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How the Tamil cultural landscape is changing

FASCINATING JOURNEY: Dr.Kala Shreen. Photo: S. Thanthoni   | Photo Credit: S_THANTHONI

Dr. Kala Shreen, a sociologist-cum-anthropologist teaching at the MOP Vaishnav College for Women, Chennai, has been appointed Associate Researcher for Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA).

HERA is a partnership between 21 Humanities Research Councils across Europe and the European Science Foundation (ESF) which aims to connect national research programmes with similar programmes overseas encompassing the study of social, cultural, political and ethical developments.

One of HERA's current research themes is ‘Humanities as a Source of Creativity and Innovation', the umbrella theme under which Dr. Kala Shreen will be studying Tamil Nadu's art and cultural heritage. For now, she will be focussing on ritual objects, Hindu festivals and sarees and how the changes in their features and use have led to a change in Tamil cultural dynamics.

Speaking on her past and present work, Dr. Shreen explained that “culture is always evolving and today, Tamil culture is evolving in many spheres. Tamil culture at home and overseas is transforming. Plus, our culture's exposure to the Western mindset has changed the way we view our religion which has triggered a transformation.”

Dr. Shreen noted that most immigrant families from Tamil Nadu become more Hinduistic after leaving India, due to an inner conflict regarding their identities. However, this has given rise to a new type of Hinduism, because the diasporas do not follow rituals and traditions as they are performed here. For example, in many temples, there is a person translating the slokas and rituals into English so that the 2nd or 3rd generation Indians are able to relate to and appreciate what is happening. “Hinduism is getting a facelift,” she added.

Hindu culture at home is also transforming in response to globalisation and modernisation. Dr. Shreen claimed that she sees two contradictory changes taking place. Firstly, there are families who wish to simplify rituals and ceremonies. For example, in the Chettiyar community, several life-cycle rituals that were performed in the past are not being performed anymore.

In the future, they may even cease to exist. On the other hand, there are also families that are organising ceremonies in a grand manner in an effort to reconnect with their roots. Some even hire English commentators or translators to help the audience understand and appreciate the significance of the ceremony.

The intangible aspect of heritage

“When speaking about heritage, most people immediately connect with its physical aspect: monuments, temples, etc. But heritage also has an intangible aspect associated with it such as folklore, rituals, and religion, which needs to be studied,” says Dr. Shreen. Her interest in the intangible led to an invitation by Prof. Richard MacKinnon, Canada Research Chair for Intangible Cultural Heritage at Cape Breton University, Canada to talk on the traditions and innovations of the material aspects of Hindu rituals, in May 2011.

Dr. Shreen is recipient of Honorarium from Queen's University Belfast, U.K. in 2006 towards the screening of her docu-film titled ‘Little Traditions of Tamilnadu' and recipient of Award for International Scholars from Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR, U.S.A) for 2006 among other awards.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 6:28:03 PM |

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