kannagi the “Goddess of Steadfastness” (80).  He marvels at how “three great Tamil Kingdoms had been linked together by the story of Kannagi”, meaning the Chola Kingdom (where the story began), Pandya Kingdom (where Kannagi destroyed the city of Madurai), and his own Chera kingdom (where Kannagi was taken by the gods) (85). Each had been a part of Kannagi’s journey and she affected people from all three kingdoms profoundly.

One thing that should be noted about the Silappadikaram is that throughout the whole story many different religious sects and rituals were mentioned. This reflects the diversity of the setting it was written in. When leaving the city of Puhar, Kannagi and Kovalan pass by “the great Vishnu temple”, “seven Buddhist Viharas”, and “wandering Jain monks” (26) all within close proximity to each other showing the obvious acceptance of multiplicity.  At the time of Kannagi and Kovalan “Brahmanism (Hinduism), Jainism, and Buddhism – were at the time harmoniously coexisting in the south” (Adigal VIII).

The Silappadikaram showed that some deep rooted traditions of India that can still be seen today. A main theme in the story is karma which is still a modern principle present in India today. In the book not only was Kovalan warned about his actions in the present causing bad future karma, the murder he committed in a past life brought him an unfortunate end. Various other traditions, such as Kannagi and Kovalan’s arranged marriage, finding an auspicious day for the ceremony, and consulting astrologers, reflects part of Indian culture that is still prevalent today.

Another interesting aspect of the Silappadikaram was the portrayal of the ideal woman. Throughout the whole story Kannagi proved how pure and true she was. Through her husband’s infidelity and misconduct she stayed faithful and chaste. When Kovalan comes back to her,    Kannagi is willing to do anything to help her husband including selling the anklets that were from her mother as a wedding gift. When Kovalan is murdered, Kannagi would have killed herself willingly for her husband immediately if she hadn’t had the duty to uphold his honour by clearing his name.  In the end, Kannagi destroys a whole city for her husband and remained loyal throughout. It is because of this that King Senguttuvan is so impressed by her story that he erects a statue in her honour, making it clear that Kannagi was a version of the ideal woman of that time.

The Silappadikaram, by Prince Ilango Adigal, is a story about a woman and her husband as they struggle with the problems of fidelity, right and wrong, and justice. The core themes of the Silappadikaram are very relevant to the human experience, which is probably why it still is a well read story today. It is a tale that produces good insights to the culture, lessons, karma, and ideals of the Tamil people who hold it dear.    

References and Further Recommended Reading

Holmstrom, Lakshmi (1996) Silappadikaram Manimekalai. Madras: Orient Longman Limited

Adigal, Ilango (1965) Shilappadikaram (The Ankle Bracelet). New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation

Zvelebil, Kamil (1973) The Smile of Murugan: On Tamil Literature of South India. Leiden :E.J Brill

Related Topics for Further Investigation

The Arumpadavuri

Adiyarkunallar

Aiyai

Jainism

Buddhism

Ilango Adigal

Tamil Literature

The Five Great Epics

Chera Kingdom

Chola Kingdom

Pandya Kingdom

King Senguttuvan

Bharatan

The Goddess of Steadfastness

Karma

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.tamilartsacademy.com/books/roman%20karur/chapter18.html

http://www.attukaldevi.com/pl/story-kannagi.htm

http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Senguttuvan

http://www.hindu.com/2006/06/16/stories/2006061603461100.htm

http://www.allsands.com/History/People/indianfolklore_wji_gn.htm

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

Article Written by: Kelsey Erickson (March 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Pancaratra Philosophy

