Accepted paper:

The Mariyamman cult in Puducherry, south India: an anthropological perspective on the social heterogeneity of Hinduism


Javier Gonzalez Diez (University of Turin)

Paper short abstract:

Goddess Mariyamman is one of the most popular deities among non-Brahmin castes in south India. Neglected by scholars and scorned by religious elites, the cult offers some insights on the internal heterogeneity of Hinduism and on the connections between beliefs and social structure.

Paper long abstract:

The purpose of my paper is to explore the social meaning of the Mariyamman cult in Tamil-speaking South India and its connections with Vedic and Brahmanic Hinduism. The paper presents results of fieldwork in progress in the Puducherry urban area, using data obtained by mapping Goddess Temples in the city and observing her yearly festivals. Mariyamman has long been neglected by most researchers, who considered her a survival of Dravidian culture, a "folk deity" or a "village goddess" opposed to Brahmanic Hinduism. In spite of this, the cult of Mariyamman is today practiced by the majority of Tamils not only in villages but also in urban peripheries. The population of non-Brahmin castes considers her a powerful goddess, closer to daily life than the principal deities of Hinduism. She is a non-vegetarian deity and both priests and worshippers come from middle and lower castes. Despite Brahmins' contempt, Mariyamman is also integrated by her followers in Hindu cosmology, through identifying her to Parvathi and Kali and connecting her cult to core Hindu cults, such as Ganesha and Shiva. In this paper I argue that the cult of Mariyamman is not just a simple folk cult: rather, it questions a monolithic view of Hinduism and represents a religious expression of middle and lower castes. The current strength, adaptation and diffusion of the cult in South-Indian urban contexts suggests, moreover, many interesting research perspectives on the connections between religious beliefs and social structure in Hinduism.

panel P71
Anthropologies of Buddhism and Hinduism