For centuries and particularly since the 1830s, Tamils and other South Indians have become part of a diaspora that has scattered their identities and traditions, both real and invented, to cities around the world. In his comparative study of four Tamil resettlements, senior scholar Fred W Clothey examines the rituals that have travelled with these South Indian communities-Hindu, Muslim, and Christian-and how these practices perpetuate or modify the heritages these groups claim for themselves in their new environs.
Clothey looks specifically at settlements in the cities of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Singapore; Mumbai, India; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Describing such settlements as communities living on boundaries, Clothey explores how their existence illustrates divisions among ethnic, local, and global identities; between generations; and between imagined pasts and uncertain futures. He contends that one of the most visible ways expatriated communities negotiate these boundaries is through the use of ritual as manifested in the building of shrines and temples, the celebration of festivals, the perpetuation and modification of performances, and the enactment of ceremonies believed to have ancient roots.
In individual chapters Clothey examines the construction of Pittsburgh's Sri Venkatesvara temple, one of the oldest and most authentic Hindu temples in the United States; explores the transition from temporary to permanent shrines in Singapore's Hindu community; compares how brahmins in Mumbai and Kuala Lumpur perpetuate subethnic identities in their shrines; and surveys Mumbai's slums to explore the worlds of Muslims, Christians, and castes of Hindus. He also reflects on the meanings of elaborate festivals is each of these cities and speculates about how the singing of hymns links the singers to their perceived lineage as well as to social configurations in their new homes. Such vignettes reveal how rituals serve to affirm a community's sense of heritage while at the same time reflecting their present circumstances. Through these case studies of the Tamil diaspora, Clothey suggests that rituals can create a process of being at home away from home.
Fred W. Clothey, professor emeritus of religious studies, has taught at the University of Pittsburgh for more than thirty years and also served as chair of its Department of Religious Studies. A founder of the Journal of Ritual Studies, he has produced and directed six documentary films on ritual and has written or edited seven books, including Rhythm and Intent: Ritual Studies from South India and The Many Faces of Murukan. Clothey has been a visiting professor at Charles University in Prague, the University of Hyderabad, and West Virginia University. He is the recipient of four Fulbright grants and four fellowships of the American Institute of Indian Studies. Clothey resides in Pittsburgh.
This volume has been taking shape for longer than I like to admit. In a certain sense it started in my youth, when I spent years in Tamil Nadu, befriended by its people and shaped by its culture. Yet from the time I lived in a relatively isolated, largely American boarding school in the hills of South India until my late college years, I struggled to come to terms with my bicultural identity. In retrospect, only as an adult did I learn to be comfortable as a "global nomad" who lived, worked, and thought on the boundaries between cultures, religions, and academic disciplines.
In many ways, therefore, I identify with the people described in this book, especially in their struggle to define and redefine themselves while living away from their ancestral home. At the same time, however, I am painfully aware of my being an outsider to them, humbled that I cannot fully enter into the world of expatriated Tamils and thus fully grasp every nuance of their experience. As a result, my research is always collaborative, always indebted to partners and colleagues who have been generous in sharing their time and emic insights.
I also share a certain discomfort with my American identity, not least of all with the assumptions of the American academy and especially with its disciplinary fiefdoms and their reliance on paradigms and theories that are all too Euro- Arnerican. One result of this dialogue between emic and etic, field and academy, in my work, and especially in this volume, is my tendency to offer modest theoretical suggestions only after consideration of the view of "insiders" rather than imposing grand theories on the data at the outset.
The studies that compose this volume have been done over more than two decades, starting with the months when I first joined the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh. Serendipitously, the community of Indian immigrants in the city was in the early stages of constructing a temple, and I was intrigued by the process and privileged to observe it throughout. A grant from the Pennsylvania Committee for the Humanities enabled me and my assistants to do a comprehensive survey of the growing Indian community in the Pittsburgh area. If I am not mistaken, it was the first formal study of Indian Americans in the United States. The same grant enabled us to film the ceremonies associated with the dedication of the new Sri Venkatesvara Temple. The experience piqued my interest in the way South Indians, and especially Tamils, were using ritual to negotiate their adjustments to life outside their ancestral homes. My essay summarizing this process first appeared in the volume Rhythm and Intent, published in 1983 by Blackie and Son of Chennai, India. That volume is now out of print, but the essay has been modified and updated and appears in this volume as chapter 2 with the permission of the publishers.
