The Cult of Draupadi (Mythologies from Gingee to Kuruksetra)

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  • Book Name The Cult of Draupadi (Mythologies from Gingee to Kuruksetra)
  • Author Alf Hiltebeitel
  • Language, Pages Engish 487 Pgs. (HB)
  • Last Updated 2024 / 07 / 09
  • ISBN 9788120810006, 8120810007
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The Cult of Draupadi (Mythologies from Gingee to Kuruksetra)
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The regional and epic mythology of the South Indian Draupadi cult may at first sound a remote and forbidding note. The region referred to in my subtitle, the medieval kingdom of Gingee, is today little known and scantly studied. And the Indian epic which has Draupadi as its chief heroine is that literary hulk the Mahabharata, perhaps known by name, or even recallable as a familiar tale, but daunting in its true massiveness and complexity. However, this is not a study of obscure kingdoms and arcane epic symbolisms. It is an exploration, through the study of a singularly representative cult, of the inner dynamics of popular devotional Hinduism.

Through its twelve years in the works, it has remained from the beginning my guiding intention to present this study as an account of the relation between the South Indian, Tamil "folk" traditions of the Draupadi cult and the pan-Indian, classical structure of the Sanskrit epic. To set this volume in perspective, however, it is worth tracing a few of the false starts that this intention has spawned. First of all, the decision to focus study on a single cult was made after certain early trials and errors. It meant rethinking and rejecting an initial format, which was to do an in-depth study of the cult's epic-related myths and rituals by looking primarily at one temple.

Much material was gathered toward that end at Tindivanam. But over the years, the more I studied the Tindivanam temple and its annual festival, the more I found that I needed to know about other Draupadi temples and their festivals. For one thing, the different :!_merant performers-epic reciters and actors-who came to Tin-i'vanam from year to year not only varied in their own repertoires, t volunteered information on differing practices at other temples and festivals where they had worked. Above all, the more I listened at Tindivanam, the more I heard of connections between Draupadi and Gingee, the region's medieval capital, whose fortified moun-tains could be pointed out on the western horizon from Tindivan-am's rooftops, about twenty miles away. It thus had become evi-dent by 1981 that Gingee's secrets must be plumbed for what they would reveal about the Draupadi cult as a whole: its regional foot-hold, its forgotten history, and the relation between the cult's Gin-gee mythology and its mythology of the Mahabliiirata. And from one angle, that is the subject of this book, which limits itself wherever possible to the Draupadi cult's mythology. But the completion of the larger study must still transpire over two more volumes, a decision also arrived at only after another run of false starts that sought out various ways, all of which eventually proved impossible, to bring the whole under one cover.

A second book will thus focus on Draupadi cult rituals, a topic that will allow me both to delve deeper and range wider historically and geographically in the study of the goddess than is wise in a study on myth. And the third volume-some portions of which have already been published in preliminary form (Hiltebeitel 1980b, 1980c, 1981, 1984a, 1985b)-will be a retrospective on the Sanskrit epic from the stand-point of the Draupadi cult, that is, a Mahcibharata interpreted through the centrality of the goddess. In characterizing this volume as part of the study of a cult, I am pleased to note that Obeyesekere (1984, xv, 5-9) undertook his beautiful study of the Pattini cult in Sri Lanka and South India with a similar field plan, and that he arrived at a likeminded conclusion with regard to the value of studying a cult over time and space rather than attempting to catch its essentials through a traditional one-village monograph. A similar intention is evident behind other cult studies such as those of Stanley and of Sontheimer on Khan-doba, and most notably Eveline Masilamani-Meyer's marvelous work on the Tamil cult of Ankalamman. But once having identified this study as that of a cult, one also risks confusion. Not only are there other regional cults of various deities like those just men-tioned, but hero cults, village goddess cults, cults of lineage and caste deities, royal cults, possession cults, cults of boundary deities, and so on, not to mention the Brahmanical temple cults of the great gods of the Hindu pantheon: Visnu, Siva, the goddess, Murukan, Gariea. What makes the Draupadi cult "singularly representative" of popular devotional Hinduism is that it incorporates dimensions of all such cults.

