From Compatibility to Equipoise: The Nature of Substance in Tamil Culture

Daniel, E. Valentine

     This study is about substance; substance defined as the stuff of which the universe is made. This study is anthropological in that is centrally concerned with those substances which directly and most proximally affect man and his bodily substances. . . . This study is ethnographic in that it is the product of data collected from almost two years of intensive field work in a Hindu Tamil village in South India. . . . I must hasten to say that the ranking of substances itself is among the least of my concerns in this dissertation. My interest focuses on certain other properties of substances, viz., their ability to mix and separate, transform and be transformed, to establish inter-substantial relationships of compatibility and incompatibility, to be in states of equilibrium and disequilibrium, and to possess variable degrees of fluidity and combinability. I intend to trace these properties of substance not through studying some esoteric form of ethnochemistry but through looking at certain phenomena in the cultural world of the Tamil villager which are part of his daily, ordinary, routine life. These phenomena are a Tamil's attempt to cope with the substance of his village or ur, his house or vidu, his sexual partner, his own body under conditions of sickness and health and finally the search for the substance from which all these various substances derive." Whereas the first part of the dissertation deals with "relationships of compatibility and incompatibility of substances encountered in daily life," in the second part, "the knowledge of diversity is replaced by the knowledge of unity, and the quest becomes one for perfect equilibrium and conjunction through a transcendental experience of the undifferentiated tranquillity of inner unity. A pilgrimage of villagers . . . becomes the ritual means to this experience.