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The Making of The Goddess (Karravai Durga in the Tamil Traditions)

The Making of The Goddess (Karravai Durga in the Tamil Traditions)
Item Code: NAE967
Author: R. Mahalakshmi
Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2011
ISBN: 9780143417422
Pages: 413 (16 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Back the Book

A fascinating study of the metamorphosis of the indigenous martial deity Korravai into the independent Durga and the demure Parvati.

The figure of the mother goddess is common to many cultures and it has over the centuries undergone substantial changes. The making of the Goddess breaks new ground by analysing the impact of shifting socio-economic and political context upon the transformation.

From the seventh century CE onwards as the state apparatus in the Tamil south expanded it gave rise to more complex social structures. The expansion was supported ideologically through the spread of institutionalized religions which transformed the cultural landscape. The agglomeration of the motifs symbols and myths of cultic practices in existence from ancient times led to the growth of a deities within the new brahmanical pantheon.

The result of years of rigorous research The Making of the Goddess offers valuable insights into the understanding of Patriarchies gender and identity through an astute analysis of mythologies inscriptions and literature. The accompanying photographs of religious iconography provide visual references to understand the processes of absorption contestation marginalization and syncretism in the evolution of goddess traditions.


About the Aughor

R.Mahalakshi Studied history at osmania University and Central University,Hyderabad and holds a doctorate from jawaharlal Nehru University Delhi. Currently, she is assistant professor at the Centre for Historical Studies JNU where she teaches ancient Indian history.



An academic as well as commonsensical perception is that religious beliefs and traditions mirror the world views of the society they emanate from. This has given rise to some speculation about the positing and or recognition of the female and male creative aspect in the divine realm be it in early cultures such as that of the scythe Siberian nomads or more complex societies marked by settled agriculture social classes and institutionalized structures for resource appropriation as seen in the Greco-Roman world of antiquity. Evidence for the former appears primarily in the form of rock art myths and or archaeological artefacts while visual and literary sources attest to the significance attached to theistic traditions in settled societies. This study has stemmed from the perception that the recognition of the feminine divine within religions reflects the social perceptions of gender. Further research and interpretation have shown that the feature of goddess worships as we know it today in most societies was not a homogeneous unproblematic conceptions and that it underwent many transformations due to the influence of other traditions and changes in social and historical contexts.

The present work based on my doctoral thesis focuses on the early tradition of worship of the goddess Korravai during the Sangam period a local presiding deity of war and victory in the Tamil region and its transformations over the next millennium through interactions assimilations and appropriation of myths symbols and motifs particularly through the agency of the Sanskrit Puranic religion. By the tenth century CE goddess worship harking to the marital deity could be traced to the Saiva tradition. The difference lay in her conceptualization now as a consort. The crucial research question I explore is whether this meant that earlier identities meaning and conceptualizations were lost or transmuted in the later image of the goddess.

Before embarking on a historiography survey it is necessary to provide a synoptic view of the historical context within which this transformation in the religion culture can be located. The early historical period in the Tamil region can be fixed within a broad time fame of 300 CE. Sangam literature a vast corpus of poem grammar didactic texts and epics has lent its name to this period because it is the only major extant source available for reconstructing the period. The internal stratification among the literary text is revealed by significant differences and transformations of form and contents and scholars would mark the epic didactic text and some of the grammatical text as belonging to a transitional period in the Tamil south. This period has been described as one marked by a nascent state formation of incipient urbanism and with no single dominant ideological cultural apparatus visible. It is in such a context that we find korravai (the only female deity known from the literature) defied as the patron of the dry and arid region the Palai tinai one among the five eco-zones mentioned in the sangam texts. The preponderance of loot and plunder in such a society meant that success in war and raids was a significant marker for petty claims to power. Thus the ideology of raid heroism and entire gamut of contemporary institutional structures. During the centuries following the early historic period it is possible to postulate that there were attempts to shift from primitive agrarian method to plough agriculture to intensify agriculture activities in the fertile river valleys and to extend cultivation to non-marutam areas as well.

It has been argued on the basis of later records that the characterization of this period as one of flux and instability is misplaced ad it appears that essentially the traditional claimants for power were challenged by new aspirant to social and political authority at this point of time; this had its ramifications in the religious sphere as seen by the competing claims of the proponents of the brahmanical Buddhist and jaina faith each vying for patronage of these new power. The Pandya records of the ninth century CE speak of the evil king in the preceding centuries who abrogated the rights of the brhamanas and patronized the heterodox sects. The Pallava Pandya period (c. seventh to ninth centuries CE) represents the beginning of the creation of strong state structures with their concomitant newly developed institutional tools of integration the brahmadey (a brahmana settlement) and the temple. The importance of the ideology of bhakti as an integration mechanism is also emphasized temple. The importance of the ideology of bhakti as an integration mechanism is also emphasized for this period. The notion of bhakti or personalized devotion to god while containing the clam of equality for all before that god has been studded as a means of weaving together the social fabric and ironing out of tensions blanket to envelop various local traditions of worship and cults under the rubric of Vaisnavism and Saivism.

The growth of imperial interests under the Cholas (c. tenth to thirteenth centuries CE) provided structural coherence to this process of incorporation and integration as well. Bhakti translated into the temple cult with devotion being offered to the deity ensconced in the temple and resulted in the construction of a number of shrines during this period. The similarity in the conceptualization of royal power and sacral authority was constantly harped upon and various symbols were employed to bring this similarity to the fore. The analogy of cosmos territory and temple the institution of services and the terms of reference for the deity temple closely modelled on the royal services and the terms of reference for the deity temple mirroring those for the king palace highlighted the correlation between the king in the place and the deity housed in the temple. The construction renovation and enlargement of structural shrines also served to associate the king royalty intimately with the temple as the ideal patron. It is against such a background that I situate my study of the making of the goddess Korravai Durga within the saiva tradition during the early medieval period.

Reading the Goddess
There are some seminal work that has addressed the historiographical issues related to the appropriation assimilation and incorporation outlined in the previous section through their analysis of goddess worship. Further clarity on these issues has been achieved through the interrogation of categories such as patriarchy power motherhood and identity in relation to the conceptualization of the feminine with the sacred and social structures.

In his study of Greek myths related to the goddess Artemis Rose Provides us with some interesting into the accretion of ideas and motifs indicating the processes of assimilation absorption and appropriation of the non Hellenic traditions within the Greek ones. Artemis is conceptualized in terms that are very similar to the Tamil Korravai she is the goddess of the wild the patron of hunting and a typical mother goddess figure. However in the course of her absorption into the Hellenic pantheon she becomes the daughter of Zeus and let with the latter herself being a Titan deity who becomes the object of attention of Zeus and is thus absorbed into the congeries of deities on Mount Olympus. While the remains of Artemis temple at Ephesus suggest the worship of the mother principle in classical Greek mythology she becomes the archetypal virgin goddess who is sexually attractive and malevolent towards those who do not accept her supremacy as a hunter and is particularly merciless towards women. Her association with Apollo the virile heroic figure as his twin is replete with incestuous overtones where he is often shown as trying to protect her chastity. But as rose point out many of her cult steps are in places where very own train of followers Artemis was almost always depicted with nymphs surrounding serving and venerating her.

