1st Annual Tamil Conference


First Annual Tamil Conference
Kōyil: Invention, Imagination, Transmission
April 30 – May 1, 2005

April 30
9:45 a.m-10:45 a.m Breakfast & Introductions
10:45 a.m.-11:00 a.m. Introductory Comments
11:00 a.m.-12: 15 p.m. Session 1
  • Whitney Cox: Periyapuranam among the Public Narratives of Cidambaram
  • Leslie Orr: Renunciation and Celebration: Ascetics in the Temple Life of Medieval Tamil Nadu
12:30 p.m.-2:00 p.m. Lunch
2:00 p.m.-3:15 p.m. Session 2
  • Richard Davis: Aghorasiva’s Guidelines for a Perfect Temple Festival
  • Davesh Soneji: “No More Nautches in Poodoocottah:” Colonial Modernity, Memory and the Devadasi Dance Tradition of the Viralimalai Murukan Temple
3:15 p.m.-3:30 p.m. Break
3:30 p.m.-4:45 p.m. Roundtable Discussion
May 1
9:00-9:30 a.m. Breakfast
9:30-10:45 a.m. Session 3
  • Indira Peterson: From Sthalapurana to Dance Drama: Temples and New Strategies of Localization in yaksagana Dramas from the Tanjavur Court in the Eighteenth Century
  • Steven Hopkins: Sanskrit in a South Indian Imaginaire
10:45 a.m.-11:00 a.m. Break
11:00 a.m.-12: 15 p.m. Session 4
  • Sam Parker: Imagining Ancient Creativity: An Ethnoarchaelogy of Creative Practice in South Indian Temple Arts
  • Padma Kaimal: Mapping Artistic Space: The Kaveri Style
12:30 p.m.-2:00 p.m. Lunch
2:00 p.m.-3:15 p.m. Session 5
  • Gita Pai: Politics, Patronage and Piety at The Ramaswami Temple in Kumbakonam
  • Vasudha Narayanan: Kanchi and Kambuja: Temple Transfers and Cultural Contacts with the Khmer Empire
3:15 p.m.-3:30 p.m. Break
3:30 p.m.-4:45 p.m. Session 6
  • Joanne Waghorne: The Temple-tomb in Tamilnadu
  • Blake Wentworth: From Sage to Critic: Thoughts on Some Tamil Critiques of Temples, Old and New
4:45 p.m.-5:00 p.m. Concluding Remarks


Whitney Cox, University of Pennsylvania

Whitney Cox is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago and is currently a Lecturer in the South Asian Studies Department, University of Pennsylvania. His research focuses on the textual culture of late-Cola Cidambaram, especially the interactions between the diverse literary forms in Tamil as well as Sanskrit that emerged in and around this major Saiva center.

Richard Davis, Bard College

Richard H. Davis is Associate Professor of Religion and Asian Studies at Bard College. His books are Ritual in an Oscillating Universe: Worshiping Siva in Medieval India (Princeton, 1991), and Lives of Indian Images (Princeton, 1997). He is also editor of two volumes, and has been working on translations of the works of Aghorasiva, a Saiva Siddhanta teacher of twelfth century Tamilnad.

Steven P. Hopkins, Swarthmore College

Steven P. Hopkins received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in the Comparative Study of Religion and is currently Associate Professor of Religion at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. He is a published author and poet, the recipient of the Eisner Prize in Literature at UC Berkeley and a poetry prize from the Dudley Review, Harvard University. His major field is South Indian Vaisnavism with special attention to the work of Vedantadesika. In addition to Singing the Body of God: The Hymns of Vedantadesika in Their South Indian Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2002), Hopkins co-edited a book with John B. Carman entitled Tracing Common Themes: Comparative Courses in the Study of Religion (Scholars Press, 1990). He is currently completing a second manuscript, An Ornament for Jewels: Love Poems for the Lord of Gods by Vedantadesika, and is at work on a long-term project on space, time, love, and memory in Sanskrit sandesa-kavyas or “messenger poems” in medieval South Asia, and a comparative book on religious transformations of the love lyric from Southern France to South India.

