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Title: High spirits and heteroglossia : forest festivals of the Nilgiri Irulas
Author: Thin, Neil
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1991
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Irula people of the Nilgiri Mountains in southern India live in partial seclusion in the forest, and have been classified as adivasis or 'Scheduled Tribals'. Though they are often described as hunter-gatherers, for at least the last hundred years their modes of livelihood have predominantly been subsistence horticulture, plantation labour, and marketing of garden and forest products. One-day village-based festivals are among their most significant cultural activities, involving collective excursions into the forest to worship deities and ancestors. The dialectical interplay between scripted ritualism and ad hoc improvisation in these festivals gives rise to numerous contradictions in meaning, making them highly entertaining events. Analysis therefore emphasises the playful nature of Hindu festivity, and reference is made to comparable practices of Hindus on the plains. Within the Irula festival, there is invariably a lengthy se*ance at which participants communicate with dieties, ancestors, and a variety of spirits, through entranced human mediums. Transcribed recordings of these se*ance-dramas are discussed, with detailed analysis of authorship, visible and invisible participants, content, and style. The language of the se*ance, like the encompassing festival, oscillates between predictable, scripted ritualism and unpredictable improvisation; this ethnography therefore challenges assumptions about ritual entelechy, since Irula rites are celebrations of both order and chaos. This feature echoes the combination, in Irula society, of formal, role-centred hierocracy and informal, person-centred adhocracy. A variety of interpretations of the social role of heteroglossia are offered. The metaphorical construction and social uses of divinity are dominating concerns throughout. The anaytical importance of non-belief is emphasised, and this is linked to the role of skepticism, whereby counter-rational faith is subverted within religious behaviour by irony and parody. The concept of metahoric resonance is offered as an aid to the analysis of ritual, enabling us to recognise the mobility and elusiveness of ritual metaphor. Four 'levels' at which ritual metaphors have meaning are distinguished: instrumental, expressive, aesthetic, and metacommunicative.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available