In a recent study on conceptualizations of goddess Moon refutes the suggestion that Aphrodite was merely the goddess of love and sexuality. The early Greek sources attest to her being known as Ourania the Queen of heaven and as the sea goddess. Most striking are the inscriptional and literary references to Aphrodite as granting Julius Caesar the Roman emperor the legitimate right to rule. The iconographical representation of the goddess reiterate the connection with kingship she is seated the on a throne wearing a crown and flanked by lions all symbols of political power.

The Goddess Tradition in Hinduism
Some historians have postulated the importance of goddesses within Brahmanism since the Vedic period and have only chronicled change in terms of different epithets myths and forms employed for them in literary and other source making little attempt to located these in time and space context. J.N. Banerjea best known for his work on iconography was one of the earliest scholars to have argued that the post Vedic religion differed from the Vedic one primarily due to the influence of bhakti. He argued that in the Puranic tradition Siva and Durga Parvati became the central figures for the appropriation of various local cults and this process was instrumental in the evolution of a syncretic religion. V.S. Agrawala traces the origins of goddess worship from the Vedic period onward when the metaphysical principle were worshiped in the forms of Vac (speech word) and Ambhrni (epithet of vac). The devi in the Puranic text Devi Mahatmya combined this earlier type Kalika. The author does not speculate on the reason for these newer association of does not speculate on the reason for these newer association of the Vedic goddess. On the other hand pushpendra Kumar while tracing the notion of sakti from the Vedic literature sees her as occupying a very important position within the Hindu pantheon as a member of the Trinity once Brahma lost his pre-eminece in the Puranas. He believes that the cult of Durga originated from the pre Vedic goddess who was associated with hills and mountains.

This Durga who was known as Sakti in the Puranas was defined through her association with Siva as his equal but there were times when she was recognized as the absolute power kumar concludes that the Sakit cult in its puranic articulation combined both Aryans and non-Aryan form of worship.

The writings of Agrawala and Tiwari demonstrate an understanding of the historical complexities and contradictions underlying the conceptualization of the Great Goddess in the brahmanical tradition. P.K. Agrawala begins with the assumption that the definition of the male and the female principles in common to all religions. Due to the presence of deities such as Aditi and Prthvi in the Rg Veda he refutes the view that the goddesses were insignificant in early Vedic religion. During the later Vedic period a number of new goddess gained eminence over the older ones such as Ambika. Agarwala attributes this syncretism to followers of these deities who identified several goddesses of a similar nature with one pre-eminent female divinity.

In a more nuanced reading Tiwari in not in agreement with the assumption made by most scholars regarding the unity and uniformity of goddess worship in India. He sees it as at best representing a loose integration of diverse cults of great goddess from the Gupta period onwards the roots of which go back to much earlier times. She has often been referred to by various names suggesting diverse context of worship which were brought together through the creation of a common mythology and worship. It was a process in which the active agency of Brahmanism needed to be recognized. Tiwari points out that the popular divinity of the vindhya region regarded as the slyer of the buffalo demon was eventually absorbed into saivism which led to her conceptualization as the ultimate reality in literary and philosophical terms in the Devi Mahatmya D.C. sircar acknowledges the early worship of the mother goddess in particular contexts in India. His prolific knowledge of the archaeological artefacts inscriptions and literary reference to the goddess leads to his understanding that similar processes were occurring across historical periods and regions. Different epithets employed for Durga in Sanskrit literature are seen as being indicative of the assimilation from local tribal religions.

In the works cited above there is awareness explicit and implicit of the existence of non Aryan and or pre-Vedic roots of the goddess traditions within brahmanical religion in the Indian subcontinent. There is also a recognition of the growth of the idea of the Great Goddess in the Puranas for the first time and the author attribute this to the synthesis of brahmancial forms of worship with non-brahmanical ones. However these works also exhibit some limitations as they are often not concerned with the material contexts in which new religious development were occurring. Religion in this perception is an autonomous domain far-removed from the socio economic and political transformation which has often resulted in simplistic correlations between incidental references to goddess in Vedic text and the later systematic exposition of the idea of a powerful goddess.

It has been interpreted by some scholar that depending upon the particular material context pre eminence is given to either male or female deities. According to this view in hunting and gathering societies the female deity was the natural symbol of a terrible unpredictable and dangerous power. With the growth of pastoral society and the concomitant control over natural the importance of the goddess was gradually overridden by that of a male god. As D.D. Kosambi says. The food gatherer worshipped a goddess while to god first appeared on the scene with pastoral life. The marriage of these mother goddess is a phenomenon of the later conjoint society. To begin with the goddesses were unmarried mother because no father seemed necessary in the society wherein they originated. Kosambi also examines the conceptualization of the mother of the Attakas/Astakas and suggests their origins in a pre-agrarian hunting gathering society with a consanguineous family structure. With the same understanding that forms of worship have to be rooted to their material culture N.N. Bhattacharya locates the emergence of the cult of the goddess as mother amongst agricultural tribes. He connects this to the understanding of women reproductive capacity due to the premium that was placed on fertility in this primitive agrarian context. While the role of the father in procreation was not recognized here the introduction of plough agriculture led to a rise in the economic importance of men. It is in such a context that Bhattacharya locates the development of the cults of male god and the concomitant subordination of cults of mother goddesses by liming the latter as spouses of the former. I am largely in agreement with the views expressed by these two scholars and kosambi insights particularly have shaped many of my ideas regarding appropriation and assimilation. However a major drawback that I have encountered in the application of this analytical method is that there are historical conjunctures where symbols motifs and identities of cultic deities cannot be simply understood on the of a one to one correlation with the material milieu that carry over and gain new meanings in different contexts.

