Département de Sciences des religions
Université du Québec à Montréal
The Importance of the Temple in the Transmission of Tamil Identity
The German poet Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) once called the Torah the "portable fatherland" of the Jews (Aufgeschriebene Vaterland). I wish to argue that, in the diasporic context of the Sri Lankan Tamil community, the temple serves pretty much the same purpose.
Every day, but even more so during the tiruvila, the temple’s annual festival, the many rituals and ceremonies contribute not only to the transmission of religious identity but also participate in the construction of "ethnic identity" and "consciousness," as defined by the Belgian sociologist Albert Bastenier.
Based on a research conducted over the last three years at the Thiru Murugan Temple in Montréal, where I have been witnessing and participating in a great number of celebrations as well as regular daily pujas, this paper focuses on the role and importance of temple rituals in the transmission of religious identity amongst family and community members, and shows how, during these functions, Tamil identity is being reified: Tamil music is played live on traditional instruments, Tamil hymns are sung, men and women wear ritual attire, Sri Lankan delicacies are partaken as prasadam, etc.
Not only does the temple serve as a center for community life but it also acts as a propagator of Tamil identity, allowing for older devotees to reconnect with their past, and providing young Tamil Canadians who have never been to Sri Lanka with a chance to discover and experience their legacy.
Mr. Bradley's Masters thesis at l'Université du Québec à Montréal focused on the role of religion in the construction of identity amongst a group of Hindu Tamils, most of them refugees from the war in Sri Lanka. Working as a research assistant for the Groupe de recherche sur le Montréal ethno-religieux (GRIMER-UQAM), he is preparing a Ph.D. program involving a comparative study of two Sri Lankan Tamil Hindu communities in a French environment: Paris and Montréal. His research interests also include Dravidian history and civilization, Saiva Siddhanta, and South Indian Hindu temple architecture and rituals.