As you wandered through the shrine, you will have realised that there is no simple answer to the question: whose place of worship is this? Perhaps the best one for the moment is: the place of worship of all who come to this shrine.
There are many shared shrines across South Asia – and indeed have been in other parts of the world too. You might want to research some of these and ask whether or not the same pattern that you can see at Yamanur is repeated there, or whether we need to look more carefully at each shrine in its own context.
Here, for example, is a news clip in English about the pilgrimage to the shrine of Ayyappa in Sabarimala, Kerala, south India, where the (almost exclusively male) pilgrims come from many different religious backgrounds.
See some suggestions for following this up in References and Further Reading
Another shrine where people from many different backgrounds come to perform vows and seek blessings is that of St Anthony of Padua, in Panjora village, Bangladesh.
In many ways, these are very different from one another. At another level, what draws people to these shrines is a belief in the power or barakat of the saint or deity who is worshipped in that place. This is why Richard Kurin (1983) has argued that barakat, rather than religious affiliation, should be the fundamental category for analysing devotion at such shrines.
At Yamanur, people come seeking a variety of ends. Rajabag Savar is thought to be particularly powerful in curing skin diseases of various kinds, but his help in healing other physical and mental illnesses will also be sought. As with many shrines, couples may come to pray for a male child, tying a lodi and promising to come back to untie it when their desire has been fulfilled.
It is not however just the barakat of Rajabag Savar that draws people to Yamanur. Families, wanting to know who the right partner for their son or daughter will be, come to consult the Helavas, the genealogists at the temple, who may act as go-betweens. They offer, if you like, a specialist service, under the protection of the saint’s efficacy, which is also sought for success in business and other relations. Illness, desire for children, financial concerns, these are shared by people whatever their formal religious affiliation.
At her shrine in south India, the Muslim healer Amma explains that in her healing room there is no such thing as Hindu or Muslim, Christian or other. There are only people, women and men, seeking help. Amma’s work, supported and sanctioned by her husband who is also a pir, seems clearly to fit with Kurin’s model. Here it is Allah’s power or barakat, channeled through Amma, which unites all who seek. Although their identities as Muslim, Hindu or whatever will be of importance in other aspects of their life, here they are not to the fore.
With the Meos we questioned whether trying to label them as ‘Muslim’ or ‘Hindu’ was even appropriate. We saw how the desire to ‘package’ them as either Hindu or Muslim reflected particular reformist agendas from the early twentieth century onwards. The Meos themselves tended to resist such packaging in the ways they continued to live, conduct rites of passage, and worship. Flueckiger (2006), by contrast, indicates that although Amma’s clients are affected by religious allegiances in other aspects of their everyday lives, these are only one aspect of their identity.
Assayag, however, emphasises that although Yamanur is a shared space, where people of all castes worship alongside each other, the worshippers do remain conscious of their identity as Hindus and Muslims throughout.
- What evidence to support his view have you found so far as you wandered through the shrine?
- To what extent are we reliant on his way of viewing things when his ethnography is the only scholarly work available at the moment on Yamanur?
- How do the Songs and Stories sung and told at Yamanur support his view?