Dehejia study of the Yogini cult focuses on the institutionalization of a tradition of worship which appeared to have had its origin in Tantric practices. Tantrism as a form of worship is traced to the subcontinent which had been amalgamated in this tradition. It is from about the second half of the first millennium onwards that we see the ascendance of Tantric religion with its focus on chants geometric designs and body centred diagrammatic forms. It appeared likely that all the major religion stream Jainism Buddhism and Brahmanism were and Brahmanism were influenced by Tantric idea and it is held by some scholar that it is from the Buddhist exposition of Tantric deities and rituals that early medieval brhamanical Tantrism is derived. The emphasis in this tradition on the goddess as the object of worship was well articulated in the conceptual and ritualistic aspects. In its literal form the term Yogini refers to the women practitioners of the path of yoga which implied bodily and spiritual discipline and acquiring certain powers in the process. This practice was gradually translated and transformed in the Tantric tradition wherein the Yoginiwas seen as the partner of the male devotee in the cakra puja and in their pursuit of the kaula marga they partook of matsya (fish) mamsa (meat) mudra (parched grain) madya (liquor) and maithuna (sexual intercourse). The Kulamava Tantra used the term yogini to refer to the goddess herself the female practitioners mentioned above and the patron deities of the followers of this path of worship the Kaulikas.

It is in the third context wherein different patron deities were held to have a subsidiary position to the Devi that the institutionalization of this Yogini cult is seen have taken place in the post seventh century period. The increasing awareness of the orthodox brahmanical tradition with regard to the popularity of the Kaulikas resulted in the deification of the yoginis who were identified as varying aspects of the Great Goddess of the brahmanical tradition or as deities attendant upon the Great Goddess. The interesting analogy that Dehejia draws between these goddess and the village goddess to whom sacrifices were made particularly in south India suggests an appropriation of local cult by the brahmanical religion and a reversion of these to their original status through such institutionalization. This is a feature that can also be recognized in my study.

Chattopadhyaya has studied the reappearance of the goddess in north India between the fourth and tenth centuries on the basis of inscriptions through the prism of the brahmanical mode of cult appropriation. Here the question of interaction across space and time encapsulated in the distinctions between vana (forest/tribal culture) and ksetra (selected complex society) and sign and icon are seen as useful heuristic devices that enable the historian to go beyond sociological interpretations. He concludes that the appearance of the cults of the goddess in records from disparate geographical locations and at different points in time taken place mainly because of the linkage which is established between such cults and emerging monarchies through the mediation of the brahmanas and their rituals. Great mother the goddess of the forest (arayavasini) goddess of the pot (ghattavasini) goddess of the tree (vatayaksini) goddess of the post (stambhesvari) etc. Were all visible in the written records at a point when those issuing these records were attempting to move beyond the political margins. By proclaiming their identities as patrons and worshippers of these goddess these politically ascendant groups were establishing a distinct claim for themselves. On the other by issuing these charters records in Sanskrit they were also proclaiming their acceptance of brahmanical mediation linguistically ritually and symbolically.

Chakrabarti study of the Upapurana in Bengali position itself in such a manner as to interrogate the concepts of great and little traditions and Sanskritization in their definitional and applicative aspects. The context for the study is the early medieval period and the religious transformation that occurred in Bengali due to the influence of Buddhism and Brahmanism both great tradition model and Chakrabarti recognizes in the amorphous structure of brahmanical religion and its flexible social codes in the region a measure to counter the influence of the former. The discussion on the diverse local goddess cults transformed through appropriation rather than incorporation or assimilations that were woven together in a carefully constructed Sakta theological tapestry which at once provided identity and anonymity to these local goddess in their unitary theistic form mulaprakrti and the anchoring of this concept to that of sakti allows us to understand the crystallization of the brahmanical religious tradition in Bengal.

Chakrabarti however is sensitive to the once dimensional process that the puranic reading of the texts by focusing on the vrata ritual tradition as it provided space for the accommodation of a deity slighted in myth to preside over ritual. In terms of social interactions demanded by such rituals the erosion of women exclusive control over the vrata is balance by the official role given to the priest as the ritual functionary. The idea of the development of a cult region carved by brahmas and supported by political aspirant which contributed to the creation of a unique linguistic and regional culture also highlights the historical conjunctures that cannot be nearly compartmentalized under political social or cultural heads.

There have a number of studies on goddess in south India which span many of the approaches outlined above. K.R. Venkatraman considered Korravai and Aiyai to be the earliest known mother goddess. He believes that the earliest Tamil literary references to the goddess already contained that from the Sangam period itself goddess worship in the region exhibited a composite character blending various forms of beliefs and rituals. P.L. svami identifies three types of mother goddess in the Tamil country Korravai of Dravidian origin Kali the indo Aryan goddess and Motu the pre Dravidian goddess. In his opinion the Sangam literature identifies all three deities with the northern deity Durga. N. Sethuraman focuses on the goddess tradition during the Chola period in south India. He argues that there are tow phase in the development of goddess worship during this times. In the first there were independent shrines to goddess called pitari while in the second separate shrines for the goddess Uma Paravt Saptamatrka Durga and Jyestha Devi were built within siva temple. In this opinion these were all mother goddess and the differences were merely in description and or location of the shrines. Literary references and the historical introduction of the Chola kings are used to reconstruct royal initiative in spreading the growth of goddess traditions in the region. In all these works the common theme is the existence of goddess worship across historical periods these also assume that all goddess were necessarily conceptualized as mother and that variations occurred due to nomenclature and mythology and mythologies.

K.R. Srinivasan enumerates the various goddess mentioned in the Sangam literature to power the prevalence of mother goddess worship in early Tamilkam. He reads the descriptions of Ayirai in two Tamil texts referring to a single incident of the Chera king offering prayers to this fearsome deity having bathed in the two seas (east and west) in the daylight hours of the same day. He identifies this as a locally powerful deity on the basis of the existence of a temple to the goddess Ayirattamman in palaynakottai (Tiruneveli) to whom buffalo sacrifices were offered until recently. Another interesting point he makes is with reference to the goddess Korri or Korriyar. Rather than the accepted interpretation that the epithet etymologically derived from korram meaning victory and success Srinivasan sees it roots in the world korrit meaning a newborn calf. On the basis his interpretation of the connection the epithet is that in refers to the goddess of birth. In this connection the epithet Koti (meaning naked) attached to a monument in Mamallapuram the koti kal mandapa is seen by him a referring to a nude goddess. Together these epithets suggest the worship of a primeval mother goddess associated with fertility and progeny. Srinivasan compares this goddess described in these tow language source as deriving from the Tamil conceptualization. Thus Korravai Tamil yields Kottaviya and kotavi Korriyar kottukriya and Korri yield kottaviya and Kot respectively in prakrit and Tamil.

In a comprehensive study on the goddess tradition in the extreme south of peninsular India R. Nagaswamy wishes to establish though a detailed survey of literature sacred secular and prescriptive religious texts the influence of Saktism on the indigenous traditions. While I have drawn heavily from the conclusion and interpretations of both srinivasan and Nagaswamy I am aware of certain limitation. For example both tacitly accept the Sakta influences in the region philosophically and ritually which is identified as the reason for the prevalence of a strong goddess tradition which in fact contradicts Srinivasan own analysis of the tradition of Korravai. On the basis of Nagaswamy finding i have been able to conclude that there was considerable sakta presence in certain cult sites. However he does not link the reason for their presence to the broader cultural changes taking place in the early medieval period wherein the ruling classes adopted brahmanical religion in its Sanskritic, Puranic idiom to propagate their claim to kingship and power. The recourse to Saktaic practices in sites already associate with female deities may have been an inevitable strategy of appropriation within brahmanical religion.

