Accepted paper:

Traversing Serendip - Anthropological considerations from the pilgrimage routes of Sri Lanka

Authors:

Ben Vecchiet (Deakin University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the cultural, political and hierarchical transformational processes experienced by Sri Lankan pilgrims participating in their annual 600km foot pilgrimage to Kathirkama. Pilgrim rituals, symbols and social dramas that illustrate this process will be presented.

Paper long abstract:

The Kathirkama paatha yaathirai (foot pilgrimage) is an annual pilgrimage that traverses the length of Sri Lanka's eastern seaboard. During the island's civil conflict (1983 - 2009) the pilgrimage was sporadically shortened in length or abandoned completely. With the ending of the conflict devotees of the Hindu deity Murugan are again free to participate in their 600km journey south along the traditional pilgrimage routes. The paper will initially present the mode and nature of pilgrim purification rituals and austerities, symbolic interpretations of religious attire, and the ongoing rituals participated in by the pilgrims on route. These ritual and symbolic processes will be explored in a pilgrimage context in which the participants renounce their names and titles, ideas of caste and class and enter/exist in a (quasi) sanyasi or renouncer world. This analysis attempts to illustrate the significance of the transformational process experienced by the participants from lay devotees to pilgrim 'swamis'. It is through this analysis that the paper explores two central points. Firstly, the fundamentality of the pilgrimage as a valuable avenue for members of the Tamil Saiva (Hindu) community to practically explore central devotional and cosmological themes. Secondly, through transitorily renouncing society the pilgrims paradoxically step into a dynamic political and cultural relationship with society. An aspect of this relationship will be surveyed through the political ideals intertwined in attempts to harness the spiritual potency embodied by the pilgrims to strengthen social and political endeavours of contested and periphery villages.

panel P099
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