Friday, January 11, 2013

A Feminist Temple with a Discursive Iconography

(Ankala Parameswari Amman)

A few kilometers before Auroville, between the spiritual vibes and the foreigners-made Goa feel there is a small village with no significant name of its own. Perhaps as a visitor I have not cared to look for the name of the village. But by the side of a sharp turn in the road, I notice this small temple with a lot of idols. They cannot be missed because like in the many Tamil Nadu temples, these idols also are painted in enamel colors. These anthropomorphic images are highly impressive with their rose bodies and multi-color costumes. I could have regarded this as one of those temples and invested my gaze into the silent wonders of nature around. But what attracts me is the main idol that lies down on the ground under a canopy, with guarding votive figures around it.

By the time I could take the details in my car has crossed the temple. Hence, while coming back I ask the driver to stop at the temple. I get down with my small camera and walks into the premises. I am very impressed by what I have seen there.

The signboard done in flex board says that it is ‘Arassummoottil Sree Ankala Parameswari Amman Aalayam’. I look at the main idol that lies on the floor. It is the idol of a goddess and I recognize her as a Devi figure. Later researches prove that she is one of form of Parvati worshipped in the Southern Part of India. She is called Ankala Parameshwari. Ankala means Universe. This goddess rules over the universe. And she is in a posture of relaxing. Myths say that she did a cosmic dance and after that she took rest in that form.

Ankala Parmeshwari is worshipped in different parts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. In some places she is worshipped as a pregnant goddess. And most of the pregnant women from these regions travel to Ankala Parameshwari Amman Alayam for healthy children and painless delivery.

(Female Narasimha)

(Female Varahamurti)

There is a beautiful mutation of Shaivite and Vaishnavite cults in this temple. The guarding angles of Ankala Parameshwari are the incarnations of Vishnu. And interestingly most of them are in the female form. So you see a Narasimha moorty and Varaha in female forms. Even the mutations of the cults are shown in the Ardhanareeshwara.

This particular village temple is called Arasummoottil because there is an arasu tree in the premise. And one interesting idol that I find is a small sculpture of a tortoise kept under a tree. And before this turtle figure there is a row of bricks kept vertically smeared with turmeric powder and kajol. There are yellow threads running around it.


Women constitute the majority of devotees in this temple. What interests me is the celebration of femininity and feminine principle including pregnancy as a center of worship in this temple. Without scandal the transformation of male incarnations are made into female incarnations. This I feel like a reading of the male scriptures from a female point of view; a sort of discursive cult that challenges the male point of view without breaking much of the ideologies built around the Hindu temples.

My reading of the temple could be wrong and if anyone knows more about Ankala Parameshari could write their comments here.


sam said...

That was a really nice and interesting article..But was there really a female rakshasi killed by a female narasimha as shown in the photo?

Shaji Appukuttan said...

Yes..I have gone through this....Write up given a clear iconography about this particular subject...