Among the early Vaisnava schools is the Pancaratra sect. Its name is possibly derived from the Satapatha Brahmana, where a panca ratra (five night) sacrifice is mentioned (Rodrigues 178). As the story goes, the great being Narayana wished to transcend and become one with all other beings. He accomplished this by performing the pancaratra sacrifice. It is implied that Narayana was once human, then became divine, and in later texts he is seen as the highest divinity.   Because of this, there is a Siddhanta-ratnavali written by Venkata Sudhi which sets out to prove through scriptural texts that Narayana is the highest god, supreme to all other gods. This however can be disputed, for in the Mahabharata it is mentioned that Narayana himself worships an unchanging Brahman found in all beings  (Dasgupta 12).
It is generally accepted that Pancaratra emerged in Northern India as a set of universal speculations, procedures, and devotional attitudes. It did not originate as religious sect. The Pancaratrin system eventually became central for many Vaisnava Bhagvatas involved in ritual in both temples and the home. Once it entered Southern India, it became even more prosperous due to the Sri Vaisnava’s rise. Its entrance into temples was perhaps so well received since it offered formal, systematic ritual where, previously, procedures were just customary. To this day, Pancaratra continues to be a vital component in Southern India as an essential factor of the Sri Vaisnava religion and as one of two Vaisnava traditions that teach temple culture (Welbon).
In a sense, Pancaratra philosophy is monotheist. Although with different features and manifestations, there is one supreme Deity above all (Sutton 210). This Deity is manifested in five features (vibhutis) according to classical Pancaratra, which include (Sutton 241):
1. Omnipresent and inconceivable
2. Emanations (vyuhas)
3. The avataras
4. The self within (antaryamin)
5. The images worshipped in temples (arca)
Of the vyuhas, four are most important when seeking liberation. These four are all immediate relatives of Krsna and reflect the six qualities (guna) of the Supreme Being (Rodrigues 178):
– omniscience, jnana
– power, sakti
– majesty, aisvarya
– strength, bala
– vigor, virya
– splendor, tejas
The four vyuhas which reflect these qualities compose the pure realm, whereas further, intermediary emanations make up the impure, material world. Once liberation is reached, the individual’s soul, jiva, enters into an existence shared with God in Vaikuntha. Although it is “entering into God,” the individual remains independent from the Lord (Rodrigues 178-179).
In the seventh century many significant Pancaratra texts began to emerge. These are called the Pancaratra Samhitas. Writings continued to be produced into the seventeenth century. Alongside the early literature, Pancaratra doctrines entered South-east Asia (Rodrigues 178). There is some dispute among non Pancaratra groups as to the nature of the texts. However, the stance that The Pancaratras take in regard to their own writings is that God alone is capable of revealing literature heavy with rituals and special commands, and no ordinary person’s instructions could be valid. Given this, the texts of the Pancaratras are clearly considered authentic by its followers. Another question arises over whether the authors of the Pancaratra works truly based them off the Vedas, or simply wrote their own views and masked them as being from the Vedas. The argument against Pancaratra doctrines indeed originating in the Vedas is that the smrti texts founded on the Vedas contradict the Pancaratra (Dasgupta 14). Ultimately, to the Pancaratrins, the same God who created the Vedas to lead people to happiness also created the Pancaratra literature to lead people to the ultimate happiness and realization of His nature (Dasgupta 16).
The collection of literature is quite large, with few printed works. The Satvata-samhita is one of the most important samhitas and the Satvata is mentioned in the Mahabharata, and other samhitas. It is in the Satvata-samhita where the Lord declares the Pancaratra-Sastra. In addition, the various ways of worshipping Narayana and his vyuha forms are described in twenty-five chapters, as well as other kinds worship and practices (Dasgupta 21). Despite the vastness of the Pancaratra literature, the majority is filled with ritualistic detail instead of philosophy. The most important texts, philosophically, are the Jayakhya-samhita and the Ahirbudhnya-samhita (Dasgupta 24).
Eternal heaven or liberation cannot be achieved simply through studying the Vedas, performing sacrifice, offering gifts, or doing penance. Salvation can only be achieved once we know para-tattva, or ultimate reality. This ultimate reality is eternal, everywhere, and self-realized. It is nameless and lacks any qualities, but is hidden by the qualities (Dasgupta 24-25).
There are three types of creation described in the Jayakhya:
– Brahma-sarga: In the beginning, Visnu created Brahma. Brahma then, through his own conceit, polluted the creation. Out of two drops of sweat, two demons were made and they stole the Vedas causing great confusion. Visnu unsuccessfully fought them physically, but destroyed them through his “mantra” energy (Dasgupta 25).
– The evolution of the Samkhya categories: the three gunas existed together, inseparable, in pradhana. These however get separated into sattva, rajas, and tamas. From further evolutions and separations such things as the cognitive senses, conative senses, gross elements, and other things of nature are created (Dasgupta 25).
– Suddha-sarga: Pure creation where God created three agents from himself. The agents are Acyuta, Satya, and Purusa. These are considered one with God and share his same existence (Dasgupta 27).
Knowledge is seen as two-fold in the Jayakhya-samhita. There is static knowledge, sattakhya, and dynamic knowledge, kriyakhya. Dynamic knowledge requires consistent practice of the moral disciplines of yama and niyama in order for wisdom to reach its fullness (Dasgupta 29).
The Ahirbudhnya-samhita
The Ahribudhnya-samhita claims that the ultimate reality is eternal, empty of any name or form, beyond any words or thinking. It is an unchanging, all-powerful whole. Desire spontaneously arises from this reality. This desire or idea is not in any way limited, much like the nature of Brahman: intuitive and pure. When an individual destroys the sins that have collected o
ver many lifetimes and uses true knowledge, he can recognize the nature of Brahman (Dasgupta 34).
Much of the Ahirbudhnya is concerned with the nature of God. It goes into much more detail about his various qualities and how they are reflected. The power of God is embodied in two ways: static and active. The active is spontaneous and the will that leads to action (Dasgupta 36). One of the methods by which the Lord is active is through the vyuhas, which are responsible for three main functions (Dasgupta 38):
1. Creation, support, and destruction of the world
2. Protection of beings
3. Assisting those who are devoted to seeking liberation
The Ahirbudhnya provides more detail on the vyuhas and their further appearances.
Although numerous questions arise over the validity of the Pancaratra philosophical system, an interesting monotheistic approach to a polytheistic religion nonetheless.
Works Cited
Dasgupta, Surendranath (1961) A History of Indian Philosophy Vol.III. London: Cambridge University Press.
Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Introducing Hinduism. New York: Routledge.
Sutton, Nicholas (2000) Religious Doctrines in the Mahabharata. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
Welbon, G.R. (2005) “Vaisnavism: Pancaratras” Encyclopedia of Religion. Detroit: Macmillan Reference.
Related Topics
agamas
avatara
gunas
Krsna
Krsnaism
Mahabharata
moksa
Narayana
Pancaratra Samhitas
smrti
sruti
Vaikuntha
Vaisnavism
vyuha
Noteworthy Websites
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pa%C3%B1caratra
http://www.ochs.org.uk/node/475
http://www.harekrsna.com/philosophy/gss/sastra/vedas/pancharatra.htm