Yet beyond locating the Draupadi cult amid other such phenomena, this study will find it singularly representative on other levels as well. It is hard to imagine a cult that would provide richer possibilities for understanding the working dynamics and inner tensions of lived Hinduism. (Note that for the moment I avoid the terms "popular" and "folk," for the Draupadi cult is unintelligible without recognizing the "classical" and even Vedic strains that, from the bottom up, with its "folk" roots and branches.) Though I hate to speak of anything so rich and vital as the subject a -case study," it must be admitted that something of this sort-ended in this work. The Draupadi cult invites review and of so many of the "reflexive" oppositions that have ened Indological studies-and parallel studies in related over recent decades: not only the folk/classical, Vedic/Hindu, oppositions just alluded to, but the op-between the village and the region, the regional and the indian (including the Islamic) and pan-Hindu, the historical and the mythic, the sanisciric (this-worldly) and the moksic (release-:it-tented), the Aryan and the Dravidian, and the Sanskritic and P1votal to all these representative oppositions, however, are the ilmensions of the Draupadi cult whose combination makes it: the centrality of the goddess, and the determinitiveness Mahabharata. Let us imagine what we might learn of Greek and culture if we found in what remains of some out-of-:Se-way medieval Greek kingdom that the current-day Macedonian 5:rewalking cult of Saint Helen and her son, the emperor Constan--zne (see Makrakis 1982; Furley 1981, 212-33; Danforth 1979), were really about the Iliad and Helen of Troy, and that the epic Helen had taken birth a second time as the saint in a fashion that linked 'tk-,61 incarnations in a common mythology and theology to aspects :.,#± Demeter, Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis, Medea, Medusa, and the V-Lwri Mary. The Draupadi cult presents us with such connections. 1.-t the Indian context, however, the goddess and the Mahabharata 72.-e shared for centuries a cultural and religious centrality in which e connections between them are real and perennial, and with deep structures whose continuities and transformaons through time, space, and differing social contexts we have begun to understand. In part, then, this book is a study of tnuities and discontinuities in the cult of the goddess and the :transmission of the Mahabharata as they relate to each other, and work together to sustain the fundamental values and vitality Hinduism.

And more generally, it is an attempt to study some at the more far-ranging themes and issues of Hindu mythology through the dynamics of this ongoing relation. As regards the goddess, this Preface need not say much. Numerous studies have begun to make her familiar, and I will cite many of them. Insofar as this work points toward an integrated study of the Hindu goddess (which is itself a desideratum), it does so by correlating Draupadi's mythology with the following primary linkages: the "pan-Indian" Devi Mahatmyam, or "Glorification of the Goddess," the classical Sanskrit text that first synthesizes early material on the goddess, most notably in her forms as Durga, Slayer of the Buffalo Demon, and Kali; the Sanskritic-Brahmanical royal ritual of Dasara, which is equally "pan-Indian," and, with its buf-falo sacrifice, correlated with the Devi Mithatmyam; the springtime festivals to local village and regional goddesses, which recapitulate aspects of Dasara; and the cults of caste and lineage goddesses, which share so much common ground with village and regional cults. In addition, Draupadi's Tamil milieu links her mythology with the goddess myths of the great South Indian Brahmanical temples, most notably those of Minaksi of Madurai, Kamaksi of Kanchipuram, and the buffalo-slaying and androgyne myths of the goddess of Tiruvannamalai. The last two sites are well within the Gingee region.

As to the Mahabharata, I must attempt to be a little more helpful. Although the first chapter will introduce the Draupadi cult's Ma-habharata through the medium of songs of praise, and the entire second part of this book will treat the epic from different cult-related angles, I can say a few things here about the epic that will make this study more accessible to readers unfamiliar with it. First of all, one has the Sanskrit Mahabharata. Its composition is conventionally dated between 500 s.c. and A.D. 400. It presents a global view of India, but its central action is in the north, in the Ganges-Yamuna doab. No texts as such survive from this time, and by the medieval period, from which the oldest versions of the Sanskrit epic survive, the work exists in at least two major recensions: the northern and the southern. By the medieval period, the Mahabharata had also been recast in South Indian vernacular languages, with the oldest versions being in Tamil. There are some indications that the Tamil epic tradition is closer to the southern recension of the Sanskrit epic than to the northern. But more evident, the Tamil versions, from as far back as one can identify their contents, are more closely linked with distinctive regional folklores than they are with anything distinctive about the southern recension of the Sanskrit epic. This would also seem to be the case for other South Indian vernacular versions of the Mahabharata as well.

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