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When the World Becomes Female

Guises of a South Indian Goddess

Joyce Burkhalter Flueckiger

Publication Year: 2013

During the goddess Gangamma’s festival in the town of Tirupati, lower-caste men take guises of the goddess, and the streets are filled with men wearing saris, braids, and female jewelry. By contrast, women participate by intensifying the rituals they perform for Gangamma throughout the year, such as cooking and offering food. Joyce Burkhalter Flueckiger argues that within the festival ultimate reality is imagined as female and women identify with the goddess, whose power they share. Vivid accounts by male and female participants offer new insights into Gangamma’s traditions and the nature of Hindu village goddesses.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-viii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xiv

This is a book about the South Indian goddess Gangamma, whose rituals and narratives offer a range of possibilities and debates about gender at both cosmological and human levels. Gangamma becomes most visible and grows into her fullest power during her annual hot-season festival, during which time, for one week, ultimate reality is imagined and experienced as female. ...

Note on Transliteration

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pp. xv-xvi

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pp. 1-24

The South Indian pilgrimage town of Tirupati is synonymous with the God of the Seven Hills—Sri Venkateshvara, a form of Vishnu. His temple is nestled at the far end of a series of hills that swell from paddy fields and rocky hillocks on the plains to a height of 1,104 meters. God lives on the seventh, interior hill, Venkatagiri. ...

Part One. Imaginative Worlds of Gangamma

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1. An Aesthetics of Excess

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pp. 27-53

The most striking aspect of a jatara for someone experiencing it for the first time is its dizzying multiplicity of rituals and activities, carried out with a seeming lack of coordinated organization. These festivals are multi-sited, multi-caste celebrations; an elaborate web of castes, ritual families, households, ...

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2. Guising, Transformation, Recognition, and Possibility

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pp. 54-74

While stri vesham is the most notorious feature of Tirupati’s Gangamma jatara, guising also appears in less dramatic forms, including turmeric (pasupu) application on the faces of the goddess herself and her female worshippers. When I attempted to confirm with a group of women in Tatayyagunta temple courtyard that women did not take vesham, ...

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3. Narratives of Excess and Access

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pp. 75-96

Gangamma’s narrative repertoire opens up alternative and expanded perspectives on the nature of Gangamma—her excess and access—to those that jatara rituals perform. More specifically, the primary narratives of the goddess are a site of debate about gender roles and the nature of the female. ...

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4. Female-Narrated Possibilities of Relationship

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pp. 97-112

When I asked female jatara celebrants to tell me the why the jatara is celebrated, they almost always answered with descriptions of rituals rather than with a narrative. In contrast, men responded most often to the same question with the story of the Palegadu and Gangamma. When I asked women more specifically about the stories of Gangamma, ...

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5. Gangamma as Ganga River Goddess

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pp. 113-136

As my fieldwork associate and I arrived at Tatayyagunta temple to attend the alankara of the goddess during the Navaratri festival in the fall of 1999, I noticed a young woman wrapped in a wool shawl,1 wearing a large red bottu, sitting in the interior temple mandapam in front of a microphone. ...

Part Two. Those Who Bear the Goddess

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6. Wandering Goddess, Village Daughter: Avilala Reddys

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pp. 139-156

Although many Tirupati residents say Gangamma cannot be kept at home because she is too ugra, too much to bear, several families and individuals claim exception to this generalization: “While others can’t bear her, we can and do.” One such family is the Reddy family of Avilala village, only a few kilometers from Tirupati, ...

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7. Temple and Vesham Mirasi: The Kaikalas of Tirupati

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pp. 157-179

We first met the Kaikala family whose male members take Gangamma’s veshams when we entered their domestic courtyard during the 1992 jatara to watch preparation of Gangamma’s snake charmer vesham. A fourteen- or fifteen-year-old boy was being dressed as the goddess by his mother; ...

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8. The Goddess Served and Lost: Tatayyagunta Mudaliars

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pp. 180-209

The first year I participated in Gangamma jatara in 1992, a female, middle-aged, gracefully moving attendant was serving Cinna Gangamma in her Tatayyagunta temple. She was assisted by a male in the inner sanctum itself, and several other women were running in and out with various supplies and helping keep the temple precincts clean. ...

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9. Exchanging Talis with the Goddess: Protection and Freedom to Move

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pp. 210-241

I had attended three jataras and lived in Tirupati for several months in the fall of 1999 before I heard of the tradition of matammas.1 A professor at Sri Venkatesvara University invited me to go with him to a school he had started in an adjacent town for children of matammas. ...

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10. “Crazy for the Goddess”: A Consuming Relationship

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pp. 242-264

Veshalamma and Pujaramma articulate some of the benefits of entering a ritual relationship with the goddess; in their narratives, it would seem that these benefits outweigh the troubles they may experience because of this relationship. However, as the narrative fragments of the personal narratives of the female devotee of Gangamma in this chapter will suggest, ...

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Conclusion: Possibilities of a World Become Female

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pp. 265-272

This ethnographic study of the goddess Gangamma and those who live her traditions has raised several questions that are woven throughout the book. First, what is the gendered nature of the gramadevata goddess who is characterized as ugra, as “too much to bear”? How does understanding this ugra goddess who wears a tali and has children, ...


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pp. 273-280


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pp. 281-296


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pp. 297-304


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pp. 305-314

E-ISBN-13: 9780253009609
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253009524

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 20 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2013