Written by Angela Tavernini (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Alvars

The Alvars are the twelve Vaisnava saints of South India who flourished between the sixth and ninth centuries of the Common Era (see Aleaz 451). The Tamil word Alvar indicates they were God-intoxicated people. They were wandering saints who eulogized Lord Visnu (Aleaz 451).The Alvars maintained no caste rigidities and they belonged to different caste groups. Seven of them were Brahmins, one was a Ksatriya, two were Sudras and one was of the low Panar caste. One of them, Andal, was a woman (Aleaz 451). The Alvars practiced different forms of devotion but the most common is called prapatti (self-surrender), a form different from the general pattern of bhakti [more technical in nature and confined to the three upper castes] (Aleaz 451). The Alvars being devotees of Visnu have access to the many temples dedicated to the god (see SMS 207). During their visits they composed devotional hymns in praise of Visnu. These hymns promoted devotion and surrender by glorifying the greatness of Visnu. Although their hymns are replete with the ideas of the Vedas, their uniqueness lie in the great emphasis on devotion and surrender, which are rarely found in the Vedic Mantras or in the highly metaphysical pronouncements within the Upanisads.


Twelve Vaishnava saints helped revive devotional Hinduism (bhakti) through their hymns of worship to Vishnu and his avatars, they even included a woman amongst their ranks, Andal. The collection of devotional hymns of the twelve Alvars total 4000 and are collectively called Nalayira Divyaprabhandham (SMS 207). The merit of the hymns of the Alvars lies in the fact that they take into account all the five aspects of God (essential nature (svarupa), attributes (guna), personality (vigraha), incarnations (avatara), and activities (lila)) and describe them in great detail. God’s activities of creation, protection and dissolution of the world are repeatedly mentioned in the hymns of the Alvars (SMS 208). Both dissolution and creation are helpful to them; in the former, they cease from their endless efforts to escape bondage and get necessary strength and opportunity to realize their aim. God’s activities include those that are performed for the protection of celestial deities, for punishing the evil doers and rewarding the pious individuals.
According to tradition, the Alvars are regarded as divine incarnations, incarnations
of Lord Visnu’s weapons, ornaments and vehicles (SMS 207). For example, SMS states that Andal is considered to be a manifestation of Bhu-Devi, a consorts of Visnu. Thus they were the descendants of Visnu, but the Nalayiram reveals them as ordinary human beings who came under the total control of divine grace. In order to present the superior nature of Alvars, the Acaryas attributed them with mythological dates. They popularized the Nalayiram, and wrote commentaries on the works of Alvars. Through these commentaries, the Acaryas once again brought Sanskrit into prominence, against the preference for Tamil among the Alvars (Aleaz 451).


The literature that came from the Alvars has contributed to the establishment and development of a culture that broke away from the ritual oriented Vedic religion and rooted itself in devotion as the only path for salvation (SMS 207). The Alvars are claimed to display the full significance of the mystic union between the human soul and the lord of the world, and this has provided a practical interpatation to the Upanisads (SMS 207- 208).


