When the World Becomes Female: Guises of a South Indian Goddess

When the World Becomes Female: Guises of a South Indian Goddess

When the World Becomes Female: Guises of a South Indian Goddess

When the World Becomes Female: Guises of a South Indian Goddess

Synopsis

During the goddess Gangamma's festival in the town of Tirupati, lower-caste men take guises of the goddess, and the streets are filled with men wearing saris, braids, and female jewelry. By contrast, women participate by intensifying the rituals they perform for Gangamma throughout the year, such as cooking and offering food. Joyce Burkhalter Flueckiger argues that within the festival ultimate reality is imagined as female and women identify with the goddess, whose power they share. Vivid accounts by male and female participants offer new insights into Gangamma's traditions and the nature of Hindu village goddesses.

Excerpt

The South Indian pilgrimage town of Tirupati is synonymous with the God of the Seven Hills—Sri Venkateshvara, a form of Vishnu. His temple is nestled at the far end of a series of hills that swell from paddy fields and rocky hillocks on the plains to a height of 1, 104 meters. God lives on the seventh, interior hill, Venkatagiri. This mountain range anchors and gives identity to Tirupati’s physical and imaginative landscapes. From the plains below, the sheer rock face overlooking the town is a striking visual reminder of the god’s presence. the rock catches the shifting light throughout the day in a kaleidoscope of color and shadows, changing with the seasons when it becomes a resting stop for monsoon clouds or reflects the sizzling hot-season heat back onto the town.

The God of the Seven Hills draws 50–60,000 pilgrims a day (up to 500,000 on special festival days), and much of Tirupati’s economy revolves around serving these pilgrims; the temple is one of the wealthiest religious institutions in the world. Tirupati’s train station and large bus stand are filled with groups of pilgrims and families carrying cloth-wrapped bundles, tin trunks, or modern wheeled suitcases. Pilgrims with shaved heads . . .

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