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Tiruvannamalai, un lieu saint sivaite du sud de l'Inde, 3 vols.

This superb and as yet incomplete set of volumes on the South Indian temple center of Tiruvannamalai stands as a reminder of the sort of comprehensive and collective intellectual work that could occasionally be published in other days, but now is rarely seen. The project was conceived and carried out by French scholars connected with the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient in Pondicherry in collaboration with Indian colleagues, most notably, the epigraphist and art historian P. R. Srinivasan. Srinivasan was responsible for the large, two-part volume of inscriptions from the various structures of the Tiruvannamalai temple. Overall planning and editorial responsibility for the series was that of Dr. Marie-Louise Reiniche.

Tiruvannamalai, in the North Arcot District of Tamilnadu State, has been a sacred place since the seventh century when it was celebrated by the Saivite hymnist saints Appar and Nanacampantar. Thereafter, Siva, in the fire form of his representation, was frequently mentioned in Tamil and Sanskrit devotional works, making Tiruvannamalai one of the favorite pilgrimage places for Tamil Saivites for centuries. The 500 inscriptions that are found on its buildings have been transliterated and translated by Srinivasan in the first volume of the set; these cover a period of seven hundred years, beginning in the ninth century. Kings of three kingdoms, Chola, Hoysala, and Vijayanagara--whose sovereignty extended over Tamils as well as Telugu- and Kannada-speaking subjects--issued these records. Such continuous royal attendance upon the god there was a sign of the popularity and importance of the temple over much of the medieval period: it was a place where the great always sought to make some mark, thus its epigraphical record is one of the most valuable to historians of the South. The latter will appreciate that many of the inscriptions of the volumes were newly discovered by the Pondicherry team, and it was this preliminary epigraphical work in 1980 that inspired the comprehensive analyses that have emerged at the end of the decade. Additional valuable apparatus for this long, inscriptional volume was provided by Dr. Reiniche.

This first volume of the set is distinctive in another way: its general discussion as well as translations of Sanskrit and Tamil inscriptions are in English whereas the other volumes are in French with all too brief English summaries. It is of course unfortunate that the whole of the work could not have been done in English so as to make them as accessible as they deserve to be for Indian scholars as well as those beyond the Francophone world. Still, the high level at which these fine volumes is pitched means that they are very specialized and the potential readership, outside of India anyway, will make the necessary effort to handle the French text.

Such linguistic difficulties are much reduced in any case by the abundance of the very high-quality graphs, maps, photoplates and tables found in the first and in each of the subsequent volumes. These represent an enormous labor by their authors and manifest the sustained care and judgment that went into the entire Tiruvannamalai project, as every reader will appreciate.

In addition to the volumes reviewed here there is yet another volume (vol. 3) to come, on rituals and festivals (rites et fetes) at the temple. In all, a quite remarkable feast of erudition.

The archaeological volume consists of five sections, beginning with the placement of the town in its larger regional setting (J. Deloche). This is followed by a longer analysis of the built environment on and around the hill on which the sacred complex sits (F, L'Hernault); the hill is said to symbolize the fire from which Siva emerged, flanked by Brahma and Vishnu as worshippers. Next in the second volume on archaeology is an appropriately full treatment of the major shrine dedicated to Siva as Arunacalesvara (F. L'Hernault and P. Pichard). A linga of the class of spontaneously generated deities (svayambhu) occupies the sanctum, the original shrine of the god, which began as a simple cell around the middle of the tenth century, when the first inscriptions are found. During the next thousand years, to the nineteenth century, new constructions were carried out. These included new shrines, pillared halls and walls such as to create a nested set of five enclosures, a world over which Siva presides and in which worship is offered.

The still unpublished volume on ritual will document that aspect and it will be the work of Reiniche and L'Hernault.

Reiniche's volume on the sociological configuration of the temple conveys the strongest imprint of a French point of view in these Tiruvannamalai studies. This reflects the trained sensibilities of Reiniche, a student of such textualists as Madeleine Biardeau, to whom the work is dedicated, and Charles Malamoud, and to her anthropological mentor, Louis Dumont. Those progenitors assure that the ritual services and management of the temple as well as its historic and contemporary patrons are properly located upon a social grid, one which has changed profoundly in the course of its millennium of history. Apart from chapters devoted to these various subjects, she offers a most interesting exploration of the place of temple religion and divine sovereignty in a contemporary Indian world of populist democracy, and therefore offers light of a different frequency upon the present dangerous tension of communalist agitations in India.

The last part of this series, volume 5, continues the focus of Tiruvannamalai in its modern secular, rather than its sacred, context. It is the work of a demographer, C. Guilmoto, an architect, P. Pichard, and once again Marie-Louise Reiniche, who bridges the sacred and the secular aspects of contemporary Tiruvannamalai by considering the complex sociology of pilgrimage and pilgrims in modern India. She extends this by taking up the larger question--informed by the researches on Tiruvannamalai--of the place of towns in the modernity of South India: how towns link past and present, and where and how sacred places fit and caste continues to have meanings that connect with wholly other pasts in the present materialist and fluid social world of South India and its opportunistic politics.

Beyond constituting a first-rate collective moment of scholarship, these several volumes set a standard for understanding sacred and mundane urban places like this one in South India. It would be too much to hope that in these days we may see studies of other centers of equal or possibly even greater stature than Tiruvannamalai; therefore, these fine volumes will be taken generally to represent sacred centers in South India and indeed in India as a whole. This would be wrong and a violation of the very spirit of these volumes, whose authors insist on a punctilious understanding of place and time in the terms of the complex evidence that a place like Tiruvannamalai presents to serious and assiduous scholarship.
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Author:Stein, Burton
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:1123
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