The Acaryas held a philosophical interpretation of the hymns. During the time of Alvars, Buddhism and Jainism were considered as mere Northern influence over the South. The Tamil Sangam works even reflect a pleasant attitude among religions. It was only after the influence of Aryans, that the Alvars began to consider that Jainism and Buddhism were alien, and that they should be removed from Tamil Nadu. The Tamil Vaisnava saints have used the Tamil classical principle love sentiment (akam) to express their spontaneous religious experience. Later, the Tirumal (the deity whom they regarded as supreme Godhead) of the Alvars was absorbed into the Visnu of the Aryans. The Aryans combined their deities and the regional deities of Tamils through new myths and interpretations (Aleaz 452).

The Alvars were exclusively committed to their own religion. The exclusivist response of the Alvars was expressed at least in three different ways. The first one was the way of peace and tolerance. Aleaz states, the second pattern was marked by aggressive, antagonistic and intolerant attitude. The third form was expressed through the ‘disturbed’ psychological state of the converts, and the last two methods were hostile in nature and led to fanatic activities. The exclusive nature of the Alvars was vivid in their relation with Buddhism and Jainism, at one level, and Saivism at another level. Besides the exclusive claims of the Alvars, there was also scope for an inclusive perspective in the works of the Alvars. Narayana was considered the indweller in other deities and it is only through his grace that they function (Aleaz 452). There are also traces of relativistic outlook in the Alvars where all religions are attributed with the same purpose. In the view of Aleaz, there was scope for a liberal perspective to deal with the problem of religious pluralism in the bhakti tradition of Alvars, which he calls ‘one-much’ response. For example, there are many references in Tiruvaymoli, which is the most prominent among the poems, to suggest that the same Tirumal has become Brahma, Visnu and Siva (Aleaz 452). Tirumalisai indicates that God is one and rewards everyone irrespective of the deity he/she worships. This view is relevant today because Indian people have a tendency to accept the various names and forms of God as the expression of the one Supreme Reality, which cannot be fully comprehended by the human intellect (Aleaz 453). Each religion is thus a process in understanding the Ultimate, which is a mystery, and accepting the ultimate as mystery solves the issue of many religions and binds people of different faiths together for one purpose.


Bibliography
Aleaz, K (2006) Bhakti tradition of Vaisnava Alvars and Theology of Religions. Asia
Journal of Theology
, 20(2), 451-454.

SMS, Chari (1999/2000) Philosophy and Theistic Mysticism of the Alvars. Journal of
Indian Council of Philosophical Research, 17(3), 207-212.

Other Readings
1.
Narayanan, Vasudha (1985) Hindu Devotional Literature: the Tamil connection.
Religious Studies Review, (11)1:12.

Related Research Topics

1. Hymns of the Alvars

2. Relationship of Buddhism and Jainism with Alvars

3. The Twelve Alvars

Related Websites

1. The Nammavalar Alvars Saints

http://www.ramanuja.org/sv/alvars/nammalvar/alvars.html

2. The Poetry of the Alvars
http://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=0z02cZe8PU8C&oi=fnd&pg=PA187&dq=The+Alvars&ots=NhJr4FsAru&sig=ExlAcxL7lfFngNdYQ-4p_jaaWCM#PPA187,M1


Key Words:
Prapatti
Bhakti
Nalayira Divyaprabhandham
Svarupa
Guna
Vigraha
Avatara
Lila
Nalayiram
Akam
Tiruvaymoli

Written by Andrea Nippard (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Ayyappan (God)


One of the most widely worshipped deities in the Hindu world is Ayyappan, although where and when this particular god emerged is still very obscure. Ayyappan has a number of different names he is known by, such as: Sasta, Arya, Hari-Hara-putra, Ayya, among many others. This variety of epithets suggests many different versions of his mythic adventures and origins. Ayyappan is probably most well known the Kerala state of South India (Smith and Narsimhachary 221) and as far away as Bombay.

It is intriguing that in some versions Aiyyappan is not truly a god, but merely a demi-god or magic child. In one such version he is the son of Siva and Mohini (female avatara of Vishnu) and after birth he is left on a stream bank to be found by a childless tribal king. Ayyappan (named Ayappa in this version) goes through life healing and slaying demons up until he enters the inner sanctum of Mt. Sabri and disappears.

