Building on the idea of “ritual quotation,” this article offers a new perspective on rituals enacted within contemporary theatrical performances in South India. Drawing from an existing corpus and reproduced in a different framework, the ritual tēvāram is embedded in a broad web of intertextual relationships comprised not only of items of repertoire and prescriptive manuals, but also of elements of ritual practices, shared beliefs, claims of social status, and ongoing negotiations between individual imagination and collective expectations.
Usually a Nampūtiri domestic ritual, tēvāram is also carried out within Kūṭiyāṭṭam performances. Through a detailed analysis, I argue that the enactment of tēvāram on stage is not merely the stylized reproduction of a religious service, but it is rather an integral part of the narrative and aesthetic body of the theater practice. The performative and textual milieu of tēvāram creates scope for variations that modify both the plot and the tēvāram ritual itself. Kūṭiyāṭṭam-tēvāram thus becomes a transformative action and a tool of negotiation in the positioning of individuals within the social matrix.
The article provides a reading of a twelfth-century inscription composed by a courtly poet in Karnataka. At its most rudimentary level, the inscription praises the king and glorifies his commander. However, a closer reading demonstrates the poet playing with the conventions of his time. One of the techniques used to enhance the power of the ruler was to represent the commanders as replicas of their king. The author turns this mechanism into the inscription’s poetic motif. He uses the very dynamic of reduplication to subtly show the limits in the construction of power.