The Sacred Marriage of Maturai: Myth, Ritual, and Devotion in a South Indian Temple

Harman, William Pulliam

     This study opens with a description of the background of a Tamil "sacred historical text," the Tiruvilaiyatarpuranam, "The Story of the Sacred Sports," and Maturai, "the city which constitutes the context for that history." This "version of the sacred sports of Cuntarecuvarar (The Beautiful Lord, i.e. Siva) . . . is a relatively late one, and probably dates from the middle of the 17th century. It was written by Parancoti Munivar." In the next three chapters, the focus is on "the celebrated marriage of Cuntarecuvarar in myth and ritual." Thus the Tiruvilaiyatarpuranam story of the marriage of Siva and Tatatakai is described and analyzed; the Cittirai Festival is discussed; and Siva's interventions in the Tiruvilaiyatarpuranam are recounted. "Among historians of religions, the marriage of Cuntarecuvarar with Minatci, the goddess, is a classic example of hieros gamos, the 'sacred marriage' of deities. In the fifth chapter, I discuss this widespread phenomenon as it occurs in the literature of the history of religions. By placing Cuntarecuvarar's marriage in this larger context, I hope to establish two points: the first is that we have here another instance of hieros gamos; the second is that hieros gamos in the context of Tamil Hinduism forces us to reevaluate some of the conceptual corollaries normally associated with this phenomenon in the history of religions. Specifically -- and contrary to the standard interpretations of hieros gamos -- the marriage of Cuntarecuvarar with Minatci is one in which fertility symbolism is secondary. In Tamil Saivism, at least, hieros gamos is a metaphor which suggests how devotees may understand their personal relationship to their deity.