Another version of Ayyappan’s myth is as follows. Siva calls on Vishnu for help, who appears in the form of Mohini (seductress) to lure away asuras (demons) from the Elixir of Immortality (amrta) when it was extracted from the Ocean of Milk. Siva is then finds himself attracted to Mohini and they mate and produce a child named Ayyappan. Then he is left in the forest and found by a childless king of Madura, who is also part of the royal family of the Pandyas, and named him Manikantha (“mani”, jewel or bell and “kantha”, neck) because the king either had seen the jewel sparkle or heard the bell sound, which was on a string around his neck. He then grew up noble and honorable becoming the king’s Commander in Chief of the army, and doing a great many of other things including healing people and slaying demons. Eventually Ayyappan became the center of jealous attention. A plot was made by the queen and his fellow officers to kill him; they would send Ayyappan on a perilous journey into a jungle known for the abundance of man-eating tigers and leopards. A traitorous physician approached the king telling him that the only way to heal the queen, who had been pretending to be very ill and fainting, was to bring him leopard’s milk within an hour and a half. The king told Ayyappan of the situation he undertook to everyone’s surprise with no hesitation, showing him to be truly dharmic and fearless. Ayyappan entered the jungle and returned to the palace riding a tiger leading many she-leopards. The king then realized that Ayyappan was not an ordinary person. Ayyappan when questioned about this by the king replies that his father and whole world is God (Siva). Ayyappan then returns to Kerala and thereupon meets Parasurama (human incarnation of Vishnu) at the summit of Sabarimala. In the days that followed the kings received a dream from Ayyappan to come to Sabarimala to meet him. The king obeys the request to building a temple to Ayyappan on the mountain (Parmeshwaranand, 5 1120).

Ayyappan is portrayed in depictions as varied as his many legends. In most depictions he is in a seated posture called paryankabanhana or utkutikasana with a band of cloth called yogapatta around his knees (Smith and Narsimhachary 221). He is also invariably dressed in bracelets, armlets, necklaces, crowns, gem studded waistband and a cincture on his chest. Ayyappan is always depicted with one head, which according to Brunce suggest that the god could not lie, for he could only show one face to the world. By contrast to the demon Ravana, with his ten or more heads, deceit comes easily to one who has more than one face to show (Brunce 2000:5470). Ayyappan is also shown as being youthful. Yet sometimes his portrayed fierce to represent the boundless energy of youth and the power to succeed in all things. Ayyappan is also depicted as being white in color according Brunce (54). May suggest his purity and honor, exemplifying his dangerous quest to save a woman he thought was in need of his help. Ayyappan’s vahana is the tiger, although at times he is seated on the lotus flower. The tiger may represent his triumph on his jungle quest and the lotus flower represents his connection to Siva, with whom the lotus is always associated. The urdhva-pundra is depicted upon Ayyappan’s forehead, which connects him to Vishnu. The urdhva-pundra is called the third eye and represents enlightenment and an all seeing awareness according to Smith and Narismhachary (372). Worshippers of Ayyappan undertake a pilgrimage to Mt. Sabarimala twice a year, once in August and September and again with greater numbers from November to January. The pilgrims dress in blue or black, and carry a special cloth bag called irumudi on their head. Within the bag are two compartments, one for items of worship (idols, dhupa). While the other compartment is for personal belongings, such as pictures of their family for the pilgrimage can be extensively long. In some cases the pilgrimage can be long and pilgrims pack pictures of family, books, and clothes. Around each worshipper’s neck are tulasi or rudraksa-beads (Smith and Narsimhachary 224) [Rudraksa- beads symbolize Siva’s tears for Sati, and Tulasi-beads both connect Ayyappan to the gods who fathered/mothered him]. Prior to undertaking these pilgrimages the worshippers fast, eat simple meals, and are not allowed sex or alcohol (Parmeshwaranand, 1121). Upon reaching the mountain temple devotees call aloud Svamiye Saranam Ayyappan! (Oh! Lord Ayyappan! You are our only refuge!)(1120). After reaching the temple the devotee climbs eighteen steps and give offerings of ghee and vibhuti through the priests, the prasadam which is the remnants of the offering are believed by some to have amazing curative powers. After the worshipper has completed prayers to Ayyappan they then retreat back down the eighteen steps backwards. The temple is to be the last thing seen on this pilgrimage by the worshipper. An aspect that is unique to Ayyappan is that all castes and classes are welcome to worship Ayyappan. However women between the ages of six and sixty are not allowed entering the inner sanctum of the temple. The belief behind this tradition is that women may tempt Ayyappan away from his dharmic lifestyle. This is one of the few instances in which all males are free of class restrictions and an attempt to bring unity among Hindu classes and sects in the Kreala region, pulling them together under one god who embodies both Siva and Vishnu. However today we note that Ayyappan did not replace Siva or Vishnu. Rather he accents both of those great gods, for the Ayyappan shrines can be found within temples to both Siva and Vishnu (Smith and Narsimhachary 226).

