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«To cite this version: Pierre-Yves Trouillet. Overseas Temples and Tamil Migratory Space. South Asia Multidisci- plinary Academic Journal (SAMAJ), ...»

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Overseas Temples and Tamil Migratory Space

Pierre-Yves Trouillet

To cite this version:

Pierre-Yves Trouillet. Overseas Temples and Tamil Migratory Space. South Asia Multidisci-

plinary Academic Journal (SAMAJ), 2012, 6. halshs-00867729

HAL Id: halshs-00867729

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e South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal 6  (2012) Revisiting Space and Place: South Asian Migrations in Perspective

Pierre-Yves Trouillet Overseas Temples and Tamil Migratory Space

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Electronic reference Pierre-Yves Trouillet, « Overseas Temples and Tamil Migratory Space », South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal [Online], 6 | 2012, Online since 28 December 2012, connection on 11 September 2013. URL : http:// samaj.revues.org/3415 Publisher: Association pour la Recherche sur l’Asie du Sud http://samaj.revues.org http://www.revues.org

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Pierre-Yves Trouillet Overseas Temples and Tamil Migratory Space The great ‘Arulmigu Tirumurugaṉ Temple’ in Montreal (Figure 1), whose construction was 1 completed in 2006, is one of the numerous temples built by Tamil Hindu migrants not only in Canada but throughout the world1. Thousands of miles away, for instance, more than a hundred Tamil temples of various sizes have been erected in Mauritius since the 18th century (Sooriamoorthy 1989), and the buildings of the largest ones, like the one in Montreal, have grown considerably over the past decade.2 These two examples are no exception, yet they are indicative of the exportation of Tamil 2 temples on a global scale (Punzo-Waghorne 2004). The traditional anchorage of Hinduism in South Asia (Eck 1998) and the fact that the five continents are now concerned by this exported form of Hinduism prompt us to ponder the relations that exist between these overseas temples, their holy land of origin and the transnational Tamil community.

Figure 1. The Montreal Arulmigu Tirumurugaṉ Temple and its gōpuram This contribution focuses on identity stakes as well as the spatial meanings and transnational 3 connections related to the making of such places.

In addition, the different kinds of relationships linking overseas Tamil temples and the spaces interconnecting Tamil migrants worldwide are addressed. The study of the history, the characteristics and the issues related to some of these places in Canada and Mauritius helps to both fully identify the processes by which Tamil temples have become major centres of transnational social spaces and to document the geographical features associated with the building of places by migrant communities in host countries.

Framework, issues and method The Tamil temple as a haut lieu Temples (kōvil or kōyil3) have been places of major importance for Tamil societies for more 4 than fifteen centuries (Appadurai 1981, Dayalan 1992). They are not only holy places presided

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over by one or more deities (kaṭavuḷ, tēvatai or teyvam), but social, community, economic and political poles, whose areas of influence are more or less far-reaching. Indeed, Tamil temples come in many different sizes, ranging from a simple altar to a vast pilgrimage centre, and host local, regional or pan-Hindu deities. These temple deities often ensure the function of protecting families, villages, castes or larger communities based on an ethno-linguistic or sectarian sense of belonging. The different communities gather at the temple on a regular basis not only to honour their divinity and to receive the ‘vision’ (darśana) of it, but also very often to consecrate their social unity and their internal hierarchy by performing rituals. Indeed, for centuries, the Tamil temple has been regarded as a stage, i.e. a ‘symbolic space’ (Appadurai 2008: 18-19) where social statuses are publicly displayed and sometimes challenged.

Tamil temples are ‘places’ in the full sense of the meaning that geographers give to them.





5 Indeed, by influencing population displacements—the pilgrimage being the best example—, they polarize spaces, cancel out distances, place subjects and objects in a position to interact, thus facilitating encounters or at least a co-presence. Like any other place, these temples are also micro-spaces for existential and social experiences, both individual as well as collective.

But with regards their ritual, religious, political (and sometimes economic) functions, Tamil temples appear to be more specifically and historically ‘hauts lieux’.4 This kind of meaningful place includes ‘sites of memory’ (Nora 1984-1992) with their nationalist and commemorative resonance, yet they should not merely be reduced to this. The advances made in this field by French social and cultural geography, with the focus on the social, cultural and existential meanings of places, has demonstrated that hauts lieux do indeed have a patrimonial value, but that they also ‘express symbolically, through their representations and their uses, a collective value system’ (Debarbieux 2003: 448), just as the Tamil temple does.

It is also worthwhile considering Tamil temples as hauts lieux because of the importance of 6 the spatial dimension of social facts as recognized in social science (Soja 1984). For Michel Foucault, for instance, ‘the present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space, (...) one [epoch] in which space takes for us the form of relations among sites’ (1986: 22-23).

This question of the relationships between places not only concerns the diasporic phenomena but also Tamil temples, which are now present on the five continents under the cumulative effects of the international migrations of Tamilians (Guilmoto 1991), the establishment of a ‘Tamil diaspora’ (Clothey 2006, Fuglerud 1999, Goreau-Ponceaud 2011, Miller et al. 2010, Ranganathan 2011) and the perpetuation of their tradition of temple builders5 overseas.

