An illustrated travel report of a surprising Hindu rite

 By Nold Egenter


During a research trip through Kerala to visit some Hindu temples indicated to us by Miki Desai who had visited and studied them before, we spent some days for rest at the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent, at Kovalam Beach. One evening many peoples gathered at the beach. Lights were extinguished. The small  open-air museum nearby devoted to traditional culture of southern Kerala  had organised a local village's Hindu ceremony. Its main content consisted  in the erection of a temporary symbolic structure, some sort of a ceremonial hall, in front of a local deity. First, the local priest and his assistants took a lot of pains to gorgeously decorate this ceremonial structure with flowers and other plant materials. The priest then performed a Hindu ceremony (puja) in front of the deity. After the quiet ceremony in the dark, he suddenly jumped up, took a sword and in a fiercely wild dance  cut the four corner poles into pieces. His wild action produced a tremendous devastation of the order carefully set up before. There was no time to study the rite in depth, but in view of its primary phase which establishes a clearly defined spatial order it seems to be originally related to the perennial temple of a settlement. Its dynamic end might be related  to the final phase of a cyclic period where the toposemantic hut was dissolved to rebuild a new one. The categorically polar relation of the deity of an advanced anthropomorphous character interpreted as a stable sanctuary for the event and the evidently much earlier temporally deeper structure definitely oriented towards the later institution and its place reminds us of similar structural conditions found in many other places (European folklore, agrarian cults in Japan). The following report does not follow the general indicators of religious beliefs, but is exemplaric for the phenomenological approach used in the framework of 'habitat anthropology' (or environmental behaviour studies).

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