The Home of Dancing Sivan: The Traditions of the Hindu Temple in Citamparam

The Home of Dancing Sivan: The Traditions of the Hindu Temple in Citamparam

The Home of Dancing Sivan: The Traditions of the Hindu Temple in Citamparam

The Home of Dancing Sivan: The Traditions of the Hindu Temple in Citamparam

Synopsis

Introduction Part I: Worship 1. The Priests and the Daily Ritual 2. The Worshippers and the Festival Celebrations Part II: Wood and Stone 3. The Builders and the Building 4. The Donors and their Political Connections Part III: Writings 5. The Legend-books and the Local Traditions 6. The Hymns of the Saints and the Saiva Schools Conclusion Bibliography/Index

Excerpt

When I entered graduate school in the 1960s I was frustrated to learn that there was no way a student of Hinduism could study the temples where Hindus worshiped. It was taken for granted that one would study Vedic thought, or maybe a commentator or a modern reformer, but not the "medieval" temples with their "mysterious" practices. At the time it did not occur to me that it was the Protestant bias of Western scholarship that had been presenting Hinduism in this distorted fashion, and I accepted as at least half-truths the arguments that temples would not welcome scholarly attention, and that the priests who ran them had no knowledge of the earlier traditions that had been housed in their institutions. By the 1970s new scholarly interests had begun exploring the Epics and Purāṇas, and it became possible to get a little closer to religious practice, but that only whet my interest in temples even more. In due time I stubbornly set about to find out what the living traditions of the temples were really like.

I started somewhat hesitantly by observing and writing about temple festivals where one could safely get lost in the huge crowds. Much to my surprise I soon discovered that I was welcomed onto the temple grounds by the priests, ascetics, and lay managers who run these institutions. Although these people were not often academically trained, they were usually quite learned about their own traditions and often knew all the hymns, rituals, and important historical stories of the tradition by heart. They could not read the inscriptions on the temple walls, but were confident that the inscriptions would confirm their understanding of the tradition, and were quite open to having the tradition explored from an academic perspective.

My choice of Citamparam as the temple tradition I wanted to study in depth came about gradually. I had decided fairly early on that I wanted to study a Śivan + ̲ temple, mainly because the word "tradition" was always used in such a careful way by worshipers describing what was important about Śivan + ̲ temples. I had visited Citamparam a number of times, but I was a bit in awe of its rich tradition and the fact that all South Indians still describe it as "The Temple," even though it is not one of the biggest or busiest temples today. Two chance developments helped change my mind. On a return trip to the temple with my teenaged son, he suddenly became a great favorite of some of the priests of the temple who were about his own age. Watching the priests in this disarming context helped me to see them in a somewhat different light as the innocent and enthusiastic custodians of a tradition they too . . .

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