Good And Evil
It has been argued that anthropologists study religion primarily as part of a larger cultural system and focus on ritual performance sacred myths and symbols seeing all these as part of a larger cultural system. Many studies have focused on the constitution of divine power through the performance of ritual and its meaning for the worshipper who is himself located in a hierarchical social structure. Often polarities of good and evil creation and destruction male and female and transcendence and rootedness are embedded in the constructions of sacred structures which contribute in making sense of the social world that the worshipper inhabits.

Lawrence Babb has studies the apparently multiform religious life of a village in Chhattisgarh and has concludes that it has an essential unity. He views the protective and destructive aspects of the diving as a polarization of the same sacred power which emerges in myths and ritual as a sex linked opposition between the god and the goddess. In some contexts particular deities are seen an discrete entities whereas in other they merge with one another and their characters blend. Thus the goddess can be both married and unmarried for the people domestication of the goddess that this implies ratifies a social order in which the male and female opposition is harmonized to further human society. In her study of religion in Karimpur a village in Uttar Pradesh Wadley starts with the assumption that the notion of power is instrinisic to the very concept of the sacred. She argues that all deities good and bad possess sakti or divine energy. The most visible manifestation of this power is the goddess Sakti who symbolize female energy. In the hierarchy of divinities even the most evil deity contributes to the larger power structure and asserts this power through his/her benevolence when appeased and through malevolence when opposed.

David Kinsley a phenomenologist and historian of religion is of the opinion that Kali the dark goddess like Krsna was the other and provided a telling counterpoint to the divine in the Hindu pantheon. She signified the transcendental realm of reality that is untamed. Both deities are classified as un-Vedic and as dark lush beings associated not with dazzling light of heaven but with the blood and sap of the earth, and if they are associated with might and order. Beane identifies Durga-Kali as the prototypical image of feminine power and links the myths cult and symbols related to this figure. This is seen as explicating the later development of sakta and Tantric Practices within Hinduism that drew upon the conceptualization of the feminine.

The significance of the Polarities of malevolence and benevolence lies not so much in their implicit contrasting differences but in the recognition of their conceptual need for each other to embed identities for the goddess. This is best brought out in Shuman analysis of the devotee death and life in the hand of goddess. The analogy of sowing ploughing and reaping which necessarily involves destruction to further the cycle of creation can according to him be used effectively in understanding the ambivalent goddess. Such contradictory perceptions arise from the human quest for purity as the ultimate goal in life but this goal can only be attained through the contact of the devotee with evil and polluting force symbolized by the blood sacrifice. Another example cited by him is that of the goddess in her shrine representing naked unsheathed power who draws the devotee to her sexual and philosophical source and in essence leads him to his death the death of ignorance with its concomitant rebirth and realization of true knowledge. Shulaman develops this argument further in his analysis of myths of virgin goddess and see the devotee as being symbokically killed due to his transgression of the sexuality of the goddess. I am however hesitant to accept this interpretation as there are many instanes of the priests and other ritual functionaries in the case of worship of the village goddess who are either women or male priests who believe that they are ritually transformed into women and who see themselves either as ritually incarnations of the goddess or as her selected children. (An interesting vestige of the male priest becoming a women can be seen in the Jambukesvaram temple. Tiruvanaikkaval Tiruchirapalli district which is a monumental brahmanical temple of the Chola Period) shuman final conclusion that the devotee achieves salvation on earth through the loss of his/her egoism that is by being reborn in the womb of the goddess is more in keeping with my understanding. The goddess in that sense is mother and she can be so even without her male con her male consort because of her visible and philosophical association with the life cycle.

In the studies mentioned above there is a recognition of the conceptualization of the sacred in its good and evil forms. The scholars also suggest that the diverse form are actually one and the same in that they represent various facets of a simple unitary energizing principle. Babb and Wadley have provided an interesting explanation by relating the religious symbols to human interaction and ritual itself as creating created by means of interactions of the great Sanskritic traditions with the village beliefs and practices. Beane’s work appears diffused in its understanding of seemingly variant interpretation of myths and symbols, which at times borders on the incomprehensible. One of the major limitations of such reading is that these scholars seek to understand sacred conceptualizations from within texts ritual functionaries and participant as if there is an autonomous domain that could be explored outside of contexts. Hence questions of legitimacy sought by different communities through their participation in ritual or the understanding of polarities as presenting unresolved tensions in the process of assimilation and appropriation are not considered significant. Tambs-Lyche in a edited collection introduces the theme of the feminine sacred and stresses the need to look at not just the principle of the feminine sacred but also its representation in south Asia. This is reminiscent of the query raised by Shinn regarding the understanding of the goddess as a theological sign or a religious symbol. I wish to explore the possibilities of both categorizations sign and symbol being relevant in my interpretation of goddess myths symbol being relevant in my interpretation of goddess myths and icon while locating these within historical frames of evolution and transformation.

Thomas Coburn in his path breaking study of the Devi Mahatmya which is a part of the Markandeya Purana one of the eighteen Mahajpuranas has sought to examine the process of the crystallization of a strong goddess tradition in Sanskrit by comparing the hymns in this subtext how the Devi Mahatmya is an agglomeration of previously discrete motifs epithets and human of the goddess and therefore concludes that his text can be seen as the culmination of a long process of association and identification of many goddesses which resulted in this vision of ultimate reality as being feminine. He defines the articulation of this vision in Sanskrit as part of the sanskritization process.

David Smith views the Devi Mahamtmya the first major exposition on the Great Goddess in the brhamanical tradition as the crude product of high mythology and low cultic practice. He sees in the Mahisa myth evidence that violence equals power and that violence per se is inevitably and inescapably tied to sacred power. Smith negotiates images of the malignant and wayward unmarried woman with the image of the good and nurturing wife and mother to envision the goddess as being ambiguous and powerful. However a major problem with this analysis is the understanding that blood sacrifice to the goddess represents the polluting element of cultic practice. And so Raktabrija the demon who reduplicated himself with every drop of blood in an episode in the text was able to create more impure creations (of him) because the ground itself was considered impure. Thus is a particularly problematic opinion as it is obvious from folk practice that the ground or earth is representative of the womb rejuvenates and gives life.

