tantric and non-tantric forms of Goddess worship in CilappatikAram

Palaniappa at aol.com Palaniappa at aol.com
Wed Jun 25 21:27:20 UTC 1997

While the elaborate description of KoRRavai/Durga worship by the hunters in
CilappatikAram does not seem to have any tantric element of magic or
power-imbued words, there is another episode in the text clearly showing the
effect of DurgA mantra.

Before they reach the hunters' village, the hero KOvalan, the heroine KaNNAki
and their companion the Jain nun Kavunti, pass through a forested area. As
KaNNaki and Kavunti rest, KOvalan goes to a pond to get some water to drink.
On his way, a forest-dwelling goddess takes the guise of an associate of
MAtavi, KOvalan's courtesan-lover, and talks to him. Having been warned
earlier that he might encounter a goddess who will trick him, to find out who
she really is, he says he he utters "the mantra of the Lady who rides the
leaping buck" or DurgA mantra which is supposed to remove sorcery.
Immediately, she confesses the truth and apologizes and requests him not to
tell the wife and the nun what happened.

KOvalan is from a rich merchant family from the capital city of PukAr. His
marriage was performed with a brahmin priest and circumambulation of the
fire. He knows the DurgA mantra. 

On the other hand, the simple hunters in the dry region who seem to maintain
Durga worship traditions elements of which go back to the Indus culture, do
not show any mantric/tantric elements. Their worship is based only on
possession, adoration and sacrifice.

Thus we see a correlation between the presence of tantric knowledge and
socio-cultural background of persons in CilappatikAram. This suggests to me
that an originally simple cult of Goddess was tantrified among the elites of
the society.


S. Palaniappan

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