Date of Award

January 2017

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Ann G. Gold


Deity possession, Hinduism, Madurai, Multiple narratives, Religious diversity, Tamil Nadu

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


This thesis is an ethnographic account of Pandi Koyil, a small temple located in the South Indian city of Madurai. The temple, its presiding deity Pandi Muneesvarar, and the devotees who worship there represent a diverse spectrum of narrative histories, ritual practices, and community identities. This thesis demonstrates how the multiplicity, ambiguity, and power of the deity Pandi fosters the multiple narratives, differentiated practices, and relationships of intimacy that surround him. First, this thesis presents the multiple origin stories people tell about the founding of Pandi Koyil and the mythological identity of its main deities, while also explaining the caste and religious diversity of the temple community. Next, it addresses the material practices of worship that take place at the temple, looking particularly at possession and prophesy. This thesis uses theories about dividual personhood and substantial exchange to interpret these practices as links of intimacy between Pandi and his devotees. Furthermore, it argues that possession and prophecy telling can be understood as examples of diffused authority. Lastly, this thesis focuses on the intertwined characteristics of ambiguity and potency in Pandi’s personality through addressing aspects of eroticism, danger, and practices of animal sacrifice present in his worship.


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