Tracy Pintchman uses a similar textual method to focus on a wider canvas of sacred literature to identify the growth of a goddess tradition. She locates in the brahmanical literature composed between 1500 BCE and 1500 CE a number of terms that specifically refer to feminine cosmic principle such as prakrit sakti and maya. Gradually these terms were imbued with meanings that raised critical issues related to cosmogony and cosmology. However this process of establish a great goddess also resulted in a distancing from the profaneness of the non-Aryan world. Pintchman traces this transformation through an analysis of literary evolution from the early Vedic to the later Vedic to the early puranic to the late Puranic periods n a manner reminiscent of Sukumari Bhatacharji’s method. She sees the fusion of cults when the non-Vedic indigenous mother goddesses were associated as spouses of the Vedic deities male and female. The author concludes that the conceptualization of the great goddess figure is linked to the establishment of brahmanical hegemony over non-brhamanical traditions and the need to assimilate the latter in order to anchor the former in society. This however meant that while the autochthonous influences resulted in the elevation of the feminine principle the impetus to assimilate came from brahmanical orthodoxy. The rise of the goddess therefore only reinforced the essential authority structure stemming from brahmanical orthodoxy.

In his study of the cult of the goddess pattini in Sri Lanka Gananath obeyesekere has traced this cult from the ancient Tamil epic Cilappatkaram. The cult of pattini Amman or Kannagi whose origins are described in the epic is seen as having died out in the Tamil region due to its incorporation into the Kali and Draupadi cults. However this goddess became one of the most popular deities of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka and the Hindu on the east coast of the island. Obeyesekere has examined the process and significance of the institutionalization of this cult. From his analysis of the rituals associated with the worship of Patini he conclude that the cult represents a medical system in which the homeostasis of the natural elements water fire wind ether and earth had to be preserved and rituals had to be performed for this purpose. The goddess is also idealized as a mother figure who serves crucial emotional needs of the congregation.

The Pattini cult also incorporates the mythology of the traditional mother goddess Kiri Amman in the established pantheon of twelve certain important myths and rituals of the Pattini cult represent a projective system that is they act as symbolic systems that give expression to key personality problems or nuclear psychological constellation of Hindus and Buddhist in Sri Lanka. In the northern provinces which experienced maximum Sanskritization due to their proximity to southern India, the goddess is a part of the Saiva temple complex. On the eastern coast which is less Sanskritized Pattini temples exist independently of the Saiva Shrines while in the south the need for building shrines to the goddess was not felt at all as Sanskrit influence in this region is practically non-existent. Thus the goddess has been conceived of as being cruel in the north nurturing in the east and utterly benevolent in the south. Obeyesekere postulates that the Pattini cult as it as been institutionalized in southern and eastern Sri Lanka Incorporates little or no Hinduism. It exists fundamentally as a folk cult in these areas and consequently also appears to be closest to its original form.

In all these studies a strong attempts has been made to understand the conceptualization of feminine power in terms of the degree of brahmanical (and other religious) influence and its symbolic appeal to the devotees. The first three work have looked at literary traditions and particularly the Puranas to trace the coalescing of brhmanical and indigenous ideas. For Coburn and pintchamn this resulted in envisioning o ultimate reality as feminine and more importantly as absolute which Coburn designates as the result of a long process of Sanskritiazation. However in these works, i founded a tacit acceptance of the superior brahmanical vision stemming from an unproblematic application of the idea of Sanskritization. This is at variance with some of their conclusion particularly in the case of Obeyesekere’s work wherein cultural interactions and the degree of brahmanical ideology in the geographical region that he has studied are well brought out.

Sexuality, Marriage, Control
Konsambi has identified in an early Sanskrit play the Mrcchakatika by Sudraka the rites related to “mother” (matrbhyo) located at the crossroads. After having offered bali or sacrifice to the household gods the brahmana hero of the play Carudatta requests his friend to take the bali for the mother to the crossroads. On the basis of the prototype of this play. (Daridra) Carudatta. On the basis of the prototype of this play (Daridra) Carudatta possibly scripted by Bhasa Kosambi concludes that this rite was performed on the sixth day of the Krsnapaksa (dark half) of the lunar month. He traces in the early seventh century CE Harsacarita of Bana a remnant of this ritual wherein the offerings referred to as panda were to be scattered in the outer darkness in all directions. Varahmihira’s Brhatsamhita provided details on the iconography prognostication and divination of these mothers and warns that the houses situated close to these mothers and warns that the houses situated close to these crossroads where they live would be afflicted by evil. Despite the scattered and fragmentary evidence Kosambi builds a narrative wherein the goddess as recipients of domestic funerary offerings (panda) associated with different directions, are in some instances addressed by the feminine from of names of male deities and are seen as dangerous ugly horrifying and also paradoxically as beautiful. The fact that in addition they are described as speaking in different languages clinches the argument for Kosambi that these were, indeed representative of a pre-Aryan tradition of ancestress worship. In the course of assimilation within the brahmanical religion their importance was underplayed and they were either ignored or given a marginal status vis-a-vis the pitr who were male ancestor worshipped in the patriarchal Aryan tradition.

In this analysis what is significant is that the Practice of offering worship to women ancestors is seen as threatening enough for it to be appropriated through the deification of the mothers providing them a place within the brahmanical belief structure even while painting them as evil forces. The fact that the goddesses in villages are still propitiated with animal sacrifices is used to understand the reference to the panda as (the substitute of) bali. The other example of bringing mother goddess cult under male control is seen by kosambi in the birth stories of Skanda, who was reared by six mother and in the myths of his companion mother when he proceeded on his mission to kill the demo Tarakasura.

Through all these examples Kosambi reiterates his proposition that the mothers in common tradition cannot be reconciled with the Vedic father right a these represent two different material cultures. This interpretation does not explicitly locate patriarchal notion of the cults of the mother but does posit an Aryan/Vedic uneasiness with mother right and feminine power. In another context the same author draws on the appropriation of the Kumbha/ghata in brahamanical ritual which was originally a symbolic representation of the womb or uterus. The relics of this continue to be seen in annual local goddess festivals according to Kosambi. In fact the grave burials in pots and jars suggest a belief in rebirth or at least in being protected even in death an issue that I feel has not been explored by Kosambi. It may be relevant to consider here the proposition that the garbhagrha within the brahmanical temple again symbolizing the womb, is the devotee destined catharsis chamber, for it draws the individual from ignorance to realization symbolizing at an abstract level an end a new beginning and that it may have drawn from these earlier association of life and death with the ghata. Also to clarify the point about the ceremonial pot’s significance in ritual even today it may be pointed out that among Tamil brahmanas there are traditions of lighting flour and jiggery lamps to the kuladevi or family deity who is seen as residing in a kumbha filled with water decorated with sandal paste and vermilion and crowned by a shorn coconut with the tuft facing upwards. The pot is emptied only after all the lamps get extinguished by themselves while the extended family congregates chants payers and sings in praise of the goddess perhaps replicating the early community congregations in the settlement. Other similar practices include the invocation of the Sumangali (women who predeceased their husbands) ancestors to reside in the pot and bless the family. Significantly this ritual in particular appears to be a remnant of an earlier matrilocal tradition s the benefaction from the women ancestors is sought for the daughters of the house. These instances suggest that the understanding of appropriations and assimilations a one sided process is erroneous upper castes equally appear to have adopted certain tradition from local practices and belief systems and this is particularly relevant when we locate this in the context of brahmana settlers needing to gain acceptability in the regions they migrated to well after the institutionalization of the brahmanical traditional such as Tamil Nadu Andhra Pradesh or Bengal which had not as yet come under their cultural influence.