The Tamil diaspora Indeed, overseas Tamil communities constitute a ‘diaspora’ according to the definition 7 proposed by Robin Cohen (1997), who considers the diaspora as a geographically dispersed group, but whose members maintain mutual contact. The World Tamil Confederation is a good example of how relationships are maintained between Tamils scattered over the world.

Founded in 1999 in Chennai, South India, the organization’s objectives are to ‘protect the physical welfare of Tamils, the cultural identity of Tamils, and the civic, political and human rights of Tamils’.6 It even has its own national symbols, including an anthem and a flag, reflecting the will of its activists to unite Tamils of all over the world around what might be called a ‘transnation’.7 Nevertheless, the Tamil diaspora should not be regarded as a homogeneous entity, notably 8 because the worldwide dispersal of Tamils originates from two neighbouring territories (Figure 2): on the one hand, Tamil country in South India, which is the Tamils’ historic home (the Tamiḻakam, i.e. the ‘Tamil homeland’) and which in 1969 became one of the Federated States of the Republic of India under the name of Tamil Nadu (‘Tamil country’). And on the other hand, Northern Sri Lanka, where the first Tamils from India settled during the 1st century AD and who are the original members of the ‘Tamils of Jaffna’ ethnic group, as opposed to other Tamil immigrants who settled in the middle of the island in the nineteenth century to work on colonial plantations (Guilmoto 1987).

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Figure 2. Locations of Tamil speaking areas in India and Sri Lanka Indeed, during British rule many Tamils from India migrated to South East Asia, the Caribbean 9 and Africa as well as the Mascarene Islands, mainly as migrant workers (coolies) on contract under the indenture system or as employees of the colonial administration.

Today, it is mainly the upper middle class that migrates, choosing to settle in the West, and more or less skilled workers that go to spend a few years in the Gulf States or on the Malaysian Peninsula.

The migration of Sri Lankan Tamils is generally more recent and of a different nature. It 10 consists mainly in refugees fleeing the civil war which, from 1983 to 2009, opposed the Buddhist Sinhalese majority to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a separatist group fighting for the creation of an independent Tamil State (Eelam or Īḻam) in the North of the country (Dequirez et al. 2011, Meyer 2001). These political migrants sought refuge mainly in Tamil Nadu and in the West.

Despite some non-negligible differences in identity (ibid.) and the fact that they have 11 sometimes remained two distinct groups, such as in Paris (Goreau-Ponceaud 2011), Tamil communities of India and Sri Lanka share essential values, such as language (even if they do not speak exactly the same Tamil), culture and religion, which have enabled them to develop a diasporic consciousness.

South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal, 6 | 2012 Overseas Temples and Tamil Migratory Space 5 Objective, reasoning and method The Tamil diaspora has not escaped the cultural, social and spatial consequences of 12 globalization (Appadurai 1996). It is in this context of a ‘globalised world’ that the transnationalization of Tamil Hinduism has developed. In addition to the multiplication of temples around the world, it is characterized by numerous exchanges and the circulation of many goods and people between South India, Sri Lanka and the diaspora countries, which fit into ‘transnational social fields’ (Basch et al. 1994), i.e. spaces of sociability created by a criss-cross of cultural, economic, political and religious links across many nation-states.

Several reference studies have already dealt with overseas Hinduism, whether it is considered 13 to be ‘Creole’ (Benoist 1998, Claveyrolas 2010) or ‘diasporic’ (Clothey 2006, Jaffrelot & Therwath 2007, Rukmani 2001, Vertovec 2000), yet none has focused on the material and symbolic links that overseas temples maintain with each other, and with the different spaces of the diaspora. This contribution sets out to study the relationships between these temples and all the places and spaces connected by Tamil migrations that Gildas Simon (2008) calls ‘migratory space’.

It is legitimate to reflect on whether temples have become part of transnational social spaces, 14 especially since religion allows migrants and their descendants to preserve their cultural and identity markers despite their displacement, and to maintain physical and symbolic links with their home countries and other dispersed communities. During the migration process or in the diaspora, solidarity between coreligionists may prove reassuring when faced with the ordeals of exile and the feeling of being uprooted. Religion provides the bond of mutual belonging and can restore the coherence of a collective history (Bordes-Benayou 2009). Thus religion may help to find an ethnic identity based on an ancestral and historic tradition (ibid.), even if it sometimes means reinventing it. The importation of objects of worship, the transposition of rituals and the reproduction of practices or of holy places are sometimes regarded as necessary in order to preserve an identity. They ensure that a link is maintained with the territory of origin, which remains the reference in terms of religious and cultural ‘authenticity’ (Bradley & Trouillet 2011). Mimetism towards the land of origin expresses a desire to extend any original religious practices in order to offset the effects of a diluted identity experienced from afar.

Collective religious activities tend to be increasingly displayed in the public space (Jacobsen

2008) and may provide migrant communities with a structural framework. The main spatial features of these activities are the organization of processions and the (re)construction of places of worship, where the slightest gestures and manners are reproduced.



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