Shifting Perspectives of Identity and Dharma in Tamil Culture

Daniel, Sheryl B.

     This study is an "ethnographic exploration of the use of cultural explanations to justify behavior . . . a culturally patterned mode for ordering the multivarious options and levels of reality of the Hindu world view. What I term the 'Tool Box approach' is a culturally validated mode for making contextually relevant choices." The study explores "the multiplicity of Kalappuran beliefs about what man 'is' and what he 'ought' to be doing. As important as such a study of beliefs and codes for conduct is, however, I submit that it is equally important to discover the culturally patterned modes for ordering these beliefs. It is this aspect of culture -- i.e., the ideology that informs and justifies the explanatory use of cultural beliefs that . . . [is] the focus in my explication of the Tool Box adaptation of lila." The study opens "by focusing on a problem that is as real for Indian civilization as a whole as it is for the Tamils of Kalappur, a small community of Saivite cultivators and merchants . . . : Is man free to determine the ethical quality of his actions and to control his own destiny or is he predetermined by his fate?" It is demonstrated "that for those who share in this culture, the question does not resolve itself in either one way or the other: neither is it resolved in terms of a dialectical mediation. Instead the choices, despite their apparent contradictoriness, remain in suspension which in turn lends itself to pragmatic manipulation."
     By narrowing our focus further to every man as a coded-substantial entity, we . . . [find] this same process of choosing suspension over resolution re-present itself as a culturally favored option or style, if you will." The study here turns to "the context of marriage" where it describes "three cultural models . . . to define the coded-substance of a wife and a husband." The study then returns "to the issue of free will and predestination in regard to appropriate conduct or tagunta madattai," asking, "Is appropriateness to be judged in terms of the inherent capabilities and capacities of each person -- i.e., is it predetermined and coded in the substance -- or is it to be judged in terms of a coded substance that belongs to a more widely defined group, genus or class, thereby implying that the person has the responsibility to expend effort (with the freedom to choose or will coming as an implied corollary)?" Here, "I have introduced additional options in my discussion of the Deterministic and Indeterministic perspectives on the relationship of fate and morality and my explication of two disparate standards of morality -- the Ideal and Kali Yuga standards. In short, a villager is faced with a multiplicity of acceptable beliefs concerning the nature of morality.