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Playing God Belief and Ritual in the Muttappan Cult of North Malabar by Theodore Gabriel

Playing God Belief and Ritual in the Muttappan Cult of North Malabar


Playing God Belief and Ritual in the Muttappan Cult of North Malabar by Theodore Gabriel

Playing God discusses the genre of rituals known as 'Teyyam' extant in the North Malabar region of Kerala State, India. In this elaborately costumed ritual practitioners invoke the spirit of a deity into themselves that constitutes a splendid theophany in which, when the ritual process is over, the devotees are able to talk to the 'god' and invoke his/her blessings and predictions of their future. This book concentrates on the cult of the Muttappan duo of gods, the most popular among the Teyyams of North Malabar. The Muttappan cult, though originating from worship of a forest god by tribal groups and untouchables of the hill districts of North Malabar, is not only popular in Kerala, but also attracts worshippers from all the castes and regions of South India. Playing God analyses the mythology and ritual praxis of the Muttappan cult and examines attempts to integrate the cult into a wider Hinduism by enunciating a new hermeneutic of the legend and rituals based on the Hindu Advaitic tradition. The book also discusses how the Teyyam ritual contrasts significantly with rituals and worship in Brahminical Hinduism. The popularity of the cult is a reflection of the changing relationships between castes in Kerala, involving a closer symbiosis and reflecting the urge by the untouchable groups of Kerala to gain a higher standing and acceptance in Keralan Hindu society. The rituals are rich in theological significance and symbolism, and have links to the performing arts of Kerala such as Kathakali and Ottam Tullal.


'This fascinating little book deals in detail with what at first might seem a small cult, colourful and dynamic certainly, but of significance merely local to its place of origin in the Indian state of Kerala. As the story unfolds, however, it becomes clear that this is far from the case, and that the phenomenon is full of interest for students of the history of religions. From Dr Gabriel's many other writings we have learned to expect patient investigation and humane and sympathetic interpretation. In this book we find those qualities once more abundantly on display.'
From the Foreword by Professor Andrew Walls, Liverpool Hope University

'This very short study of a possession cult in India raises important questions about the relation of religion to social organization -- and of the relation of religions to each other.'
David Eller, Community College of Denver, Anthropology Review Database June 26, 2011

About the Author

Theodore Gabriel is Associate Senior Lecturer and Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Gloucestershire. He was born and had his early education in Kerala. After obtaining a postgradute degree in Sociology and Anthropology at Shivaji University, Maharashtra, he did research work at the University of Aberdeen leading to his MLitt and PhD degrees in Comparative Religion. He is the author of Lakshadweep, History, Religion and Society (New Delhi, Books and Books, 1989), Hindu-Muslim Relations in North Malabar 1498-1947 (E. Mellen Press, 1996), Hindu and Muslim Inter-Religious Relations in Malaysia (E. Mellen Press, 2000) and the co-editor of Mysticisms, East and West: Studies in Mystical Experience (Paternoster Press, 2003). His research interests are in Islam in South and south East Asia, Hinduism in South India, Inter-Faith Relations and Tribal Religions.

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Book Info

Publication date

1st September 2013


Theodore Gabriel

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Equinox Publishing Ltd


120 pages


Comparative religion
Alternative belief systems



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