Attukal Pongala (South Indian Festival)

The Attukal Pongala festival is annual event where Pongala, an offering of boiled rice is made to Attukal Amma, which translates as “mother” (Jennett 2005:35). The festival has grown substantially over the years, depicting the profound meaning the festival has to women. The festival is held in Thiruvanthapuram, the capital city of Kerla, India. It is a festival of unique significance, as the devotees are all women, which within the Hindu tradition is not an abundant occurrence as Hinduism is known as a male-dominated religion and until recently there has been little research into the roles women play. This is of great value as women perform complex and intriguing rituals (Gross 68). The festival is noteworthy as women from various classes, communities and religions band together to worship the goddess (referred to as mother but who has numerous names which are used interchangeably, such as Devi, Bhagavati and Bhadrakah which respectively mean goddess, powerful supreme deity and auspicious Kali) [from this point forward the goddess will be referred to as Bhagavati]. The festival serves to bring women together as a whole, not divide them into castes and classes. This dissolving of caste distinction is noteworthy as “fifty years ago the mothers of the women who today offer Pongala could not have drunk from the same well, eaten in the same room, or even walked down the street at the same time; yet today they sit and cook for the Goddess side by side” (Jennett 2005: 43). Now women from all different walks of life perform the rituals together. The only women that are unable to participate in the ritual are those women who are menstruating. These women, as well as women who are not able to attend for other reasons, may ask a friend or family member to prepare an offering of Pongala for them (Jennett 2005:40).

The offering of Pongala to Attukal Amma is a ritual in the non-Sanskritic tradition; therefore, there are no written texts, and instead the text is song and poetry that is orally exchanged through rituals, dances, and dramas (Jennett 2005:36). The festival is held in late February to early March, during the month of Kumbham, which means earthen pot (Jennett 2005:40). The festival has grown from women performing the ritual in the fields to small shrines, to gatherings of hundreds of thousands of people (Jennett 2000:5). Pongala day is the ninth day during the ten day festival, which also coincides with a full moon. On the ninth day, the women wake early, and begin the day by pouring water on their head, in preparation for Attukal Pongala. Before the sun has even risen, the women will set three bricks in the formation of a triangle on which to later set their earthen pots (Jennett 2005:6). Women are dressed in their traditional mundu, which are two lengths of white cotton wrapped over a skirt and blouse. The cotton is preferable in comparison to the polyester variety for safety reasons, as the close quarters (2 feet separate one fire from the next) create a fire hazard (Jennett 2005:42). By the time the sun begins to rise, the streets are full of music and people. The numerous people spread for miles and miles surrounding the Attukal Temple. Many women have arrived many days earlier to ensure they find the most auspicious spots and throughout the entire festival many devotees have set up shrines for Bhagavati (Jennett 2000:7).

Living near the temple is thought to be auspicious and it is believed that the goddess will bring prosperity to those who live in her land. Many people that live within or close to the Attukal Temple kindly open their courtyards to provide family, friends and even strangers a place to cook their Pongala (Jennett 2005:14).

By midmorning the pots will begin to be filled with the necessary ingredients, such as rice, water and jaggery (unrefined sugar cane) (Jennett 2000:7). The fact that the ingredients are very cheap allows nearly any woman to participate. However, even before the barriers of castes began to fall, the upper castes would supply the women of lower castes with the supplies needed (Jennett 2005:38). Songs are continually sung and the song that is retold throughout the festival is the story of Kannaki, a woman who is betrayed by her husband and her king. There are numerous versions of the story but the deeper meaning is found through what Kannaki symbolizes, which is the “capacity of divine power in female form to bring retributive justice to those whom the law fails to protect” (Jennett 2005:44). As this song is again being recounted, the priest will begin to light some of the devotees’ fires. While this is occurring a loud speaker dictates the instructions so a mass of women devotees, who are unable to visually follow the priests actions, are able to follow in step. It is important that the women do the cooking together as it provides a sense of unity and also allows the women to band together and leave their many other daily worries behind. It is a unique day as it is one of the few days where they are not responsible for their children or husbands (Jennett 2005:42) Once the fire is lit, they wait for the water to boil. Once that water is brought to a boil the women will slowly add the rice, ensuring they do not spill and add the rice in an arati motion (circular motion).

At this point some women differ on whether or not it is auspicious to allow their pot of Pongala to boil over; it is crucial for some to allow their pot of rice to boil over, where other women feel that it is critical that it does not flow over as it seems wasteful (Jennett 2005: 45). This in conjunction with the fact that some women use red-rice in the ritual while others use white polished rice signifies how the ritual has been tailored to the various women and their traditions and what the ritual symbolizes to each individual. The objective of performing the ritual naturally varies across the women who perform the ritual. For example some women “ask the Goddess for something and make a vow and if it is granted they will offer Pongala” (Jennett 2005:46). This signifies the mutual relationship between the women and the Goddess. While others feel that by feeding Bhagavati it will provide additional blessings to the community (Jennett 2001:15). Once the rice has finished cooking the women wait for a priest to sprinkle rosewater on the rice in order to bless the goddess. After this women will begin to leave and return their trek back to their homes to share their Pongala with their friends and families (Jennett 2001:16).

