Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies


The renovation ritual in a south Indian temple: the 1995 kumbha¯bhiseka in the Mi¯na¯ksi¯ Temple, Madurai

a1 London School of Economics and Political Science

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fuller cj   [Google Scholar] 


This article is a description and analysis of the twelve-day renovation ritual or kumbha¯bhiseka (‘water-pot bathing ritual’) celebrated in the Mi¯na¯ksi¯ Temple in the south Indian city of Madurai in 1995. After briefly discussing the historical background, the article describes the priests' division of labour at the kumbha¯bhiseka, the preliminary rituals—including the transfer of the deities' power from their images into water-pots—and the most crucial rituals: the series of ya¯gapu¯ja¯ (‘sacrifice-worship’) rituals, which mainly consisted of fire-sacrifices to enhance the power in the water-pots, and the culmination of the entire event, when the pots were emptied over the Temple's towers and images, so that the power flowed back in. The article concludes that despite its extreme elaborateness, the kumbha¯bhiseka's symbolic logic and purpose, especially as displayed in the spectacular destruction of the fire-sacrifices and then the final water-pouring, are unusually transparent compared to many other temple rituals.