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Of Siva, Religious and Cultural Space


Amiya P. Sen

SIVA IN THE FOREST OF PINES: AN ESSAY ON SORCERY AND SELF-KNOWLEDGE
By Don Handelman and David Shulman 
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 221, Rs. 595.00

A TREASURY OF MYSTIC TERMS PART I (6 VOLS.)
Edited by John Davidson with the help of an international team.
Science of the Soul Research Centre , Radhasoami Satsang, Beas, New Delhi, 2003, price not stated.

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 10 October 2004

Don Handelman and David Shulman, two eminent scholars based at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, successfully bring together literary sensitivity, anthropological insights and a critical awareness of a regional religious tradition in this work. Some of the key issues or questions raised here, are, by their own admission, anticipated in a previous work God Inside Out: Siva’s Game of Dice published in 1997. However, as I have myself come to realize, unfamiliarity with that particular work does not necessarily put the reader at a disadvantage with respect to the book under review. Though ideally treated as a companion volume to the one brought out in 1997, the present monograph, as the discerning reader is bound to acknowledge, has a certain autonomy and value of its own.   Siva in the Forest of Pines is an excellent and intense analysis of four classical Saiva texts produced in Tamil country and the area bordering southern Andhra Pradesh. These texts, in turn, draw upon the so called ‘Daruvana myth’ found in certain Puranic works partial to Saivism such as the Kurma and Skanda Puranas . However, the re-narrativi-zation of an older myth by Tamil and Telegu scholar-poets is quite purposive in as much as this is used to strengthen the sanctity of shrines/ temple-sites dedicated to Siva. All the four texts studied in this work viz. the Kanta Puranam (15-16th century) of Kaciyappa Civacariyar; the Koyir Puranam (14th century) of Umapati Civacariyar, the Tirunelvellittalapuranam (1829) of Nellai Yappap Pillai and the Hara Vilasamu (c.14th ) of the Telegu poet, Srinatha, specifically relate to the well-known Saiva shrines of Kancipuram, Cidambaram, Tirunelveli and Lepakshi respectively. In so doing, what is perhaps a pan-Indian, Sanskritic tradition is creatively integrated into what I would call a vernacular, region-based religious tradition.   Here, it would be important to remember that Saiva Siddhanta on which these texts are philosophically founded, is not unique to Tamil speaking regions and in truth, this borrowing of myths or motifs across geographical and cultural boundaries is one of the important dimensions to these texts. Arguably, the character of this cultural or philosophical dialogue changes with time. I did notice, for instance, that a preface written for the 1829 text attempted to especially bring out the poet’s indebtedness to pre-existing works in Sanskrit (p.114). At the time, this might well have been a part of the larger Sanskritic revival characterizing modern Hinduism. From this perspective we might even ...


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