References

Jennett, Dianne (2005) “A million shaktis rising: Pongala, a women’s festival in Kerala, India”. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 21(1).

Jennett, Dianne (2000) “Red rice for Bhagavati/cooking for kannaki:An ethnographic/organic inquiry of the pongala ritual at attukal temple, Kerala, south India”. Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, 61(2).

Gross, Rita (1996) “Feminism and Religion: An introduction”. Boston, MA.: Beacon Press.

Related Topics for further investigation

Kannaki

Devi

Bhagavati

Bhadrakah

The role of women in Hinduism

Kerala

Attukal Temple

Kavu

Dalit

Noteworthy Websites related to the topic

www.onamfestival.org/attukal-pongala-festival.html

www.attukal.org/pongala.htm

www.hindu.com/2006/02/15/stories/2006021523410300.htm

attukalpongala.blogspot.com/

www.hindu-blog.com/2007/11/attukalpongala-2008.html

pattini.org/

Written by Lindsey Schneider (April 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Skanda (The God of War)

Skanda (Karttikeya), 5th century, Gupta Period (Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi)
Skanda (Karttikeya), 5th century, Gupta Period (Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi)

Also known as Kumara, Subrahmanya, and Murukan, Skanda “has been hunter, warrior, philosopher… He is teacher… He is the eternal child as old as time itself” (Clothey 2005b:1). Obeyesekere writes that Skanda is viewed as possessed of having six faces, twelve arms, and riding a peacock (382). Throughout Skanda’s history, he has been worshipped for several different reasons. He has been worshipped “as a god of hill and hunt… and avenger of ananku and cur, malevolent spirits of the hills” (Clothey 2005a:6240). During the Cankami period of Tamil India “Murukan was known … as the lord of the hunt” (Clothey 2005b:36). According to Clothey, he has also been worshiped in South India as the son of Siva (Clothey 2005a:6240). Through this several other deities related to vegetation and hunting embodied the name Murukan (Clothey 2005b:36). Clothey also writes that the name Murukan has become commercialized with an array of different industries using his name, for songs and films (Clothey 2005b:1).

Kartikeya

Skanda’s origin comes from several different epics, most prominently from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The story of Skanda in the Mahabharata is quite long and can be summarized as follows. Indra, god of lightning and thunder and general of the devas, rescued a damsel named Devasena, who wanted a husband that could protect her. Indra felt the Agni, god of fire, had the ability to generate a son suitable to be Devasena’s husband. Agni went to Brahma, the creator god, for his help. While with Brahma and through the aid of seven rsis, seers, thought to compose the Vedas, Agni fell in love with the rsis wives. Svaha, a nymph, loved Agni. She tricked him by assuming the form of six of the rsis wives. After each session of intercourse with Agni, Svaha turned into a garuda bird and carried his semen to Mt. Sveta, where she deposited it into a golden pot, in a place covered with sara reeds. Kumara (Skanda) was born and was strong enough for battle within six days. The gods fearing Kumara would become more powerful than Indra, enticed Indra to slay him. Indra, trying to slay Kumara with his vajra [thunderbolt], managed to only cut off a portion of Kumara’s right side. Through this side of Kumara, Visakha was born bearing a sakti [lance], which causes Indra to surrender. The gods are pleased with how fearless Kumara was. Through the same piece of Kumara that Visakha was born, several more children were then born coming forth to serve Skanda’s army (Clothey 2005b:51-53).

Clothey writes that “Skanda thus comes to be known as a father, and persons wishing children are exhorted to worship him” (Clothey 2005b:52). The story continues with Skanda declaring Svaha to be his mother, and with Brahma’s advice, identifies Rudra “the howler” as his father. Rudra along with Indra, Varuna, the god of the heavens and water, and Yama, the god of death, come to welcome Kumara in a procession. As Kumara is leaving a Deva – Asura, god and demon, battle begins. Mahisa, the chief of the Asuras was causing the Devas to flee, and is about to crush Rudra’s chariot when Kumara comes to his aid and kills Mahisa with his sakti. This story also shows events in a span of Skanda’s life. He is conceived on the first day, visible on the second day, takes form of a child on third day, grows limbs and becomes the general of the army on the fourth day. He bears Siva’s bow, and is regarded by the devas as the one to save their cosmos on the fourth day, and he takes his emblems of war on the sixth day (Clothey 2005b:51-53). This is one account of the origin of Skanda. The author Vyasa, is represented to be the composer of the Mahabharata.

