Deification in Tamil culture - The case of 'cankili canniyaci' (The ascetic with a chain)
This article analyses the cult of 'Cankili Canniyaci' or the Ascetic with a Chain as observed by the authoress during her research in rural areas of Tamil Nadu. The analysis of this continually evolving cult leads her to more general reflections on deification in Indian culture, especially to the identification of liminality as the primary condition for deification. Like other deified groups (e.g. fallen warriors, widows who committed ritual suicide), 'Cankili Canniyaci' has a borderline existence and his death violates the natural ending of human life. The authoress demonstrates that stories about 'Cankili Canniyaci' can be interpreted as a myth about the trickster whose power is rooted in his liminal position and at the same time inextricably linked to transgression. Using Tamil religious terminology, 'Cankili Canniyaci' is qualified as a typical 'ciru teyvam' (small god) of terrestrial origin who operates on the borderline between the worlds of humans and gods.
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