Padma Kaimal, Colgate University

Padma Kaimal is Associate Professor of Art and Art History at Colgate University. She has published widely in her area of research which includes, include sculpture and architecture of early India, portraiture, the impact of patronage upon style, semiotics and critical theory, and the iconography of Shiva’s dance. Padma Kaimal returns to Berkeley, her alma mater for this conference.

Vasudha Narayanan, University of Florida

Vasudha Narayanan is Professor of Religion at the University of Florida and a past President of the American Academy of Religion (2001-2002). Her fields of interest are the Sri Vaishnava tradition; Hindu traditions in India, Cambodia, America; Hinduism and the environment; and gender issues. She is currently working on Hindu temples and Vaishnava traditions in Cambodia. She is the author and editor of six books, including The Vernacular Veda:Revelation, Recitation and Ritual (University of South Carolina, 1994) and over ninety articles. Her most recent book is an introduction to Hinduism (Oxford University Press, 2004).

Leslie Orr, Concordia University, Canada

Leslie C. Orr is an associate professor in the Department of Religion at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Her research is concentrated in two overlapping areas: first, the roles and activities of women in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism; and, secondly, the organization of religious life in the history of South India up to the late medieval period, including the examination of institutional structures, religious authority and social hierarchy, ritual forms and ritual performers, and the physical space in which social and ritual dynamics transpired, with a particular focus on the interactions among religious communities. She is the author of a number of articles in these fields, Donors, Devotees and Daughters of God: Temple Women in Medieval Tamilnadu (2000), and a book in progress on the sociology of the medieval South Indian temple.

Gita Pai, U.C. Berkeley

Gita V. Pai is a doctoral candidate in the South and Southeast Asian Studies Department at the University of California at Berkeley. Her research centers primarily on the literary and artistic vision of Nayaka kingship (16th-17th century) in Tamil Nadu. By combining art history with literature in an interdisciplinary approach, she hopes to develop a new and broader perspective in understanding Nayaka notions of sovereignty in ways yet revealed by scholarship to date.

Sam Parker, University of Washington

Sam Parker is associate professor of interdisciplinary studies at the University of Washington Tacoma. He has done ethnographic fieldwork in India and Bali, and has published a number of essays on the aesthetic, technical, social and cultural aspects of contemporary Hindu temple construction and image making in South India.

Indira Peterson, Mt. Holyoke College

Indira Viswanathan Peterson is Professor of Indian literature and culture in the Asian Studies Program at Mount Holyoke College. She specializes in Sanskrit and Tamil literature, Hinduism, and South Indian cultural history and classical music. Her publications include Poems to Siva: The Hymns of the Tamil Saints (Princeton University Press, 1989) and Design and Rhetoric in a Sanskrit Court Epic: The Kiratarjuniya of Bharavi (State University of New York Press, 2003). She is now completing a book on dramas from the 18th century courts of Tamilnadu, especially Maratha Tanjavur.

Davesh Soneji, McGill University, Canada

Davesh Soneji is Assistant Professor of South Indian Religions at the Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University. Currently he is co-editing a volume with Indira Viswanathan Peterson entitled Contesting Pasts, Imagining Futures: The Invention of the Performing Arts in Modern South India, bringing together critical scholarship on modernity and the performing arts of South India. His research focuses on Religion and the Performing Arts in India as well as Sakta Hinduism. Currently, he is preparing a book manuscript on the transformations of devadasi culture in nineteenth and twentieth-century South India.

Joanne Waghorne, Syracuse University

Joanne Waghorne is Professor of Religion at Syracuse University. Her work is concerned with the ways in which religious organizations and practices have encountered “present era of mass communication, urbanization, globalization and transnational migration.” She has published widely in these areas, and her most recent publication is Diaspora of the Gods (Oxford University Press, 2004).

Blake Wentworth, University of Chicago

Blake Wentworth is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago. His work concentrates on the theistic religions of south India, with a particular focus on their Tamil and Sanskrit literary expressions. At present he is working on a critical study of the Tamil Ulas, a literary genre that depicts the processions of gods and heroes.