Sunday, January 4, 2009

Fuller, C.J. “The Political and Economic Position of the Minaksi Temple Priests in the 1980s”

Fuller, C.J. “The Political and Economic Position of the Minaksi Temple Priests in the 1980s” in The Sacred Centre as the Focus of Political Interest. Ed. Hans Bakker, 1992. Pp. 205-218

SUMMARY: Examines the changes in the Minaksi temple, especially those concerning the priests, from 1976-1988. Fuller sees these changes as reflective of more general governmental, but, more importantly, economic shifts in Tamilnadu. These changes have led to improving morale as well as increased income for the priests and the temple as a whole.

205-based off fieldwork in the city of Madurai in 1976-77, 1980, 1984 and 1988: the morale of the priests in the first 2 visits was low, and they had resentment toward temple administration, the Tamil government, and the devotees; in the last 2 visits Fuller saw their morale had improved though there was little change in the actual temple, except in “ritual innovation and economic changes associated with it”

-there has been a “steady decline of anit-brahmanism in the Tamil political arena”; the AIADMK party governed Tamilnadu from 1977 to early 1988, when dismissed at the time of death of its own party leader. It was less hostile than its parent party the DMK (1967-76); (206) and generally anti-brahmanism decline for people not involved with these parties as the problems associated with brahmins—their disproportionate power over public life—was “largely resolved” and AIADMK even “began openly to court the support of the Brahmins”; in 1989 DMK was elected and “gained an absolute majority in state legislature”, but there will probably not be militant anit-brahminism: they won’t try, as they did in the 1970s, to open priesthood up to non-brahmins—Mrs. Gandhi welcomed their “emergency” dismissal in 1976

206-priests were still angry and hostile to the temple whose EO is appointed by HRCE, seeing the administration as “inefficient, incompetent, corrupt, meddlesome and ultimately illegitimate”—and interfering with correct ritual practice, sometimes in trivial ways—but their cumulating impact is “serious, because…they believe…It is persistent infraction of the Agamas which causes (or at least contributes to) modern India’s trials and tribulations, and eventually it may provoke Siva into taking revenge on the administration’s benighted officials.”—(207) and this is the consensus among priests

207-Fuller’s earlier book (1984) said priests’ demoralization was contributed to by them having “internalized many of the reformists’ criticisms of them” (direct quote from Fuller 1984, 161); eg the priestly ignorance of Agamic texts—though the reformists’ criticism was based on the fallacy that Agamas are manuals of procedure, though priests think they are as well; so now priests have their sons educated at Agamic schools (a 6 year long course) before working at the Temple—in 1980 only 1 had finished school, now 3 more have and 2 others have started; and that school has “almost doubled its intake of students and has opened a second branch”; though priests’ opinions on the value of it vary (if it actually improves knowledge of texts), there is still a minority coming to terms with reformist criticism

208-in 1980, 56 priests worked at the temple regularly, in 1988, 51; in the interim, 8 died, 1 retired, 3 left for other jobs; and it appears the numbers of young men available to work hasn’t changed

-they have been increasingly working in the US, Singapore, and Malaysia to bring in money from wealthy Indians that have moved abroad (though only 4 total are doing it, or have done it recently)

209-between 1980 and 1984 Fuller noticed a consumer boom and new affluence mostly for middle class but trickled down to the rest of community a little: more private cars and mopeds, expanded bus services, more private consumer goods like tvs and vcrs

-no financial accounts of the temple are published, but he did record temple ticket sales between 1980 and 1982 and they kept up with inflation, though the price of the tickets didn’t change between 1976 and 1988

210-in 1980s, 3 general trends of ritual innovations that are reflective of the times occurred: 1) a new scheme that allowed wealthier people to have more expensive rituals (eg agreeing to perform small rituals for a person throughout a year for a lump sum; increasing rates for expensive rituals while keeping average-costing ones the same; new ritual added for wealthy); 2) (211) a new shrine was made for common devotees which was for a very popular ritual and so brings in more people now; 3) (212) new popular rituals started without administration’s encouragement which includes, inter alia, increased popularity of Hanuman and Aiyappan ((213) Fuller suggests the strength that these gods characterize may be attractive to people who must have more personal strength as older class structure are eroding and the environment is more competitive), and these innovations increase the temple’s income too

214-throughout the temple’s history, rituals were supported by endowments; in 19th and 20th century, when some people were becoming wealthier under colonial rule, more people were able to do family or caste trusts; some old ones were taken over by administration when mismanagement occurred, and in the last 30-40 years, the administration has hardly let any new endowments be set up, and sponsorship is usually only allowed for individual rituals—consolidating temple administration’s power

215-attendance to temple has generally increased and these new visitors bring money for rituals; and priests’ income has generally increased—(216) plus it means more consistent work for priests, and not as much times simply waiting to be approached by a devotes, (217) less idle time for socializing, division between work and leisure is sharper—the priests’ role is now closer to a market-driven service than to a religious one which is shown appreciation with a financial gift—though priests deny this view

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