The Pañcāyatanapūjā and the Problem of Aniconism (MT17)

Location: OCHS Library
Speaker: Professor Mikael Aktor
Date: November 28, 2017
Time: 4.00-5.00

The Pañcāyatanapūjā is a worship of five deities, Śiva, Viṣṇu, Sūrya, Gaṇeśa and Devī. It emerged as a ritual style within the Smārta movement and appeared both in temple architecture and as a domestic worship performed with small stones and/or figurines representing the gods. The worship which had almost died out in most parts of India has recently been revived among Smārta Brahmins in Tamil Nadu. An analysis of the ritual can proceed from different perspectives. There are the social-historical developments which may explain the revival in Tamil Nadu. But there is also the theoretical perspective of aniconicity as a deliberate choice of representation vis-à-vis the iconic, anthropomorphic forms of the gods. Together with a group of researchers with expertise in different religious traditions I have been examining this spectrum of visual and material choices. The seminar will present an overview of the results of this research.

Mikael Aktor is Associate Professor of History of Religions at the Institute of Philosophy, Education and the Study of Religions, University of Southern Denmark. He holds a PhD from University of Copenhagen, a part of which was carried out at School of Oriental and African Studies, London. His field of expertise is within the study of Dharmaśāstra, in particular with a focus on caste and untouchability. He has lately been engaged in research on North Indian Śaiva temple ritual and temple sculpture as part of a general interest in ritual studies and religious aesthetics.