11. A Tradition in Need of How-To Books: The Contemporary Revitalization of Traditional Rituals and Lifestyle among Smārta Brahmins of South India
Mikael Aktor [+]
University of Southern Denmark
The authority of South India’s smārta Brahmins has long been under pressure. The challenges have not only come historically from the anti-Brahmin sentiments of the South Indian political environment. Globalization and “Westernization” are addressed as more acute challenges. Due to these developments, the traditional ritual knowledge and lifestyle have almost died out. So today, smārta leaders attempt to revitalize traditional “values” and render them authoritative. Traditional values may be articulated as certain ideas and attitudes, but they are first of all revitalized through bodily and material practices in rituals and habits of dress, food and lifestyle. Smārta leaders organize sessions where people are taught some of these rituals, followed up by how-to books that explain both the ritual details and how to dress and cook in a traditional fashion. The present chapter examines the recent popularization of the almost extinct smārta pañcāyatanapūjā, a worship of five gods in the form of five aniconic stones from five different places of South Asia ranging from Northern Nepal to Tamil Nadu in the South. The popularization of this tradition uses various media - from how-to book literature, television, and the internet to the commoditization of ritual utensils. Weakened authority is strengthened through the pañcāyatanapūjā, where the five stones represent the Hindu South Asia as an integrated geographical and religious unit. The material presented in this chapter is used to discuss the interplay of authority, materiality and media with contemporary identity politics.