Date of Award

December 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Susan S. Wadley


Class, Gender Studies, Hinduism, Ritual, Tamilnadu

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation takes up the issue of social change via an exploration of a middle-class, multi-caste Hindu women’s religious group in south India called the Śri Maṅgala Vināyagar Satsang Group (SMVS). It utilizes the group members’ narratives about rural-urban difference and modifications to Hindu women’s rituals to explore the continuous construction of middle-class identities in the changing social milieu of contemporary India. In considering the role of ritual in the (re)formation of middle-class identities and communities amongst the SMVS group women of this dissertation, it becomes evident that particular rituals, while earlier indicating a certain caste affiliation (e.g., recitation of Sanskrit verse) have now come to signify class identities as well. The public practicing of particular rituals by a group of middle-class women of multiple castes is therefore an assertion of status that relies on previously defined social distinctions (e.g., caste and gender), but then reinterprets these divisions according to local notions of modern, urban life. By navigating and employing multivalent perceptions of tradition and modernity, urban Tamil women continue to fashion and refashion their own rituals of self-making. From marriage and menstrual pollution to urban religious festivals and community-building, the following dissertation will highlight how rituals are simultaneously being reinvented and reinforced in contemporary south India via an exploration of personal experiences of social change, events key to understanding and appreciating social phenomena and cultural diversity.


Open Access