Madhav Deshpande's abstract of the Michigan-Lausanne conference

Madhav Deshpande mmdesh at
Fri Nov 1 15:05:51 UTC 1996

Dear Dominik,
	Here is one more abstract from the Michigan-Lausanne
International Seminar which was missing from the earlier posting.  This
now completes the full set of abstracts.  Please add it to the Web
document.  Thanks.


Sarah Lee Caldwell (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)

	Bhagavati, the goddess who dominates both the landscape and
consciousness of the people of Kerala, is a complex figure who embodies
diverse streams of geography, culture, history, and religious expression.
Over the many centuries of her development, she has incorporated these
myriad dimensions into her persona.  Kerala too has a unique place within
Indian history and culture.  Although until the 10th century it was part
of the greater Tamil tradition of south India, sharing language and many
traditions with neighboring areas, Kerala's geography has always
demarcated it as a separate region.  Due to its topography, Kerala was
both physically isolated from the  rest of India throughout much of its
history, and open to extesive trade contacts with other countries, ranging
from Europe to China, through its busy sea trade.  The Dravidian culture
of Tamil south India formed the substrat of Kerala's early history, but
this was also modified by continual contact with China, Greece, Rome,
Egypt, the ancient Near East and Europe.  This extraordinary mixture of
influences resulted in a unique culture that was not at all homogeneous.
	This variegated physical and social landscape was characterized by
rich diversity and cooperation, but also by conflict.  The conflictual
model is the  essential drama of ancient Dravidian and Aryan cultures, and
is reflected in the stories enacted in Kerala's many ritual arts.  The
mythic battle between the demonic king Darika and the  warrior goddess
Bhadrakali has been seen by many as an allegory of historical conflict
between real political rivals.  However, interpretations of this
allegorical history are widely varied.  All agree that Kali represents the
good and Darika the evil; but exactly how these are defined depends
largely on one's point of view.  Some identify Kali with the Aryan rulers
of the lowlands; others claim her to be a tribal or Dravidian deity.
Narratives collected during anthropological fieldwork in 1991-92 also
conflate the Kali-Darika conflict with contemporary party polotics and
world political figures.
	Two themes emerge in all the various versions of legendary history
collected in Kerala:  the idea that some form of conquest of the
indigenous culture took place, and that Kali derives from and represents
that indigenous culture.  The differing assignments of cultural identity
to Kali and differing understandings of her "Aryanness" and
"Dravidianness" by indigenous experts are discussed, and Asko Parpola's
theory of first and second wave Aryans is evaluated in light of this
Kerala material.  This paper thus explores allegories of living history as
we trace the development of Kerala's unique culture through numerous
layers of external contact and conquest, and the deployment of cultural
categories in understanding that history.

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list