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Subproject A3

Initiation, Ordination to Priesthood, Temple Festivals - Ritual Traditions in the South-Indian Temple City of Kancipuram

Department and Research Field: Classical Indology
Subproject A3 has been concluded November 31, 2008.

Subproject Management

Prof. Dr. Ute Hüsken (Projektleiterin A3.2.)  

Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages University of Oslo
Faculty of Humanities
P.O. Box 1010 Blindern
N-0315 Oslo Norway

Telefon: +47 22 85 48 16
Telefax: +47 22 85 48 28

Website Subproject A3

Dr. Srilata Raman (Projektleiterin A3.1.)
Main topic A3.1. has been concluded June 30, 2006.  

Department of Classical Indology
South Asia Institute
Im Neuenheimer Feld 330
69120 Heidelberg

Phone: +49 (0) 6221 - 54 89 16
Fax:  +49 (0) 6221 - 54 63 38



Project Program

The city of Kancipuram is an old religious center in South India. Since the 7th century, it developed into a place of religious pluralism, attracting religious specialists of different faiths and thus uniting e.g. Buddhists, Jaina, Vaishnava and Shaivites. Today, the city's ritual topography still reflects this diversity, yet Vishnuism, Shivaism and Shakism are currently most prominent.


We will examine the rituals connected to the Tantric-Shaktic temple of the goddess KamaksÍ, the Tantric-Shivatic Ekambaresvara temple, and the Varadaraja temple of the Vishnu (also Tantric) Pañcaratra. The historic-, experience- and socio-dynamic aspects of the relation between the two transmitting media, namely text and performance, still remain in the foreground of our research.


The representatives of all three ritual traditions draw on specific authoritative ritual texts in Sanskrit. Therefore, comparing the texts with the performances within the respective tradition will indicate the impact of the textual orientation on the current ritual practice and will suggest how to interpret the commitment to certain scripts.


During the first research phase, we concentrated on gathering and analyzing the textual and performative components of the initiation (diksa) and ordination rituals (abhiseka).

In the second project phase, we will extend the research on this thematic constellation to include the Varadaraja temple (A3.2) and the aspects of authorization and agency of the ritual specialists in their historical development and in the context of the contemporary regional religious policies. This also includes questions concerning strategies for acquiring ritual competence and concerning the internalization and representation of a religion-determined temple identity. In relation to the initiation rituals, our research on the Kamaksi temple will focus on the analysis of the historical context regarding the relation between the ritual practice of the non-Brahman goddess cult and the Brahman Hinduism.


Another set of rituals we will examine in the second project phase will be the respectively largest temple festival (Brahmotsava) and the therein-included staging of the temple history in the scope of the processions. Here, we assume that the ritual space is constantly renegotiated and redesigned. We will investigate the construction and change of the ritual topography in the context of the negotiation of power between the gods of the three Brahman-dominated temples, and also explore the interaction with gods that are worshipped with non-Brahman rituals. Although these celebrations are based on a common scheme, they differ considerably in their concrete performance (expenditure, time, place, paraphernalia, audience etc.) in the traditions under examination. Therefore, we will compare the ritual traditions in their respective historic development on a structural, institutional and cultural level in order to isolate the conditions for continuance and transformation of the temple practices and to enable us to describe them.

Main Topics

A3.1 Rituals and text of the Kamaksi temple: "High" and "Low" Ritual in the Goddess Tradition (Researcher: Dr. Srilata Raman)  

A3.2 Rituals and texts of the Varadaraja temple (Researcher: Dr. Ute Hüsken)