“Who am I . . . what significance do I have?” Shifting Rituals, Receding Narratives, and Potential Change of the Goddess’ Identity in Gangamma Traditions of South India


Burkhalter Flueckiger documents and analyzes numerous changes over the last 20 years in the narratives and rituals of the south Indian village goddess Gangamma in the south Indian pilgrimage town of Tirupati. There have been radical transformations in ritual, architecture, and personnel serving the goddess at Gangamma’s largest temple, Tatayyaguta; and the local goddess’ narrative repertoire seems to be receding from the public imagination, even silenced, being unknown to many in the burgeoning jatara crowds drawn from beyond the boundaries of Tirupati. These changes raise questions about what each constituent part individually creates, their relationship, and what is lost or gained by narrative and ritual as they change. The essay answers: What is created when Sanskritic rituals (traditionally offered to puranic deities rather than village deities [gramadevatas] such as Gangamma) are added to temple service, when middle-class aesthetics influence architectural changes, and when Gangamma’s narratives are unknown to many ritual participants? How is the goddess’ identity potentially changing with these narrative and ritual shifts? Bringing a performative lens to older issues of the relationships between ritual and narrative, ethnographic and performance analyses of Gangamma ritual and narrative traditions show the finely tuned ways in which both are independent and codependent and reflect and create—with the potential to change—the identity of the goddess.

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