Religion and Beliefs
Though scholarly discourses about religious transformation offer numerous culturally and contextually constructed perspectives of the body and religious transformation, none explore religious transformation in the ritual performance of Kṛṣṇanāṭṭam, a simple lyrical dance style, performed exclusively by male dancers as an offering to Lord Guruvāyūrappan at Śrī Kṛṣṇa Temple, Kerala. Drawing upon William Sax’s argument regarding performing the body of God as sites par excellence where identities and relationships are created, re-affirmed, reiterated, and reconfigured, and Axel Michaels emphasis that the natural body can be replaced or complemented by a body constructed during a ritual, which involves transformation, this paper explores embodiments of devotion in Kṛṣṇanāṭṭam, and argues that the performing body in Kṛṣṇanāṭṭam mediates religious transformation. The male performer as the embodiment of the divine, undergoes transformation of the self and enables the audience to undergo transformation. The ritual performance of Kṛṣṇanāṭṭam emphasizes transformation critical in the mode of bodily performance and challenges the concept of materialized body. Barbara Holdrege (1998, 2015) argues that the body is a “processual body” and that bodies in various modalities matter in the devotional tradition because the devotee seeks to “appropriate, engage, experience, and embody the deity in its various forms." In exploring ritual performance, this paper maps religious transformation at the ritual context and problematizes the existing binary distinctions of corporeal and spiritual, and confirms Talal Asad’s (1997) claim that the social construction of the human body is at any rate universalizable.