Cultural Ecology of the Hunting Festival in Ahobilam
Timeslot:07/29 | 11:40-12:00 UTC+2/CEST
The Śrīvaiṣṇava centre of Narasiṃha worship in Ahobilam (Andhra Pradesh) is likely to host the most complex version of a Hunting Festival in South India. The annual festivities (Tel. pāruveṭā: pāru – to run, veṭā – hunt; Skt. mṛgayātrā/mṛgayotsava) are linked to the saṃkrānti festival, held in Andhra for 3 days in the mid-January to mark the beginning of a harvesting season. Contrary to other temples where the ritual hunt lasts for 1 or 2 days, often being organized on the occasion of mahotsava or vijayadaśamī, in Ahobilam the god’s hunting trip takes ca. 40 days, with the deity visiting 32 sites. The significant role of Vijayanagara kings’ patronage in making Ahobilam a recognizable site on the pilgrimage map of India as well as the extension of territories marked by processions in this particular period (Orr 2004) suggest that the route traversed by Narasiṃha during his hunt is conceptually rooted in the times of Vijayanagara Empire. In my paper I shall discuss the particular features of Ahobilam Paruveta in connection to local substratum of Narasiṃha cult at the spot, that is the traditions of autochthonous hunter-gathering Ceñcū tribe whose beliefs have significantly influenced the local form of worship, and whose integration into the state was important to Vijanagara rulers. That this appropriation was by no means one-directional show various local versions of a popular narrative on Narasiṃha’s second wife, which, depending on the provenience, present either Narasiṃha or his Ceñcū wife as submissive. Remarkably, this narrative has also enriched the scenario behind the local version of a ritual hunt, otherwise viewed rather as symbolizing the god’s royal features.