Bhadrakali and the Bhadrotpatti. A comparative study of a regional goddess and her puranic narrative tradition

Bhadrakali en de Bhadrotpatti. Een vergelijkende studie van een regionale godin en haar puranische narratieve traditie
Begin - Einde 
2012 - 2016 (lopend)
Vakgroep Talen en Culturen



Throughout Hindu imagery, we are confronted with demons dying at the hands of merciless goddesses. From the pan-Indian to the local level, this battle of the eternal adversaries endures, albeit in different forms and locations. This is also the case in Kerala, where a narrative tradition developed around Bhadrakālī and her victory over demonic Dārika. Alongside many other texts, rituals and performances, this tradition gave rise to a collection of regional purāṇic texts known as Bhadrotpatti or Bhadrakālīmāhātmya. This project is built up around the study of this specific collection of purāṇic texts and aims at thoroughly analyzing and contextualizing them.

However, before I examine these texts, I first explore the broader field of goddess worship in South India by studying the evolution of imagery and narrative related to goddesses such as Korravai, Durgā and Kālī, in Tamil literature.  My first corpus of texts thus consists of the classical Tamil poetry known as 'Caṅkam', the Tamil epic Cilappatikaram and medieval war poetry such as the Kalinkatupparani. In these texts a clear transition takes place from a South Indian local goddess character to a heterogenous Kālī figure that is partly brahmanized, partly localized.

Secondly I look at the purāṇic Bhadrotpatti texts, which feature this heterogenous Kālī figure. As this group of texts has never been studied, I start with a full transcript and parafrase of the contents of this specific regional purāṇa, framed within the larger field of regional purāṇic studies led by Shulman, Rohlman and Chakrabarty. As I am especially interested in the functioning of a body of text and the use of narrative strategies, I look at the way authority, affect and intertextuality define the identity of the Bhadrotpatti.

Firstly, I show how the Bhadrotpatti relates to various narratives that belong to the (mahā)purāṇic tradition (e.g. the Devīmāhātmya, Mārkaṇḍeya and Liṅga Purāṇa). In making these connections, the Bhadrotpatti clearly reveals its claims to authority and its strategies of self-definition vis-a-vis the larger sanskritic world.

In a second instance I look at the way the Bhadrotpatti has also been influenced by its regional originating context. As several kinds of texts, both oral and written, theatrical, literary, ritual etc. sparked off the narrative tradition of the Darikavadham, this proves to be a very broad and relatively unexplored field. As such I have chosen two genres to concentrate on, being the ritual performances of Mudiyettu and Kalam pattu and the oral retellings of the Dārikavadham legend in family circle. These oral-performative texts are utterly interesting comparative material and have led me to believe they inspired the Bhadrotpatti with strategies of affect and empathy.

By combining these different textual traditions and taking a look at the way they interact, I hope to present a thorough and contextualized analysis of this unexplored group of regional purāṇas and acquire a full understanding of the way they function, why they function as such and which (narrative) strategies and discourses activate them.