Śākta Influence in the Goddess Cults of Malabar

Location: Somerville College
Speaker: Dr Rich Freeman
Date: September 11, 2011
Time: 3:30pm to 4:30pm

This paper will attempt a synthetic overview of textual, ethnographic, and historical sources in Malayalam, Tamil and Sanskrit related to the cultural historical role and adaptation of Sakta worship in the temple cults of prominent goddesses in northern Kerala. Based ethnographically in the formerly royal shrines and temples of this region, where special Sakta priests conduct daily rites of worship with blood sacrifice and alcohol, and preside annually over festivals of spirit possessed incarnations of the goddess, I will cast a textual eye back over the Indological and literary record in a survey of the cultural history that eventuated in today’s ritual configuration. This region seems to have preserved important evidence for the amalgamation of a Sakta cult, with its hybrid priestly officiants, into the worship of local war goddesses under specifically royal patronage. My survey intends to highlight the nature of this evidence in its inter-relations as pointing the way forward to further Indological and ethnographic research.

[John] Rich[ardson] Freeman is a cultural anthropologist with a background and research interest in Indology (Sanskrit and Dravidian languages and literatures). He currently teaches courses on Indian civilization, Hinduism, and the anthropology of religion for the faculties of History and Religion at Duke University. His special area of research is Kerala, where he has carried out many years of ethnographic and textual work on the Teyyam traditions of spirit possession in Malabar, the wider region’s Brahmanical system of temple worship, and the literary history of Malayalam in its cultural relations with Sanskrit and Tamil.