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Branfoot, Crispin (2020) 'Power, Processions and the Festival Architecture of the Tamil temple.' In: Albery, Henry, Hartmann, Jens-Uwe and Prabha Ray, Himanshu, (eds.), Power, Presence and Space: South Asian Rituals in Archaeological Context. New Delhi: Routledge, pp. 164-187.

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Processions are a central element of the ritual lives of Tamil temples, occasions when portable metal images of the deities (utsavamurtis) are carried beyond the confines of their home shrine. Such processions are the ritual performance of spatially-defined divine power, the deities sometimes making claims to contested space through their movement. The sponsorship of periodic festivals and the structures to which utsavamurtis were carried on these occasions became an important act of visible patronage for temple donors, enabling privileged access and proximity to deities and the rituals honouring them. In this chapter, the spatial and architectural dimensions of festival processions in Tamil south India will be examined, contributing to the burgeoning literature on the role of sacred architecture in the orchestration of performative ritual space (Wescoat & Ousterhout eds. Architecture and the Sacred, 2013, Kyriakidis ed. The Archaeology of Ritual, 2007, Inomata & Coben eds. Archaeology of Performance, 2006). Following an outline of the potential sources for examining temple processions from the seventh century and later – collections of portable bronze images, inscriptions and literature, paintings and modern ethnography – the discussion will focus on the architectural and material evidence for temple processions both within and beyond the temple walls. This includes the increasing volume from the thirteenth-fourteenth centuries of stone buildings, in place of earlier temporary structures, that are specifically-designed for the periodic residence during festivals by deities: columned halls (utsavamandapams) and water-filled tanks (teppakulams). The placement and iconography of architectural sculpture, especially the increasing numbers of life-size donor figures from the sixteenth century, in the corridors and festival-mandapas of Tamil temples through which the deities are carried will be examined to illuminate their ritual function and the festival routes through the archaeologically ‘empty’ spaces of the concentric walled enclosures of the Tamil temple city. The chapter will conclude by outlining the impact of festival processions on urban design, focussing on the temple cities of Chidambaram, Madurai and Srirangam. As a whole, the chapter aims to demonstrate the importance of festival ritual and processions to the interpretation of sacred architecture, sculpture and urbanism in Tamil south India.

Item Type: Book Chapters
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of Arts > Department of the History of Art & Archaeology
ISBN: 9781003083832
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 20 Jul 2020 15:11
Funders: Other

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