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An Attempt at Gendering of Pilgrimage


· Bharati Jagannathan Miranda House (Delhi, India)


07/27 | 11:20-11:40 UTC+2/CEST


Between the 7th and 9th centuries emerged a vast corpus of literature in Tamil expressing deep personal devotion to one of the two major deities of the Hindu pantheon, Siva and Vishnu. This ‘bhakti’ poetry was often mystical, but equally often expressed itself in corporeal and material terms. Drawing both on a large, pan-Indian mythological corpus and on specifically Tamil notions of the divine being simultaneously transcendent and immanent, the hymnists sang of their chosen lord as resident and mystically active in specific locations, largely within the Tamil region in India’s deep south, but also scattered across the vast subcontinent. These poet-saints are said to have literally mapped a pilgrimage geography.

Exalting these shrine centres with thick descriptions, the hymnists encourage the listener— listening and reciting religious poems being considered a meritorious act— to embark on pilgrimage. Each poet/ess conceived of an individual relationship with the deity— as child, parent, friend or lover; each maps an individual peregrination. While the men poets seem to have been more peripatetic than the two poetesses, one each in the Saiva and Vaisnava traditions, the latter are no stay-at-homes. Is it possible to trace through this poetry, patterns of women’s travels? Are the shrines they speak about imagined destinations or do their poems sketch actual journeys? Who were their travelling companions? Do women’s experience of place in this literature differ from men’s—and how? My paper will try and address these questions in order to understand an unexplored dimension of pilgrimage.