The Sacred Spell and Other Conceptions of Life in Tamil Culture

Egnor, Margaret Trawick

     This dissertation began as a study of Indian theories of biology. At the same time it was to be a study of Indian theories of the self, the idea being that the science of biology originates as an investigation of those entities which are like oneself -- body, kin, mankind, animals, living things -- in ever widening circles of inclusions. . . . I interviewed a large number of people, but most of the information that will be presented here comes from just one person, supplemented by the statements of other individuals (especially two . . . ), by written texts, and by my own general observations." The main informants were S.R. Themozhiyar, who "lives in a village thirty miles south of Madras city, but comes into Madras every week to lecture to different groups on Tamil Saiva literature"; Y. Mahadeva Iyer, "an octogenarian native physician who lives in a village near Cape Comorin"; and Varampettal, a Christian convert who, along with her daughters, works for Y. Mahadeva Iyer. The main texts consulted are "the Tamil text Tirumantiram, 'The Sacred Spell,' of about the tenth century A.D., and the Sanskrit medical texts, Susruta Samhita and Caraka Samhita, of about 100 A.D." Topics considered include "models of the heart"; food; knowledge and sexuality; union; "a Tamil theory of knowledge"; and gender.