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TAMIL culture: the Heart of Tamil National Consciousness
In the Kingdom of Nataraja
This book is an invitation to discover Tamil culture, to understand its life and rural customs, as well as a guide to fully experience the great South Indian temples. It tells the reader about the history and geography of the land, its beliefs and rituals. It also offers practical tips to make a successful trip and explore further. In the Kingdom of Nataraja may be purchased online from Chantal Boulanger Publishing.
From the Preface by Dr. Stanley A. Freed Curator, Department of Anthropology American Museum of Natural History, New York
It is a pleasure and honor to write the preface to the English edition of Chantal Boulanger's splendid guide to Tamil Nadu. Ms Boulanger brings to the work not only scholarly knowledge acquired by more than 10 years of study of South Indian culture but also a profound empathy with Hinduism, Dravidian culture, and the Tamil people. She has immersed herself in the rich ceremonial life of the great temples but knows as well the simple rites practiced at small local shrines. She has traveled widely in Tamil Nadu and probed deeply into the history and culture of the region.
Ms Boulanger has poured her knowledge and first-hand experience into her book, transforming a guide for visitors to Tamil Nadu into a fascinating, readable account of its history, geography, and culture. However, she has not forgotten the practical concerns of travelers, and the book abounds in information about hotels, transport, and convenient day-long trips from the major centers. She drops numerous tips on how to be a considerate visitor and to realize delicate plans, such as entry into the deepest recesses of temples. Moreover, she suggests ways to prepare mentally for what can be a profound experience of self-discovery.
Ms Boulanger understands India and the West. No one can better lead you on a voyage of discovery of an ancient civilization and also of what it means to be human.
From the Introductiion....
A. Unexplored India...
On a sunny day of August 1980 I arrived in Rameshvaram by boat. It was almost by chance, and I knew nothing of Tamil Nadu or even that there was a Dravidian civilization. I thought then I knew Indian culture. I had read many of the Hindu holy books translated from Sanscrit. I had dreamt of yogis meditating on the bank of the Ganges, yet, here I was, walking in India for the first time in the enormous halls of a Dravidian temple. In my soul, God stopped meditating in the Himalayas and started dancing in the rice-fields of Kanchipuram.
Since then, I have visited most of India, but my heart remained in Tamil Nadu where I have discovered a fascinating and mostly unexplored culture. I have learned Tamil and studied Dravidian beliefs. I have found another Hinduism, which names God "Nataraja" --the Dancing King.
Few are those who have heard about the majestic beauty of the Tanjore temple or the mystery of Chidambaram. Although there are more ancient temples and wonders in Tamil Nadu than in any other Indian state, rare are those know about it or visit it. Two factors explain this exceptional cultural wealth: most of Tamil Nadu was spared from Muslim invasions and, more importantly, this country was the cradle of the ancient Dravidian civilization.
This book is intended to be an introduction to Dravidian civilization and a field guide to help you discover it. It was not really written for the neophyte, and it presupposes a certain knowledge of northern India and Sanscrit culture. It is an invitation to travel, meant for an adventurous spirit, leading to other places and other books.
I didn't set out to write yet another tourist guide, and this book does not emphasize archaeological details and practical information. You should complement this book with others, according to your own interests. I love temples because they are vibrant with the rituals of men, the Divine shining everywhere and with deeply-lived beliefs. In them you will find the unexplored, forbidden India which fascinates me. If this is indeed what you want to discover, you will find here the keys to unique experiences.
At first I will sketch the history and geography of South India, then I will concentrate on smaller regions, especially the town of Kanchipuram (for history) and the provinces of Tondaimandalam and Chola Nadu (for "tourism"). You should realize that the extraordinarily rich culture of the Dravidian country cannot be understood easily in its entirety. By studying here a few "trees", we will be able to better appreciate "the forest".
The section on religion is just a sketch, an attempt to make you understand Hinduism a little better. There are thousands of books on this subject and none of them really manage to cover it fully. Hinduism consists of emotions and sensations; this book simply aims at giving you hints to help you experience them.
My goal is not to write an introduction to "westernized Hinduism" with its literary speculations, its sectarian excesses, and its frozen conceptions drawn from texts most Indians ignore. Tamils are rarely sectarian or dogmatic; their beliefs impregnate every part of their lives and come from the depths of their being and history. The pongal , the most popular Dravidian ritual, is a "boiling-over", a symbol of life and fertility, and a way to thank the Divine Energy which swallowed their ancestors for millennia. Here the pot contains the Energy, it means the over-flowing plenitude rather than the void.