The Gentrification of the Goddess

Joanne Punzo Waghorne

in Diaspora of the Gods

Published in print September 2004 | ISBN: 9780195156638
Published online January 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780199785292 | DOI:
 The Gentrification of the Goddess

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Encircled by ever-expanding suburbs of Chennai, many old village “seats” of feminine divine power (shakti pitha) are attracting ardent new middle-class devotees. Called Amman (mother) in Tamil, these Goddesses (Mariyamman, Mundakakkanni Amman, Kolavizhi Amman) reign alone, usually without a male consort. Middle-class neighborhood groups, often led by women, are taming the powers of such “village” goddesses long associated with blood sacrifices and wild ecstasy by giving these Goddesses inviting faces and literally “domesticating” their sites into proper new temples. This process of gentrification or “bourgeoisification” of the Goddess reveals evolving middle-class religious sensibilities. Goddess temples become the sites for a new bourgeois public sphere (Habermas), where the middle classes enact and construct a common identity. This gentrification reaches out into the surrounding streets as well, where new groups lobby for public cleanliness. A sign on the wall of an old temple reads “Please help us keep the street clean”.

Keywords: shakti pitha; Mariyamman; Mundakakkanni Amman; Kolavizhi Amman; gentrification; bourgeoisification; bourgeois public sphere; Habermas

Chapter.  16863 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Hinduism

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