Ramanujan briefly touches upon questions of power in an essay cited earlier. He sees the Sanskrit great goddess as created by the gods through the pooling of their weapon for the singular purpose of vanquishing a powerful demon. In south Indian myths the village goddess is primal and the source of the male gods power weapons and insignia. Curiously the latter use these very same powers to degrade the goddess. She is propitiated with animal sacrifices and unlike the brahmanical breast goddesses she is a tooth goddess implying her dissociation from nurturing benefactions and her penchant for crises. On the lines of whitehead he concludes that she is invariable a woman who is raised to godhood. However we disagree with the neat identification of benevolence with the so-called breast goddess which does evident in the myth of Putana or even of Hariti in the Buddhist tradition. It is also significant that none of the so-called breast goddess in Sanskrit mythology physically conceive their divine children there are elaborate explanations in the epics and Puranas as to why siva semen cannot be carried by Parvati which underscore this fear of normal conception. In a psychoanalytical reading of childhood in India kakar would be more see this fear as dominating the relationship between mother and son in particular as seen in the mythic narratives. It would be more appropriate to situate such tension in the patriarchal attempt to suppress the significance of women reproductive potential and assert the rights of paternity over the male child to whom the perpetuation of the lineage is attributed exemplified in the myths related to birth of Ganesha. This would also account for the absence of the daughter in the constitution of a woman identity as mother. In Shulman masterly study of the legends at particular sites in Tamil Nadu he situates goddess in the matrix of their relationship with Siva. There are diametrically opposite goddesses who personify benevolence and malevolence: the first is completely submissive and adoring of her spouse while the second is enmeshed in a complex web of lust deceit and power that effectively results in an irreconcilable context with Siva Shulman Ponders:

Thus the connection that Shulman makes are of the goddess inherent affinity to the earth as a symbol of fertility. Just as the fertility of the earth can be tapped only through the violence of cultivation the goddess power where acknowledges is activated and captured through violent imagery. Hidden in this is also the understanding of the goddess as being primarily a symbol of fertility and motherhood. Perhaps the physical possibilities of reproduction did not allow the goddess to attain the same ideational transcendence that was conceived of for male deities irrespective of whether she was an independent deity or a consort.

Drawing from these studies I wish to briefly examine a theoretical formulation that places a premium on goddess worship in terms of the notion and or subversion of feminine power that it conveys. In a thought provoking essay sudnerrajan poses a seemingly innocuous question: is the goddess a feminist?

Without going into her discussion which relates primarily to contemporary appropriation of the divine feminine as a resource of women empowerment by right wing Hindu political outfits I do wish to look at this fascination in the western and Indian academia with the look at this fascination in the western and Indian academia with the powerful symbolism attached to goddess worship. More significantly there has been a critique of oppressive practices leading to the structural subordination of women that has been perpetuated in the name of tradition engendering a critical interrogation of the sources of this tradition and the context of their production. A recent work looks frontally at the creation of patriarchies during the early historic period status of women as if it were an appendix to the main historical narrative we need to analyse the nature and causes of subordinate of women using a feminist lens to map the historical basis to female subordination in India. A primary concern in this work is to identify the control over women sexuality and their reproductive powers. One of the foremost historian of early India. R.S. Sharma has also argued that there was a close correspondence between gender class and caste in ancient India. He reads against the grain to show how even within normative literature it is possible to glimpse what is proscribed or considered harmful to the brahmancial social have opened the way for a deeper analysis of the constitution of religious pantheons which reflect many of these social images in the person of the gods and goddess and their transformation over time.

Studies related to religious particularly where myths and iconization of deities are concerned have also undertaken an interrogation of particularly the brahmanical tradition. However most of the impetus for such studies has come from outside the disciplinary boundary of history and while the hermeneutic and phenomenological interpretations that have been proffered are fascinating in their range they are often difficult to reconcile with the historian quest for substantiation and context. In an illuminating study of goddess worship and its psychic roots Edward whitmont a Jungian psychoanalyst observes that early mythic corpuses abound with reference to marital deities feminine not masculine revered as the older deities of warfare and destruction. This archaic goddess had dominion over both love and war. They were credited with both chastity and promiscuity nurturing motherliness and bloodthirsty destructiveness. But they were not a at all concerned with conquest and territorial expansion. These were male obsessions. Rather these goddesses monitored the life cycle throughout its phases: birth growth love, death and rebirth. It is difficult to accept the male female categorization that whitmont proposes when we recognize that gender is not a homogeneous construct but his insight with regard to the martial qualities of the early goddess tradition useful in understanding the making of the goddess tradition within the Tamil region. While Korravai is the goddess of war and victory she is propitiated to ensure that the tribes worshipping her do not go hungry. In the Cilappatikaram the muse of the tribe warns the people of the fury that the goddess would unleash if not offered blood sacrifice and the bounty she would bestow on them if worshipped in the proper way. With her domestication it appears that she cease to be worshiped in this manner. It is worth examining whether the place of the goddess is usurped by male martial deities such as Tripurantaka Siva an icon that is clearly identifiable with royal self image and aggrandizement in a context where the concern in war were more for territorial and personal aggrandizement of the ruler rather than for the survival of the community or tribe.

A conceptual concern that recurs in studies on religion is with regard to categories such as Sanskritization and Great and Little Tradition development by sociologists and anthropologists which have implicitly and or explicitly influenced the understanding of religious traditions their interactions and transformations. This concern is particularly relevant in the context of the study of the Tamil region which had its own traditions and belief systems exemplified in the Sangam literature before the brahmanical influence became overtly visible.

While Sanskritzation as well as Great and Little Tradition have been shown to be conceptually useful heuristic devices the critique offered by shulman and Hardy that sanskritic culture by itself was not a universal referent loaded with symbolic value across historical contexts in the Indian subcontinent deserves attention. As Fred Clothey puts it religion as the creative languages of the human spirit is best reflected culturally in terms of the changes in mythic corpuses and socially in the ritual practices and that it is possible for the historian to assess changes shifts, conflicts and transformation in both realms. In that sense while focussing on the Tamil region we can see both Sanskritic culture in their orientation and hence often not being quite in consonance with the reality of cultural interaction contestations and transformations there.

