Socio-cultural Dimensions of Ritual Objects: Nagarathar Rites of Passage

By Kala Shreen.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

The Nagarathar community (which originated from Tamilnadu, India), follows elaborate rites of passage. Various elements of material culture such as sacred objects, ritual implements, ethnic jewellery, food, festive decorations, traditional attire, ceremonial music and songs play a vital role during the performance of these ceremonies. Material objects are primarily products of human action, though objects produced by nature can also play an important role in understanding the material culture of rituals. For example, the coin is a product of human action. The leaves and stalk of a banana tree are not, but, they exude symbolism and take on meaning for humans if used as a ritual object, ethnic decoration or as a platter to serve God food. Similarly objects have multiple functions. A coin is used primarily in economic transactions. However it also has a symbolic value, when tied in a red cloth along with a piece of turmeric as in the pudumai rite of Nagarathars. The ritual objects create and maintain the sanctity of ritual space and performance, religious ritualistic ambience and decorum and the ethnic identity of its members. They also serve as a mechanism for cohesion among family or community members.

The engineering and operational modalities of ritual objects are governed by several factors and rules of protocol. The creation of ritual objects is guided by auspicious time frame according to Tamil ritual calendar. Different rituals objects are to be handled only by certain designated people, depending on gender, kin affiliation etc. Ritual things also impose behavioural restrictions on the wearer/bearer/keeper and associated immediate kin members. Many of the ritual objects have undergone transformations due to modernization, acculturation, migration and changing economic status of the Nagarathars.

This paper thus deals with the socio-cultural dynamics of material objects in select rites of passage in the Nagarathar community.

Keywords: Hindu Rituals, Objects, Material Culture, Rites of Passage, Nagarathar Community

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 5, Issue 5, pp.79-92. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 668.783KB).

Dr. Kala Shreen

Associate Dean - Research & Lecturer, Department of Sociology, MOP Vaishnav College for Women, University of Madras, Chennai, Tamil nadu, India

Kala is the Associate Dean for Research and Lecturer, Dept. of Sociology at MOP Vaishnav College for Women, University of Madras, India. She is also the Initiator/Director of Cultural Dynamics and Emotions Network, Queen’s University Belfast, U.K. Her principal research interests include religion, rituals, diaspora, community studies, material and visual culture. Her research has been sponsored by Charles Wallace India Trust, London in 2007 and Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canada and International Council for Canadian Studies in 2008. She received an award for international scholars from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in the U.S. in 2006 to present a paper on the Nagarathars at SSSR’s Annual Conference. Her documentary film ‘Little Traditions of Tamilnadu’ was screened at Rice University and University of Houston, in 2005 and in Queen’s University Belfast, in 2006 accompanied by lectures on ‘Sidewalk Hinduism’. She has scripted and directed a documentary film and authored a book “Return of the Rituals: Rites of Passage of Nagarathar Children” in 2009. One of her recent articles is “The Social Function of Religion: A Case of the Nattukottai Chettiars” in International Research Journal of Social Sciences, 2008, Vol. 1, No. 2, July/Dec, p 65-75.

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