The Goddess Mariyamman in Music and in Sociology of Religion

by Pia Srinivasan Buonomo and S.A.Srinivasan

Published by
Dr. Inge Wezler Verlag
Reinbek 1999

ISBN 3-88587-025-8

Price: Euro 16.00 (postal and bank charges extra as applicable)

  • Music samples sung by Sirgali Govindarajan and Madurai Somasundaram (as discussed in the publication)
  • Reviews


The material basis for the remarks is a song in praise of the goddess Mariyamman sung on the one hand in a Tamil movie, on the other in two concerts of classical South Indian music. The authors describe how they came to the decision to analyze this material, and this more biographical part also leads to considerations of a general nature, i.e. to Indians tending to solve a problem atomistically, that is to say, by taking it in isolation, in its very own terms, so that solutions to similar or even substantially identical problems can easily be different to such a degree that, at any rate in etic, outsider terms, the solutions are mutually exclusive. Again, this more biographical part has also occasioned a discussion of Hindu religiosity being easily capable of embracing elements which too are mutually exclusive from the etic point of view.

However, the substantive part of the remarks regards music, in the sense of an attempt to describe, not exhaustively, yet in considerable detail, the differences and the similarities between the movie and the concert versions of the song. The emphasis lies on composition, on how the tonal material, different in the movie song and in its concert rendering, is put together each time, achieving compositional / symmetrical density in that phrases are repeated or varied upon, a density also achieved by transitions based on repetition / quasi-repetition / anticipation. Of no less importance in compositional terms are metrical liberties and the frequent concomitance of religious / literary and musical elements, a concomitance which too leads to symmetrical / compositional density, among other things. Though not central to the remarks, yet not simply marginal too, are the occasional discussions of the contrast between the theory and the actual practice of music and of the far from simple contrast between classical South Indian music, film music and devotional music.

The detailed notations and various appendices added are essential complements to the musicological analysis.

The remarks on the Sociology of Religion of Mariyamman follow, substantially, upon the musicological analysis, though the atomistic approach dealt with earlier is to be sure equally a problem of religious sociology. Yet in this case things were clear enough. As against this, in the remarks following upon the musicological analysis all that is done is to list some of the central riddles the worship of Mariyamman poses: the enormous preponderance of feminine deities; the rationale of blood offerings; a very strong preference for identifying ‘folk-goddesses’, like Mariyamman too, with the ‘high-caste’ goddess Parvati. The riddles are stated in some detail, but no answers are given, for research in the field is not yet in a position to give any.