Tamil Geographies

Cultural Constructions of Space and Place in South India

Edited by Martha Ann Selby & Indira Viswanathan Peterson

Subjects: India And South Asian Studies, Geography, Cultural Anthropology, Anthropology, Anthropology Of Religion
Series: SUNY series in Hindu Studies
Paperback : 9780791472460, 336 pages, January 2009
Hardcover : 9780791472453, 336 pages, May 2008

Table of contents

1. Dialogues of Space, Desire, and Gender in Tamil Cankam Poetry
Martha Ann Selby
2. Four Spatial Realms in Tirukkōvaiyār
Norman J. Cutler
3. The Drama of the Kurravañci Fortune-teller: Land, Landscape, and Social Relations in an Eighteenth-century Tamil Genre
Indira Viswanathan Peterson
4. Ruling in the Gaze of God: Thoughts on Kanchipuram’s Mandala
D. Dennis Hudson
5. Cosmos, Realm, and Property in Early Medieval South India
Daud Ali
6. Sanctum and Gopuram at Madurai: Aesthetics of Akam and Puram in Tamil Temple Architecture
Samuel K. Parker
7. From Wasteland to Bus Stand: The Relocation of demons in Tamilnadu
Isabelle Clark-Decés
8. Waiting for Vellālakantarn: Narrative, Movement, and Making Place in a Tamil Village
Diane P. Mines
9. Permeable Homes: Domestic Service, Household Space, and the Vulnerability of Class Boundaries in Urban South India
Sara Dickey
10. Gender Plays: Socio-spatial Paradigms on the Tamil Popular Stage
Susan Seizer
List of Contributors

How perceptions of land and space influence social and aesthetic conditions in the Tamil region of India.


This interdisciplinary work explores how people in the Tamil region of India think about space and land, and how this, in turn, influences the creation of the social and aesthetic world they live in. Contributors focus on the notion of geography in its strictest sense, on verbal descriptions of land and space and how these descriptions build and inform diverse social and aesthetic realities. The essays examine "texts" drawn from a range of time periods and a variety of sources in Tamil culture, including imaginative literature, historical events and narratives, religious rituals, and daily life in contemporary Tamil Nadu. The book clearly demonstrates the ways in which early Tamil aesthetic and linguistic paradigms have survived to the present as living, vital expressions through which contemporary boundaries and social identities are shaped and constructed.

Martha Ann Selby is Associate Professor of South Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and the translator and editor of Grow Long, Blessed Night: Love Poems from Classical India. Indira Viswanathan Peterson is David B. Truman Professor of Asian Studies at Mount Holyoke College and author of Design and Rhetoric in a Sanskrit Court Epic: The Kiratarjuniya of Bharavi, also published by SUNY Press.


"…a wonderfully coherent volume that enables an exploration of continuities and disjuncture over time in the Tamil interdigitation of space, personhood, and emotion. " — Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"…a fascinating collection of essays. " — Journal of Oriental Research

"A valuable collection of essays. " — Religious Studies Review

"…this is a superb interdisciplinary introduction to Tamil geographies. " — Journal of Anthropological Research

"This excellent book represents an important contribution to the cultural constructions of space. Through a series of reflections on ways in which people of Tamil Nadu have conceptualized and created and enacted space, over a long period of roughly two millennia, the volume offers a vivid longitudinal portrait based in one particular cultural region. " — Richard H. Davis, Bard College

"This is a fascinating collection on conceptions of space in Tamil culture treated from quite varying perspectives. The essays cohere wonderfully, and the reader emerges with a sense of the vibrant reality of this category and of its fluid nature. I found many intriguing and unexpected ideas throughout. " — George L. Hart, University of California at Berkeley