At the feet of the goddess
: A comparative study of local goddess worship in Khurdapur, a village settlement in Orissa and Cholavandan, a small town in Tamilnadu

  • Lynn Foulston

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis is an examination of the local goddesses and their worship in two contrasting field sites. The settlement of Khurdapur consists of five small villages situated a short distance outside Bhubaneswar in Orissa. Cholavandan, on the other hand, is a small town located near to Madurai in southern Tamilnadu.

    While this study seeks to provide a comprehensive view of local goddess worship in differing environments it also addresses three questions. 1) Is the goddess-centred literature, written at the beginning of the century, still applicable to contemporary goddesses? 2) Do local goddesses really warrant the negative labels ascribed to them by some scholars, such as "malevolent" or "ambivalent"? 3) Is there uniformity or divergence between the goddesses and their worship at the two field sites? In order to address these concerns the research is concerned with three general areas of investigation 1) the temples and shrines 2) the character of the goddesses 3) the ritual worship of the goddesses.

    These three areas are analysed thematically in terms of the opposites, sacred and profane, order and chaos and the pairs, power and purity, anger and unpredictability. Maps of Khurdapur and Cholavandan are included, as are tables, plans, and photographic evidence, supporting and clarifying the findings in each section.

    The temples and shrines of Khurdapur and Cholavandan are examined in relation to standard temple configuration, with the conclusion that the temple and shrine structures do not necessarily conform to the patterns given in written sources. An analysis is made of the spatial and symbolic layout of the temples and shrines, in particular as it relates to conceptions of sacred and profane in the two local settlements.

    An analysis of the character and nature of the goddesses of Khurdapur and Cholavandan is the pivotal section of the thesis. The pairs, anger and unpredictability, and power and purity are examined closely in relation to the character of the goddesses of Khurdapur and Cholavandan, addressing such questions as, are the most pure goddesses really the most powerful in a local setting? In many cases, it is apparent that impurity accompanies an abundance of power.

    The final section details the main ritual practices and festival rites in Khurdapur and Cholavandan, comparing practices at the two sites and making a distinction between the rituals that take place inside and outside the sacred precinct of the temple.

    In conclusion, I have provided evidence to suggest that local goddesses have been erroneously generalised as "malevolent" according to previous research. Although many goddesses have a dualistic nature, generally they more readily heal than afflict. The goddesses of Khurdapur and Cholavandan do not adhere to the characterization outlined in previous research.

    I have shown, by examining a wider range of goddesses than previous studies, and at sites in different parts of India, that a three or two-way categorisation is too narrow, since the majority of goddesses straddle former classifications. The evidence collected has also provided various suggestions about general trends of local worship across India.

    Date of AwardMar 1999
    Original languageEnglish


    • Gods and goddesses
    • Hinduism
    • religion
    • India

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