Much of the subsequent ethnography for this volume was done in 1991-92. Thanks to a fellowship from the American Institute of Indian Studies, I was able to spend several months in Mumbai, mentored by Professor K. K. A. Venkatacharya, then director of the Anantacarya Indological Institute. During that period I familiarized myself with the overall religious landscape of Mumbai; then, especially with the help of colleagues in the institute, I spent considerable time in conversations with a wide range of Tamils-from scholars to street vendors. Most of my time was spent in Matunga, the center of the Tamil establishment; in Chembur, a growing subdivision in the north-central portion of the city; in Dharavi, said to be Asia's largest slum; and in Cheetah Camp, a recently created subdivision along the inner harbor, populated almost entirely by lower- and middle-class Tamils. Many of the discussions that follow in this book were gathered and stimulated during these months of research, especially those on the Smarta brahmin establishments in Mumbai (chapter 5), on the Nadars of Dharavi (chapter 4), on the Navarattiri festival (chapter 8), and some portions of the material on the Arunakiri singers (chapter 10).
The Mumbai research was followed in 1992 by several months of research in Malaysia and Singapore while I was a Fulbright Southeast Asia Regional Fellow. I was hosted in Kuala Lumpur by the Department of Indian Studies of the University of Malaya, where Professors P. Rajoo and Singaravelu and Professor Raymond Lee of the Department of Anthropology were especially generous with their time. In Singapore I was hosted by the Southeast Asian Institute on the campus of the Singapore National University. During these months much of the research was done on the Tai Pucam festival (chapter 9), the Kuala Lumpur variations of the libations with 1,008 pots (chapter 7), and the brahmins of the Malaysian Peninsula (chapter 5), as well as the fieldwork on the Singapore temples (chapter 3).
I was able to spend an additional summer in Mumbai in 1994, funded again by the American Institute of Indian Studies and hosted again by the Anantacarya Indological Institute. During that period I could not only revisit and supplement my understandings from previous study but also collect most of my findings on the Tamil Muslims of Dharavi and Cheetah Camp (chapter 6). Dr. V. Parthasarathy of Anantacarya Institute and my research assistant, Ms. Tasqeen Macchiawalla, were especially helpful during that period.
I spent several subsequent summers in Hyderabad, India (1999- 200 1), accompanying students engaged in a study program at the University of Hyderabad. During these months I engaged in some research on the ways Tamils were participating in a popular Hyderabad festival known as Bonalu. This research does not appear in this volume, but I had 'occasion to discuss ideas and exchange notes, especially with members of the History Department and Department of Folk Studies. These conversations have proven helpful in giving me perspective on the studies included in this volume.
Each of the chapters included in this volume is a study in and of itself, each a portrait of an institution, a group of people, or an event that illustrates in some way how a resilient, diverse, and fascinating people have acted out who they are in their ritual life. These studies clearly do not tell the whole story-a great deal more work could be done in Mumbai or Kuala Lumpur, for example. But I hope they will invite the reader to catch glimpses of how various groups of people who share a common language even while living on the boundaries recycle and innovate ritual patterns in expressing their heritage.
In addition to chapter 2, two other segments in this volume have been published earlier and are reused here with permission. Chapter 10 is condensed and adapted from the introduction to my book Quiescence and Passion: The Vision of Arunakiri, Tamil Mystic, published in 1996 by Austin and Winfield. The brief descriptions found in chapter 3 of the Pankuni Uttiram festival observed in Singapore first appeared in the essay "Rituals and Reinterpretation: South Indians in Southeast Asia:' published in the volume A Sacred Thread, edited by Raymond Williams. It is reprinted here with the permission of Bochasanwasi Swaminarayanan Sanstha Inc. (Flushing, N.Y.), which currently holds the copyright to that volume. I am grateful to these agencies for permission to reuse this material. In addition, the map of Singapore accompanying chapter 3 is reprinted from one produced with the permission of the publisher, Lonely Planet.
I am especially grateful to Elspeth Wissner, who has shepherded this manuscript through its various incarnations to its final form and has managed to keep her sanity and gracious spirit throughout.
Finally, a word on diacritical marks is appropriate. I have followed the Tamillexicon in transliterating Tamil terms. Most of the technical terms used in ritual were expressed in Tamil (rather than Sanskrit); hence, I have transliterated them in their Tamil form. One exception was the rituals used in Pittsburgh's Sri Venkatesvara Temple, which have been transliterated from their Sanskrit form. Some terms that have become anglicized, such as places, caste names, and languages, I have reproduced in their anglicized forms.
Art & Culture (702)
Emperor & Queen (478)
Mahatma Gandhi (265)
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend