தமிழ்த் தேசியம்

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 


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Journey Down Memory Lane To Reach 'tamiz Izam'

Chapter 35


Opposites are the foundation of dynamism. Day and night, good and bad, slave and master, rich and poor, beauty and beast, the list is endless. If this contrast is not there then one will be greater or larger than the other. This cannot be so and hence good has to be the equal opposite of bad.

The pull or push between the two equal opposites develop into a couple. A couple, as we all know from our knowledge of physics, is to produce rotation or motion or is dynamic. ‘ikkary mAddukku akkary paccy.’ The English equivalent can be, "distance gives enchantment to the view."

Some of us despite the ugliness associated with darkness, are capable of enjoying the beauty of the night moon, the stars and even darkness that produces a silhouette effect on objects. The night silence is sometimes music to the inner-self that was subjected to the pandemonium raised in the name of music. On the other hand, despite the beauty associated with brightness, suffer the heat of the day, the noise of diurnal diverse di-do, need to be awake to the idiosyncrasies of a world in which the majority are half-educated and many not even quarter-educated, in which large fortunes and enormous power could be obtained by exploiting ignorance, suffering and greed.

By education I mean that knowledge that will lead us to a happy and contented life. Education capable of sifting the chaff from the seed and not join the bandwagon. Because someone has said, ‘cInAvukkup pOnAl Nadu muRi Namakku,’ "If in Rome do as the Romans." Then we are escorting trouble and all the malaise of this world. It is to avoid such pitfalls that I would want a new beginning and the best opportunity is in a ‘tamiz Izam.’ Please do not go with the idea that ‘tamiz Izam’ by itself is the panacea, but in its formative years we could steer it towards a society that could approach goodness. It is hard to change anything that has gained momentum.

President Clinton in his state of the Union address last night has indicated that, although the US cannot be the policeman of the world, US cannot ignore sufferings of people in other parts of the world. I am glad that he has dubbed the present as the "age of possibility."

In appealing to those who keep away from approaching America to help in our struggle, on the erroneous position that America will never help us, I said that is not a probability but a possibility. I still believe in it and will continue to get America take her place, as the world leader, to get relief and satisfaction for us.

The position of the Sinhalese and the US is simple and understandable. If US is a pot of milk and goodness, then a teaspoon of the sour curd, (‘kEdu’), Sinhala publicity is enough to curdle up the whole pot. We ‘tamizar’ are trying to sweeten that pot of milk with a teaspoon of sugar. It is not going to change the taste nor the form of the milk. We need teaspoons and teaspoons of sugar to change that pot into the sweet milk we want the Us to be towards us. The American taste is for sweetened milk and the yogurt fad came from Germany. Yogurt is good as a stomach ‘correctant,’ then how many of us have stomach disorder every day to need yogurt every day as a correctant? So people let us give the US more sugar.

I am appending an article that appeared in a book, "Uppsala Studies In The History Of Religions 2 (1995) with an Introduction and co-edited by Prof. Peter Schalk. I am afraid I am unable to transliterate ‘tamiz’ as done in these articles as I am ignorant of the code used and my inability to assign symbols used to bring out ‘tamiz’ words through English alphabets. Therefore I am compelled to use my Alphabet Table, copies of which some of you already have.

I quote Prof. Schalk about the Author: " A fourth important contribution in this issue is by the anthropologist NA. canhmukalingkam on "The Successful Marriage of a ‘kannijA kumari." A Sociological Study of a Religious Center in ‘jAzppAnham.’ NA. canhmukalingkam is an anthropologist in the school of G. Obeyesekere with whom he had done field work. He represents then an anthropological aspect study of the religion at ‘jAzppAnhap palkalyk kazakam.’ His works do justice to the contemporary and social situation of public and private religiosity in ‘jAzppAnham.’ He also published an important paper in Lanka 5 on "From Ghora to Bhoga: Role Exchange and Rise of the Goddess Turkkai in ‘jAzppAnham."

The Successful Marriage of a ‘kannijA kumari.’
A Sociological Study Of A Religious Centre in ‘jAzppAnham.’
‘NA. canhmukalingkam.’


Mother worship is ancient to Hindu religion and is continuing to this day with the same importance as at the beginning , and in fact, it is in ‘jAzppAnham’ becoming more and more popular. The worshipping pattern varies from place to place. Some of the Amman ‘kOvils’ are sanskritised according to the folk traditions. In addition, there are a few Amman ‘kOvils’ with a mixture of both traditions.

This century has turned out to be the one noted for women’s liberation and the establishment of equal rights . The Hindu ‘kOvils’ are by tradition managed by the dominant males. In ‘jAzppAnham’ today there is a change from this and there are ‘kOvils’ managed by women. The ‘turkky kOvil’ at ‘tellippaLy’ is the first ‘kOvil’ to have a lady as the manager, and in fact, this is now a rich and popular ‘kOvil.’

There are now many more ‘kOvils’ that are managed by women. The Amman ‘kOvil’ at ‘kalavapOdy, EzAly,’ about seven miles from ‘jAzppAnham’ city and situated between ‘jAzppAnham palAli and jAzppAnham kAngkEcaNtuRy’ roads, very close to the Turkkai ‘kOvil’ referred to above, is the field of my study. Many of the popular Amman ‘kOvils’ have at present developed as satellite ‘kOvils’ of the Turkkai ‘kOvil,’ but this Amman ‘kOvil’ at ‘kalavapOdy’ known as ‘vacaNta NAkapUcani Amman kOvil, has developed quite independently.

This Amman ‘kOvil’ is peculiar in many ways. A lady by the name of Vacantakumari, age 33 (?) after whom the ‘kOvil’ gets its name, is the owner of this ‘kOvil.’ It is interesting to note here that the devotees identify her with the mother goddess or vice versa. In the souvenir published in 1990 to celebrate the ‘kumpApicEkam-1- of the ‘kovil it is said: "It is only when the goddess appears in human form, the people begin to realize her existence. In this ‘kOvil’ the mother goddess has created Vacantakumari in her very form to make the people realise her grace and love for the people."

Thus, at the beginning of her career, Vacantakumari was referred as ‘cinna Amman-2- (when she was young) and now as ‘ammantAj’-3- with her advancing age. ‘ammantAj’ is supposed to have many divine powers and she is said to be successful in solving the problems of her devotees. This has certainly made the ‘kOvil’ popular, both within the country and outside the country.

‘ammantAj’ who is cherished as the incarnation of the mother goddess, all of a sudden and most unexpectedly and to the surprise of her devotees, announced in July of 1992 her desire to get married. Agitation and protests by her devotees followed this announcement. The devotees wondered as to what would become of her divine powers following this dilemma. They feared that the divine powers associated with her virginity might be lost with her marriage, and therefore there was a genuine need for their cries of protest. They had to prevent this marriage at any cost. A similar situation was experienced by the mythical ‘kannijAkumari,’ and this was studied by Shulman-4- in 1980, Obeyesekere-5- in 1984, Babb-1- in 1975, and others. This myth emphasises that the power of the goddess is derived from her virginity. In order to retain this power , ‘kannijAkumari’ was prevented from marrying Lord ‘civan.’ However, Vacantakumari, the living ‘kannijAkumari of jAzppAnham,’ was successful in her marriage in spite of all the protests and objections. She continues to carry out her former role as ‘ammantAj’ even after her marriage.

As a student of sociology of religion, I became interested in this dilemma, and the present study identifies the sociological factors behind it.


1. Participant observation and non-participant observations were made and were carefully recorded during the period of the dilemma-the marriage and post-marriage period activities of Amman and the ‘kOvil.’

2. A stratified sample of 500 devotees based on sex, age, occupation, place etc., were interviewed, and information regarding their opinion of ‘ammantAj’s’ marriage was collected.

3. Leading religious personalities involved in the rituals and ceremonies of the ‘kOvil’and those of observers were also interviewed.

4. In addition, the growth of the Amman and the history of the ‘kOvil’ were assessed.

5. The earlier data which I gathered during my study of Tellippalli, Turkkai and its satellite ‘kOvils,

were also used.

Origin and history of ‘ammantAj.’

‘ammantaj’ was born as the eighth child to ‘canhmukam cellattury and cuNttaram’ belonging to a ‘cyva vELALa’ family in ‘EzAly.’ It is said that she was carried in the mothers womb for 11 months-2- and her divinity is associated with this. At the age of seven, she became possessed by ‘amman.’ There are many myths associated with this. According to her devotees, she went with her mother to the ‘murukan kOvil at cellaccanniti, tonhdamAnARu,’ a ‘kOvil’ famous for folk worship like the possession by spirits or ‘tejvam.’ "God." At the ‘kOvil’ she got into a trance, and from then on her behavior became rather unusual. The mother, worried and anxious about the daughter, sought the help of the doctors and the doctors could do nothing. Ultimately and and elderly doctors pronounced and accepted her possessed state with supernatural powers.

The dissatisfied unhappy mother took the child to native doctors. All of them firmly confirmed that it was indeed ‘cinna amman.’

On her return home, she remained aloof and demanded that she be given a separate room for her prayers. Subsequently, she requested that she be trusted and she emphasized that she had come down to earth in order to enlighten the world and reform it. Her relatives and friends scorned at her. She was least concerned about what others said and, in fact, became more adamant about the purpose of her life. As a result, they had to accept her as someone with divine powers. In the course of time devotees increased in number, and the construction of a ‘kOvil’ became inevitable, Therefore, a ‘kOvil’ was constructed in the village.

At a request an Amman statue was carved out and bought from the nearby ‘kanhnhaki amman kOvil’ in a procession and enshrined at ‘kalapavOdy.’ Thereby this ‘kOvil’ too came to be known as ‘kannaki amman kOvil.’ Inside the ‘kOvil’ and in the sanctum sanctorum, the Amman is mounted on a cobra. The idol within the ‘kOvil’ is unusually large and is

portrayed in the form of the ‘ammantaj’ herself. This reinforced the concept of devotees, identifying ‘ammantAj’ as Amman. About this time a Brahmin priest, advisor to the ‘kOvil’ suggested that the ‘kOvil’ from then on be called ‘vacaNta NAkapUcani amman kOvil.’

The ‘kOvil’ became popular as a result of the power of ‘ammantAj’ in solving the problems of her devotees which are referred to in the next section.

Powers of ‘ammantAj’

A few selected examples are given below to illustrate the powers of ‘ammantAj’:-

i) Problems in relation to marriages.

There were many instances where ‘ammantAj’ had helped to solve problems related to marriage of her devotees. Just to quote one example, a Christian girl from ‘UreLu’ a nearby village, was deserted by her lover and in grief she approached ‘ammantAj’ who requested her to offer a ritual to the goddess in order to receive the blessing of the Amman. The girl performed the same and was rewarded, her lover returned to her.

ii) A dumb child gains the ability to speak.

A dumb boy of four years of age developed the ability to speak when ‘amman tAj’ blessed him.

iii) Chronic disease and cure,

A young girl was badly affected with chronic disease, and there was no cure for it. In desperation when she had prayed to God, Amman appeared in her mother’s dream and guided her to the Amman ‘kOvil.’ Taking this as a message from God, the following day the mother and daughter found the Amman ‘kOvil’ without much difficulties. ‘ammantAj’ offered ‘vipUti’-1-, and as this was applied , the girl recovered to joy and happiness.

It is also believed that’ammantAj’ visits the houses of her devotees taking the form of a snake and helps them when need arises.

iv) Social relations and services.

Her relationship with the public seems to be very good. Even outside ‘pUca’-hours, she never fails to receive her devotees and talk to them to find out their problems. She has developed a practice to take part in the ‘pacany’ held in her devotees houses, and her visits are warmly received . This has tremendously helped to gain popularity.

Vacantakumari has helped to put up buildings to conduct classes, health centers, etc., in the ‘kOvil’ surroundings. Wherever there is need, she has always donated books and other items required to school going children. She provides shelter, food and clothing for all of them. The present ‘jAzppAnham’, especially in ‘EzAly’ where the displaced and affected villagers seek shelter in large numbers, give more meaning to such centres.

Thereby, the ‘kOvil’ of ‘ammantAj’ became more popular. It became a centre for social work.

v) The dilemma, and the marriage of ‘ammantAj.’ Before marriage.

In June 1992 ‘ammantAj’ suddenly announced her intended marriage to one of her devotees, a man of no means, and a supposed drunkard. Her relatives and devotees could not accept it. The news spread far and wide within the peninsula, spread chiefly by her relatives and friends. It, thus, became a hot point for discussion both within and outside the religious sectors. The devotees became divided into two, one group favoring the marriage and other resenting it. Immediately after the announcement of the marriage, the number of the devotees declined and the few who continued to come wished that ‘ammantAj’ will retain her virginity and that the issue will be settled without bringing any ill effect to the ‘kOvil’ and to them.

There are many stories about her wish for marriage. Those who advocate her marriage pronounced that ‘amman’ appeared in the dream of ‘ammantAj’ and advised her to get married. In contrast, those who are against this marriage accused that this is a long standing love affair and that she had been hiding it all these days.

‘ammantAj,’ realising the opposition for her marriage, announced that she will give up the idea of getting married. The devotees who detested this marriage were overjoyed and they soon returned in large numbers to the ‘kOvil.’ However, this announcement was rejected with anger by the prospective bridegroom (NittijAnaNttan,) and he with his relations, demanded and threatened that ‘ammantAj’ should agree for the marriage as promised earlier.

Having no alternative, ‘ammantAj’ had to accept the marriage finally and the day was fixed for the registration. The devotees were divided as mentioned earlier, and a large number of them opposed this marriage. The news of the marriage spread far and wide and those who opposed were determined to stop this at any cost. On the day of the registration, the bridegroom and his party arrived in the village with all the gifts which the groom is expected to carry for the bride. The opposing group prevented the vehicle from entering the village and forced the groom and his party to return to return. ‘ammantAj’ was very hurt and upset. She remained in a closed room with selected devotees who kept company and consoled her.

By this the devotees were now confident that this marriage will not take place and that everything was going to be acceptable to them. But, all of a sudden , a third force, the local ‘kAvattuRy,’ "police" entered the scene at the request of ‘NitijAnaNtan’ to the astonishment of all. It is said that ‘NitijAnaNtan’ had documentary evidence to convince the third force. Subsequently the local ‘kAvaltuRy’ took charge and restored peace among the people and in the surroundings.

The marriage date was announced over the local press and the announcement read as ‘tirumanhat tiruvizA,’ " Festival of marriage." With this announcement, a large portion of the undecided devotees joined the ‘ammantAj’ side. AT this juncture, it was felt that both the devotees and the supporters were worried about the consequences of all the events.

The attitude of the devotees toward the marriage of ‘ammantAj’ was divided and a large number, almost 52%, wished that this marriage should not take place. 37% of the devotees were for the marriage while 11% remained undecided.

During my interview, a few leading religious personalities expressed their concern about the recent happening in the ‘kOvil’ and one of them commented: "If ‘ammantAj’ is interested in marriage, she should give up the ‘kOvil’ and get married. Then there will be no protest."

The same opinion was expressed by most of the public who had no contact whatsoever with this ‘kOvil,’ but were concerned about maintaining the ‘cyva’ traditions.

It is interesting to note that only a small group, who were closely associated with ‘ammantAj,’ felt that she should get married. In this context one mother remarked: "She is also a lady, why should she not marry, after all she was responsible for the marriage of many young girls. She is also a lady and she must have a family life at least at this age."

vi) During marriage.

The ‘kOvil’ was decorated for this event. The ‘manhavaRy,’ a beautifully decorated seat where the couple will be seated, was placed in the space next to the sanctorum. The Amman was decorated for the occasion with pomp and pageant. The wedding ceremony was conducted by a Brahmin priest as in normal Hindu marriages. The bride’s house was the small apartment south of the ‘kOvil,’ where she normally lived. The bridegroom arrived as usual in a decorated car in procession. His arrival gave a wave of satisfaction to the crowed who had gathered for the wedding.

The bride was brought to the ‘manhavaRy’ in procession from her residence, and in this process the St. Johns Ambulance girls and boys carried oil lamp lighted- a new tradition- and it is noteworthy to mention here that this crowed first distributed ‘karkkanhdu,’ "sugar candy," as soon as the wedding was over.

The wedding ceremony concluded with wishes and blessings. The interesting feature here is the fact that the leading personalities after blessing her, touched her feet to receive her blessings in turn. The leading personalities invited to give the ‘Acijury,’ a blessing talk, included a Brahmin, and a teacher, famous for ‘katAkAlAccEpam,’ "musical discourse." While blessing, he said: "This is ‘tirukkalijAnham,’ {sacred wedding}. According to the ‘akattijar’ myth,’ ‘akattijar’ was refused a place in the heaven because he did not have a ‘puttiran,’ "Son." In order to avoid this, and to obtain ‘puttiran pAkkijam’-1- at the last minute, he had to get married."

In this regard, a comparison is made between ‘akattijar’ and Vacantakumari (‘ammantAj.’) ‘pucuppA celvaNAjakam, a pronounced spinster and a good orator, referred to ‘ammantAj’ as ‘amman.’ She stated that the initial protests were made in order to maintain the virginity of ‘ammantAj.’ She further stated:

"What does our ‘cAttiram’ say? ‘tuRavaRam’ is after ‘illaRam’ {Ascetism is after marriage,} ;civan’ married ‘pArvati,’ and allocated his left half to his consort. Like ‘pArvati’. ‘kAmadci,’ this Amman from Vacantapuram, will continue to protect and bless her devotees, and not only her devotees, but also those who condemn her."

She concluded by paying homage to the feet of ‘ammantAj.’

The third person, an important personality, the Head of Nallai ‘AtInam,’ the Head of one and only recognized ‘madAlajam’ in ‘jAzppAnham,’ came late and wished in the same manner.

It is interesting to note here that no one gave homage to the bridegroom.

After Marriage.

‘ammantaj’ did not desert her family, in spite of the fact that they objected to the marriage, and even after the marriage ‘ammantAj’ continued to employ her sister’s son as the assistant in the ‘kOvil,’ and the enmity was reduced. At that time the brother-in-law who is one of the major opponent of the marriage, became seriously ill and the man dreamt of a snake. This frightened them thinking that it was ‘vacaNta NakapUcani amman’ who had visited them in the form of a snake. The following day, they rushed to the ‘kOvil’ and ‘amman ttAj’ gave ‘vipUti.’

Gradually the ‘kOvil’ regained popularity. The ‘kOvil’ now celebrates the popular Hindu festivals associated with Amman worship and on these days popular personalities, attracting crowd are invited to ,give discourse. These were performed in order to regain the lost crowd: ‘Natacuvaram, villuppAddu, paddimandapam, etc.

It is interesting to note that certain Hindu fundamentalists, who initially objected to the marriage are now in many ways working to bring the ‘kOvil’ back to its former glory. Along with these changes ‘ammantAj’ is gradually getting involved into her former role. Subsequently rumours were spread that the cobra which left the ‘kOvil’ earlier was seen to reach the ‘kOvil’ back via the nearby Mallakam ‘vIti.’ These type of rumours attracted more new crowd to the ‘kOvil.’


The living ‘kannijAkumari’ is now successfully married. All efforts to prevent the marriage failed.

As analyzed by Shulman-1-, Obeysekere-2- and others discussed earlier, the Tamil Culture and traditions did not accept the marriage of their ‘amman tAj,’ But the social and cultural changes taking place in the peninsula brought a different ending, and ending most unexpectedly and contrary to what happened to the mythical Kanniyakumari.

With the help of socio-political institutions, the religious centre is able to withstand all resistance from the devotees and the Hindu population at large and fulfilled her wishes.

The sociological factors behind this religious change can be identified by analysing the data described as follows.

Mythical Conflict and New Explanations.

As Levi-Strauss (1973) states: "It is the nature of myth to provide a logical explanation more capable of overcoming a contradiction." The explanation given by religious dignitaries toward the marriage as studied earlier, like the reference to ‘akattijar,’ the marriage of ‘civan-pArvati,’ ascetic life only after marriage, are examples and explanations cited to have the public and the devotees accept the twist.

Economic factors.

The social services rendered by ‘ammanTaj’ as mentioned earlier, exemplified by the Home for the aged, the Medical centre, the Child nursery, the social help to needy children and other benefits, if they are to be continued, ‘amman tAj’ must continue to be as she was, so that people will receive continued support. Those who returned to her are those who wished to continue to have her support. In other words, they were worried about their economic dependency. After her marriage they were forced to accept her for economic benefits. The motivation of the relatives also came to be exposed. In fact after the marriage, if resistance had continued, they would have been the losers. So, they began to change their attitudes and accepted her.

Religious Personalities after the Marriage.

The ‘cyva’ orthodoxy and the present religious personalities, were forced to accept the marriage and the ‘kOvil,’ although they were not for the marriage. This had to be done for the following reason as reflected by one of them, in my interview.

"We have written and maintained that this is an important place of worship, but now it is important we have to accommodate ourselves to avoid criticism by others."

A Goddess always.

With all the controversies, protests, arguments, a core of devotees remained with her and never questioned her actions. They continued to see her a s ‘amman tAj.’ Even before the marriage, without a child, she has always been a mother to them. As Obeysekere referred in relation to ‘pattini,’ she is mother because she is Goddess and as Goddess she is mother to all of them.

Sympathy towards unmarried status of women.

Above all those factors given above, the one which is most significant is the sympathy towards the unmarried status.

The Turkkai ‘kOvil’ and its associated satellite ‘kOvils’ which are becoming popular in the recent times, are in a way a symbolic expression in feminist line.-1- These ‘kOvils’ particularly deal with social problems directly relating to women marriages and give culturally approved solutions. The social needs of this modern world appear to change the form of the deities and popularity itself-2-. The same spirit is behind this issue too, sympathy over the status of unmarried women helped in the understanding of the present Kanniyakumari’

The mythical Kanniyakumari failed to achieve her wishes due to the well maneuvered activities of the Devas, which prevented Lord Civan from reaching Kanniyakumari from ‘cucINtiram’ for the wedding. The disappointed Kanniyakumari threw away all the gifts presented by Civan into the sea and accepted her ill fate with much sorrow. In fact, the sympathy which is lacking towards women in the world of Gods, is available in the changing religious sphere in ‘jAzppAnham’ and paved the path to success to our living ‘jAzppAnham kannijA kumari.’

As Preston mentioned, religion is more than a mere system of rites and symbols-3-. There is no way to isolate the sacred world of ‘kOvils’ and priest from the community. It is becoming more difficult to draw clear lines to distinguish sacred from the secular domains. Religion is part of culture, man, nature and cosmos with common problems of everyday life. Life of Vacantakumari and her success in marriage reiterate this and reflects the religious changes taking place in the changing ‘jAzppAnham’ today.


Babb, Lawrence A. The Divine Hierarchy: Popular Hinduism in Central India. Columbia University Press, 1975, pp.215-237.

cellyjA, en. vacaNta Naka pUcani ampiky varalARu. kumpApicEkamalar,kalapavOdy, EzAly, 1990.’

Preston, James J. Cult of the Goddess. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1980.

Shanmugalingam, N. "From Ghora to Bhoga: Role Change and Rise of the Goddess Turkkai in ‘jAzppAnham." Lanka 5 1991, pp.186-200.

Shulman, D. D. Tamil ‘kOvils’ Myths. Sacrifice and Divine Marriage in the South Indian Caiva Traditions. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980, pp. 147-148.

Obeysekere, G. The Cult of the Goddess Pattini. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1984.

O’ Flaherty, W. D. Asceticism and Eroticism in Mythology of Siva.. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.


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