Accepted Paper:

Religious dogma or political agenda? Bharatanatyam and its re-emergence in Tamil temples  


Ann R. David (University of Roehampton)

Paper short abstract:

My paper examines the place of dance in defining religious identity in UK Tamil temples. It questions if changes in temple ritual practices and accompanying dance forms indicate an expressive culture reaffirming faith, or whether a growing Hindu scriptualism and religious nationalism are revealed.

Paper long abstract:

In UK Tamil temples, the increasing religiosity and sacrility of temple ritual alongside a growth of Bharatanatyam dance performance presents a new discourse of performed Tamil Hinduism. Are these spectacles of specific 'faith' confirming a uniquely Tamil identity, or are such contemporary practices an ironic reversal to the times of the devadasis (original temple dancers)? What perceptions of the dance are held by devotees, priests, performers? What are the political implications of these resurgent religious sensibilities and do they support a 'globalized localism' (Waghorne 2004), where local, once-rural practices are being exported throughout the Tamil diaspora?

This paper, using evidence from ethnographic work in London Tamil temples and local Tamil communities, seeks to answer these questions in order to gain an understanding of the place of dance in defining religious identity. It too interrogates whether changes in temple and ritual practices and their accompanying dance forms are aspects of expressive culture that reaffirm, or 'perform' faith, or whether they are being expressed in relation to a growing Hindu scriptualism and a dominant religious nationalism.

Waghorne, J. P. (2004). Diaspora of the Gods. Modern Hindu Temples in an Urban Middle-Class World. Oxford and New York, OUP.

Panel W062
Dance, Europe and the ethnographic encounter