(pp.116-17 of the Abstracts of Research Papers for the Conference)

Are Tamil Temple Myths Really Tamil? Brahmanical Sacrifice, Tamil Bhakti and Transgressive Sacrality (1987)

Prof. Shulman has demonstrated how the variety of founding myths behind local Tamil temples betray an underlying pattern modeled on the violent and bloody self-sacrifice of the deity to the Mother-Goddess in a marriage that is simultaneously a rebirth from her virgin-womb. However, the need to purify the God and to affirm his transcendence before his devotees (bhaktas) introduces the egoistic demon-devotee as the surrogate-victim whose inevitable but fatal salvation retains all the ambivalence of a sacrificial punishment. Though outline how the “original” agonistic pattern corresponds to Heesterman’s pre-classical Vedic sacrifice, Shulman nevertheless derives the violent and transgressive elements—like the impure sacred power of blood, woman and untouchable priests—from early Tamil religious culture and tends to attribute the purificatory role to the imposition of brahmanical ritual norms, whose interdictory sacrality is only reinforced by the moralizing ethos of Shaiva Siddhânta Bhakti. The widespread popularity of the earth-bound demon-devotee in village-religion would then testify to the inability of Tamil Bhakti and Hindu Tradition in general to reconcile the conflicting goals of power and purity.[1]

Prof. François Gros[2] has already objected that Shulman fails to isolate and define in this corpus of temple-myths a specifically Tamil core, that would distinguish it from pan-Indian Hindu mythology. By comparing the parallel mythico-ritual role of Bhairava as a criminal god in North-Indian pilgrimage shrines, like Vaishno-Devi and especially Kâshî (Benares), with the transgressive embryogony shaping the Tamil cults of Kâttavarâyan and Ankâlamman,[3] it is suggested that the specifically Tamil elements of not only the nuclear temple myths but even of the so-called “folk” religion have been rigorously integrated into a pan-Indian sacrificial model. Abhinavagupta’s “Northern” (Trika) Shaivism rather reveals the primarily complementary nature of power and purity. Questioning the appropriateness of studying the purified Agamic religion of the Tamil temples without considering the transgressive ideology of the founding-myths, which still asserts itself through the paradoxical anpu of some of the Nâyanârs,[4] it is implied that the brahmanical sacrifice has so successfully assimilated its Other through a constituting dialectic of “Transgressive Sacrality” that to disown this heritage would be tantamount to a futile self-negation of Tamil identity.



[Much material to be inserted here]



[1] David Dean Shulman's Tamil Temple Myths: Sacrifice and Divine Marriage in the South Indian Saiva Tradition (1980). This thesis is further elaborated in D.D. Shulman, The King and the Clown in South Indian Myth and Poetry (1985), both published in Princeton, New Jersey, by  Princeton University Press

[2] See François Gros, "Tradition Tamoule et Mythologie Hindoue" in Revue de l’Histoire des Religions, CIC-1/1982, pp.67-83.

[3] Elizabeth Chalier-Visuvalingam, “Bhairava’s Royal Brahmanicide and the Problem of the Mahâbrâhmana,” and the contributions of D.D. Shulman, E, Meyer and M. Biardeau on Kâttavarâyan in Alf Hiltebeitel, ed. Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees, Proceedings of the 1985 Conference on Religion in South India, Washington D.C. (Albany: SUNY, 1988). See also E. Meyer, Ankâlaparamecuvarî: a Goddess of Tamil Nadu, Her Myths and Cult (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner  Verlag, 1986).

[4] See Dennis Hudson, “Violent and Fanatical Devotion among the Nâyanârs: A Study in the Periya Purânam of Chekkilâr,” in Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees. The present paper is a reworking of Sunthar Visuvalingam’s concluding paper on “The Transgressive Sacrality of the Dîkshita” to Hiltebeitel’s volume. The first seminar on “Transgressive Sacrality in the Hindu Tradition” was held during the 15th Annual Conference on South Asia of the University of Wisconsin, on 8th November, 1986.