A considerable proportion of the studies on the brahmanical tradition including those on goddesses have relied on literary text. How relevant is the hermeneutic interpretation of texts in understanding interaction and transformation of tractions?

Ramanujan’s seminal classification of texts as responsive reflexive and self-reflexive allows us to look at the complex manner in which literary texts relate to one another. The responsive text would be when text A responds to text B in such a way that both texts get defined text A reflecting on text B and relating itself directly or inversely to it would constitute the reflexive text; and the self-reflexive text would be when be when text A reflects on itself and others of its kind. In the three cases text A can be identified as co-text counter-text and metatext respectively.

Ramanujan is open to the application of this categorization of responsive reflexive and self-reflexive for other aspects of culture such as religious tradition which would allow for the transcending of neat as religious tradition which would allow for the transcending of neat paradigmatic classifications such as Great and Little traditions.

This opens up the possibility of the multidimensional mirrored reflections throwing greater light on the meaning of rituals cults and religious traditions particularly in a region such as Tamilakam, which does not necessarily conform to normative interpretations that the Sanskritic reflects the great Tradition and that the local/regional represents the Little tradition.

Ziegenbalg an eighteenth century German Lutheran missionary was perhaps the earliest to attempt a documentation of the Tamil religious traditions. Motivated by his proselytizing zeal he based himself in Tharangambadi then a Dahish colony known as tranquebar (Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu) learnt the Tamil language and studied the Tamil religious texts and classics to understand the people he was trying to convert. More importantly he was responsible for a number of scholars and religious practitioner with a knowledge of Tamil and Sanskrit committing their ideas about the brahmanical tradition and Tamil society to writing. Despite his deprecation of the heathen foolishness apparent in the idolatry and other practices of the Tamil Ziegenbalg presented a coherent account of the brahmanical and local deities worshipped by the people. Four categories of deities were enumerated: the formless immaterial being drawing from diverse sources such as the Saiva Siddhant in Sivavakiyar and Tiruvalluvar Tirukkural the Mummurits consisting of the puranic trio of Brahma Vishnu and Siva Sakti or the personification of feminine divine power from whom the protective village deities emanate: and malignant being or demons and spirits. In this manner a clear overlap and intertwining of the Sanskrit and local tradition were recorded.

Rev. Henry whitehead’s early twentieth century survey of village deities and rituals is still considered an important source book on religion in the Tamil region because it constitutes one of the earliest systematic documentations of local beliefs and practices. Whitehead states that the origins of animal sacrifices to the village deities which were very common could be traced to the totemistic practice of the Dravidian people and predated the coming of the Aryans. The author further argues that agrarian society developed first under the Dravidians and making connections between the fertility of the earth and women he sees this as one of the reasons as to why the village deities were primarily goddesses. At the end of his compact ethnographic Whitehead lists ninety seven goddesses that he had identified in different localities. However a reading of the names of these deities shows many repetitions suggesting that there was regional awareness of these deities who may nevertheless have had origin myths that were at variance due to locational factors. The remarkable feature of this work was its comprehensive survey of the religious practices in south India and like Ziegenbalg’s this was a firsthand account of the practitioner beliefs and traditions. While Whitehead as the Anglican bishop of the Madras Diocese had his own proselytizing agenda one of his significant counterpoising the brahmanical traditional with their emphasis on institutionalized ritual and caste.

W.T. Elmore’s work on Dravidian gods, written around the same time as whitehead survey carries the same problematic with regard to the definitive separation of Aryan and Dravidian. One of the interesting things in Elmore analysis is his recognition of the importance of the locality in defining the identity of village deities in the Tamil context through because of the cultural contact with the Aryan traditions he would see the generic term sakti being applied to these goddesses. A major problem in all these analyses is the clear cut separation of Aryan and Dravidian seen not merely in linguistic cultural terms but also as a racial difference.

The second major category of work which catalogued religious cults on the basis of literary and inscriptional records is exemplified by Nilakanta Sastri comprehensive academic study of religion in south India. In this work there is an assumption that the Aryan (brahmaical) religious traditions. While sastri clearly sees village ritual and worship as retaining their autonomy in some respects he also identifies the Saiva and Vaisnava foundational influences here. In srinivasan work on religion which draws upon the same source base as Sastri the emphasis on locating the evolutionary trajectory with in the religious trends in the Tamil region.

Both categories of works have enabled us to comprehend the vastness of the subject and the rich variety of sources that may be tapped to understand religious process. However they are all problematic on account of their methodologies and assumptions. The first category is an ethnographic reading of religious or the influences they have been subjected to over time. Also perhaps because of the evangelizing motive of the authors the distinction that they make between Hindu and folk religion appears forced. Scholars belonging to the second category have attempted to historicize religious trajectories but have premised their studied on the overarching influences of brahamnism in the Tamil region. I will now focus on those works that have directly had a bearing upon my methodology and interpretation.

Hardy’s study of Krsna bhakti in the Tamil cultural milieu over the first millennium CE marks a significant break from earlier attempts to study the growth of vaisnavism. He locates the Tamil conceptualization of mail in the sangam literature within the confines of phenomenal existence and moreover as love and beauty. Even here there were two contesting strains Krsnaite folk culture and the akattinai idiom. It is this Mayon/Mal who was identified by the alvar as Krsna the Earlier blurring of the differences between transcendence and incarnation was replaced by anew awareness of the divine as beyond conception and perception. The bhakti of the alvars drew upon this understanding along with the north Indian tradition. However may ambiguities were left unresolved such as how to reconcile the earlier divinity envisaged in a concrete plane, and as mobile and active with the northern arcavatara concept of a n immobile Visnu abiding in the vigraha of the temple. This tension was solved by the major alvars through the introduction of emotional bhakti wherein a mystically active though physically immobile god did not appear to contradict either the arcavatara theology of the temple landscape or the mythic symbolism of an active god in a different milieu. Hardy concludes that reflected both an increasing brahmanization and a great popularization oriented towards a normative ideology on the one hadnd and transformation of the elitist and sophisticated bardic culture on the other.