Another foundation of Skanda’s beginning comes from Valmiki’s Ramayana. Valmiki tells the story to Rama and Laksmana, two young princes. His telling of the story encourages the young princes to heroic aspirations (Clothey 2005b:53). The summary of the story is as follows. Rudra marries Uma, daughter of Mt. Himavat. One hundred years pass and no son is born to them. The devas like it this way, and fearing that a son born to Rudra would be more powerful then them, they plead with Rudra to not have a son. Rudra’s seed however remains on the ground. Dhara, the earth, can bear his sons. Because of this, the devas ask Agni and Vayu, the wind god, to enter Rudra’s seed. Through Rudra’s seed Mt. Sveta is created, and on Mt. Sveta, in the forest, Kumara is born (Clothey 2005b:53-54).

A variation to the story above, also in the Ramayana, begins with Rudra retiring as the general of the army. With no one left to lead, Brahma asks Agni to give his seed, along with the waters of the Ganga River to Uma to bear a son. Unable to contain the power of the waters a flood of golden seed escapes from Uma. This golden flood turns everything in its path into gold. In a golden forest Kumara is born (Clothey 2005b:53-54).

The Ramayana epic also tells how those who worship Skanda will “attain long life, happiness in the family, and ultimate union with the god” (Clothey 2005b:54). How Skanda received some of his names is also recorded in this epic. One of his names Gangeya was given to him because he came from the Ganges water. He gets the name Karttikeya because he was raised by the Krttikas (Clothey 2005b:54).

One of the books of the Mahabharata depicts who Skanda would embrace as a father. Vyasa writes that Rudra, Parvati, she of the mountain, Agni, and Ganga each claim to be Skanda’s parent. In order to embrace all these gods Skanda assumes four forms: Sakha, Visakha, Naigamaya and Skanda. Sakha embraces Ganga, Naigamaya to Agni, Visakha to Parvati, and Skanda to Rudra. The devas give Skanda gifts. He receives a dart and banner from Indra, an army of 30,000 warriors from Siva, a cloth from Uma, a garland from Visnu, along with several other gifts from other gods (Clothey 2005b:55). These accounts of Skanda in the epics are but a few of the rich and varied myths telling of Skanda origins.

The worshipers of Skanda in Tamil India celebrate a festival in October or November called Skanda-Sasti. It is celebrated for seven days reenacting the six day cycle of the gods vocation. Sasti is the sixth day of the lunar cycle, representing the sixth day of the god. Sasti is also important because according to the myth of Skanda, he is born on the night of a new moon. Sasti is also the name of Skanda’s wife. She is known “as the giver of lingering (yapya) disease” (Clothey 2005a:242). Clothey writes that the event takes place through “rhythmical patterns” (Clothey 2005a:242). Some of these patterns are repeated daily. Priests preside over each ritual on each day of worship. One such ritual is the lighting of oil lamps. These lamps represents the “the emergence of the god and the cosmos from primordial darkness” (Clothey 2005a:244). Another daily ritual is the reciting of Skanda’s 1,008 different names. Reciting his names reenacts the words that were uttered at the beginning, thus bringing the divinity of Skanda into current time. One of the high points in the festival is the ornamenting the sacred symbol of Skanda. This is known as vastram. The next step is adorning the symbol. This can be done through offerings of song, holy ash or vermillion. These rhythmical steps occur once to twice a day during the Skanda-Sasti festival.

Skanda is the most popular deity in Tamil Nadu , a state in South India. “Three of the six busiest and wealthiest temples in Tamil Nadu are dedicated to Murukan” (Clothey 2005b:1). Gananath Obeyesekere conducted research in Tamil Nadu which shows that the Skanda deity is the most popular in that area. He found that a total of 1,956 of 2,670 worshipers went to the Skanda shrines over the next three most popular shrines (Obeyesekere 379). Obeyesekere’s research also shows that “for every one person visiting the Visnu and Pattini shrines there are five and six persons respectively, visiting the Skanda shrine” in Tamil India (Obeyesekere 379). His research shows that the popularity of Skanda has been on the rise, and continues to rise.

References and Further Recommended Readings

Clothey, Fred (1969) Skanda-Sasti: a Festival in Tamil India. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Obeyesekere, Gananath (1977) Social Change and the Deities: Rise of the Kataragama Cult in Modern Sri Lanka. London: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

Clothey, Fred (1987 and 2005a) Murukan. Detroit, Macmillan Reference USA

Clothey, Fred (2005b) The Many Faces of Murukan. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Related Research topics for Further Investigation

Agni

Mahisa

Skanda-Sasti

Indra

Uma

Rudra

Mahabharata

Ramayana

Varuna

Vayu

Yama

Websites Related to the Topic

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

http://www.murugan.org/

http://www.highgatehillmurugan.org/

http://www.dlshq.org/download/shanmukha.htm

http://kataragama.org/

http://www.kaumaram.com/contents.html

http://www.palanitemples.com/

Written by Matt Marchesin (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.