Department of Religious Studies
Tamil Identity; Hindu Identity: Why So Separate?
In Guyana the indentured workers from India developed two very distinct religious traditions. The South Indian workers (usually called "Madrasis") developed what is often called the "Kali-Mai" tradition with pujaris who do healings and exorcisms. This tradition links up to some extent with the Afro-Guyanese Christian practice and especially their obeah. The North Indian workers built mandirs where Brahman pandits sang verses of the Tulsidass Ramcharitmanas. The North Indians were keen to label their worship "Hindu" and when one asks for a "Hindu temple" one is sent to a North Indian mandir.
In Canada the perceived separation of the "Tamil" and "Hindu" identities is given added support because of the fact that most Tamils come from Sri Lanka. Because "Tamilness" is the primary badge of identity in this context the religious badges of "Muslim," "Christian" and "Hindu" play only secondary roles. In the U.S.A. the host society insists that ethnic minorities be identified in religious terms and a separate "Tamil" identity is not as easy to establish.
In both South Asia and North America questions around "Tamil" identity have many social and political ramifications and each generation modifies the ways in which it establishes its identity as options open up in the local situation. In my paper I will try to show how different temple push the community in different directions in this regard.
Prof. Younger's main research has been in South India, Sri Lanka and more recently, a variety of "diaspora" settings. His most recent publications include The Home of Dancing Sivan: The Traditions of the Hindu Temple in Citamparan (1995) and Playing Host to Deity: Festival Religion in the South Indian Tradition (2001).