In his excellent study on Tamil temple myths David Shulman has opened up new methodological devices wereby a store of mythic motifs and symbols is deconstructed continuities and newer elements are sifted out and an analysis is made of the creation of a regional brahmanical tradition during the early medieval and medieval periods in the region. This is perhaps the only work that effectively presents the Tamil Purana as historical documents that need to be located within the context of the increasing brahmanical presence there. He focuses on the nature of assimilation incorporation and contestation at work in the course of the interactions among local translocal and large society traditions. The trajectories taken by most myths related society tradition. The trajectories taken by most myths related to divine marriage involving for example the murderous lustful or reluctant bride reflect this process of conflict and accommodation. Shulman argues that the tradition of each sacred spot has developed through the fusion of local and imported elements Already in the Sangam anthologies of bardic poetry Ettutokai and pattupattu the assimilation of northern. Sanskritic elements by the Tamil tradition is readily apparent. This assimilation is seen as having been firmly completed by the ninth century so much so that the local myths and legends are subsumed within the Sanskritic tradition.

At another point Shulman comments on the two poles within the Tamil religious exemplified by the talapuranas as representing the classical culture of the Sangam period and the northern brahmanical culture. However given that the shaping of temple tradition was in the hand of the brahmanas their singular fertilizing role in providing a unifying synthesized culture to the region is extolled. In a review. Wendy Doniger O Flaherty comments that reading this book would be an act of eavesdropping between two halves of the cultural androgyne the Tamil and the Sanskrit parts, and those who know even one half could insinuate themselves into the conversation. In my understanding this assumption of Brahmanism providing a synthesizing force is perhaps the only count on which the contradiction in Shulman analytical framework can be pinned. For as Shulma often comments himself one does not have to dig very deep into the mythic stratum to find remnants of the Sangam tradition. The presumption that it is the external element that provides the motivation towards a cultural external element needs some refinement.

A fascinating study of the Drupadi cult in south India draws upon literary telling of the Mahabharata in Sanskrit and Tamil to help one understand the making of the goddess tradition centring known as Gingee. Here the paradigmatic divisions of great and little traditions are shown to be constantly at play so much so that what constitutes each tradition leaves the residual effect of it being the mirror of the other. The initiative for the coalescing of the figure of goddess Durga with Draupadi in the Tamil region is attributed to the pallava period while the thirteenth century konar shepherd rulers are understood to be the first rulers that the cult became popular and numerous temples appear to have been built in the region. The Draupadi festival commences on the first day of the navarati festival commences on the first day of the Navaratri festival and culminates on Dasara wherein different episodes related to the epic metanarrative in its various renderings are enacted. During the enactments various motifs such as the goddess as the denizen of forests the protector of the settlement on guard at the northern boundary and the virgin who is also the perfect spouse and mother are brought to the fore. Here Hiltebeitel attempts to take us beyond the accepted stereotype of the Sanskrit epic/literature providing the master narratives with the regional folk and r oral traditions representing the variants. While hiltebeitel appear to move easily between the conceptual realms of the local regional and pan-India traditions his narrow focus on one particular cult does not allow him to sufficiently address other cultic and ritual religious transformation in the same region.

The primary sources that have been used for this study can broadly be categorized as epigraphs literary text, iconography intended to be a concern in this work. However in an attempt to intended to be a concern in this work. However in an attempt to trace continuities between the early myths and motifs and later ethnographic evidence I have focused on legends at certain specific temple sites. The fieldwork for the thesis on which this book is bases was undertake in two phases with each comprising many field visits. My first visit to temple sites and libraries in Tamil Nadu was undertaken in 1994 followed by a longer visit in 1996-97 in 1998 I undertook an extensive field visit to different temple sites associated with Siva in Thanjavur district. Due to the loss of my personal computer in 2001 after a house burglary when I was poised to write the conclusion over five years also went missing. Thus ended the first phase of my work! In 2002 a study trip that I had organized as part of the course I teach at the centre for Historical studies JNU on Aspects of Religion and society in South India helped me to find my bearing once again. For twenty days I travelled with my student across the length of Tamil Nadu starting from Chennai and ending at Kanyakumari. We covered more than eighty sites with about fifteen stopovers were robbed at kumbakonam encountered Sri Lankan Tamil supporters one night at Rameshvaram and took turns falling ill. More importantly this visit brought back the excitement of research and also brought home for me the importance of going beyond the archive and the written text to understand something as complex as religious processes. In 2005 I was able to visit institutions in Pondicherry, Chennai and Thanjavur that helped me tie the loose ends in my work.

This book is divided into six chapters. The first chapter focuses on the historical background of the study, which is set in the early medieval period. In this chapter the Sangam literature that was collected as late as perhaps the seventh/eighth century CE but composed and transmitted orally from the early historic period in the Tamil south is examined. I wish to primarily examine the traditions of goddess worship that are discernible in this body of work and place it in the overall context of the descriptions of the tinai deity korravai who had gained a supralocal relevance in the region. In the course of this chapter I also look at the possibilities of northern Sanskritc influences through the dissemination of Puranic religion which may have contributed to the creation of this supra-local identity of the goddess. I refer particularly to the text the Devi Mahatmya which is understood to be the first full exposition of the glories of the great goddess with a capital G.

Chapter two will also draw upon literary sources both sacred and secular which can broadly be dated between the sixth century CE and the thirteenth century CD. The attempt is to unravel the layers in the bhakti literary outpourings of the Saiva nayanr, court literature appears to provide a counterfoil as well as a contrast to the religious texts, in the manner in which goddess tradition are represented. While the puanic and sakta tradition appear to provide the primary conceptualization the text related to particular sites reveal the complex interweaving of classical and local Tami traditions with these brahmanical ones.

Chapter three is a study of inscriptional references to the goddess from the earliest pallava Panday epigraphs in the eighth century CE to the end of the Chola rule in the thirteenth century CE. We look at patterns of gift giving across regional and chronological frames the nature of the gift and the female deities who are the recipients of the gift. In chapter four we focus on the construction of shrines for goddesses by identifying the types of female deities that are referred to and their association with the Sangam and Puranic deities. Was there a difference in the kinds of goddesses to whom temples were built across our time frame? I have also explored some of the issues related to the symbolism of the sacred space its political implications and its social meanings.

The importance of iconography in marking the sacred landscape mythological exposition and expression of the divine image in stone ad bronze are discussed in chapter five. Here the availability of enormous evidences for the presence of female deities within sacred spaces their importance within the prescriptive schema and their association with other deities on temple walls is highlighted.

The last chapter on myths and sculptures related to the dance of the goddess examines the hypothesis that from the time of the imperial Cholas there was a deceive appropriations and marginalization of Tamil cults of the goddess within the temple based brahmanical religion. The importance of performative tradition in cultural transmission and their utility as a metaphor to cultivate meanings of dominance and subjugation is explored.




  Introduction 1
1 Questions of Origins and Identify 39
2 Continuities and Transformations 95
3 Inscribing the Goddess 156
4 Accommodating the Goddess 200
5 Imaging the Goddess 242
6 Dance as Metaphor 311
  Epilogue 352
  Bibliography 358
  Acknowledgements 388
  Index 394

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