Abstract

The common model of the Hindu temple of South India has stressed its significance as the main integrative factor binding the disparate elements of precolonial society into one social fabric. As a focal point for economic redistribution, the South Indian temple was the conduit through which exchange occurred: material goods were transformed into the symbols of prestige and influence known as temple honors (Appadurai and Breckenridge 1976). The legitimacy of the medieval South Indian ruler rested on his role as the donor par excellence, and his sovereignty had a ritual basis that was far stronger than his more mundane methods of control (Stein 1980: 45–46). The foremost reason South Indian temples were able to perform this integrative function was their wide appeal in the society—their ability to incorporate members of different communities into one community of worship. By providing employment to artisans, peasants and shepherds and by lending money to agriculturalists in their vicinities, South Indian temples also redistributed the property of the wealthy to other segments of society (Spencer 1968:292). The widespread approval accorded to patrons of temples meant that, during the later Vijayanagara age, religious gifting could be used as a strategy by outside warriors for creating allegiances on the local level in Tamil Nadu (Appadurai 1977:55–59).

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