Fieldwork Diary: 

Kamakshi Ambal temple, Hamm, Germany

Annual chariot festival at Kamakshi Ambal temple, Hamm, Germany, May 2013.

My fieldwork on Srilankan Tamils in Germany was conducted in yearly visits of   a few months at a time, from 2009 to 2013. The annual temple festival at Hamm was one of its highlights. My cumulative insights on this diaspora’s identity  as being shaped by traditional Tamil devotionalism interacting with issues of survival in Germany as well as the politics of militant Tamil nationalism in Srilanka are  exemplified in its vigorous temple building activity. The Kamakshi Ambal temple in Hamm, inaugurated in 2003, is the largest Hindu temple in Europe, built in the classical Dravida style.  Its everyday activities, annual  festivals  and processions embody spectacularly, the interlacing of religion, culture and politics. It is a fascinating story, from a humble and tentative start, growing slowly through  the passion and perseverance of a refugee community,   facing hostility from and later winning the confidence of the locals; its charismatic chief priest’s struggle to get permissions for holding  processions in public space and its ascent as a pilgrimage and tourist destination for Tamils all over Europe. The temples in Germany,  except the Ganesha temple in Berlin, are built and are managed by Srilankan Hindu Tamil communities. The temples have  not  merely channelized devotion through community worship, but also acted as centres for disseminating culture and psychological anchoring. They have helped in defining  a diasporic  identity of self-respect and militance in the face of the violent politics of Srilanka  and its echoes in the diaspora.

The celebrations of the annual chariot festival at the Kamakshi temple in 2013 were conducted with ritual and ceremonial fidelity to the traditional Amman (devi)  temple traditions in Tamilnadu and Srilanka. Invocations in Sanskrit and Tamil. Nadaswaram music with its striking thavil percussion. The beautiful utsava icon of Kamakshi ambal being carried in procession with great humility , the magnificent chariot with its idols rolling out and around the temple. The honour of being in the first batch to pull the chariot  is for the Mayor of Hamm who is suffused with the infectious emotion of the crowd. Hundreds of devotees throng around the chariot, enacting rituals  of penance and piety.   Some carry kavadis on their shoulders, some with cheek  and back pierced, women walk with pots of milk on their heads. Rows of men, bare chested, in a single waist cloth doing angapradakshinam by rolling on the ground and circumambulating the temple.

Patient devotees

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Phalanx of Kavadi bearers

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A ready market for ethnic produce

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Patient devotees

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Images and Video © Kamala Ganesh

The extraordinary fanfare, suffused with passion and nostalgia, is simultaneously making a loud and colourful assertion about the Tamils’  right as ‘good’ immigrants to enact their traditions in German public space. ​

2018a  ‘The Call Of Home And Violence Of Belonging: Diasporic Hinduism And  Tamils In Exile’ in  Elfriede Hermann and Antonie Fuhse (ed) India Beyond India: Dilemmas of Belonging. Volume 12, Gottingen Series in Social and Cultural Anthropology,  Gottingen University  Press, 195-210.

2014   ‘From Sanskritic classicsm to Tamil devotion: Shifting Images of Hinduism in Germany’ in Ester Gallo (ed)  Migration and Religion in Europe: Comparative perspectives on South Asian Experiences, Ashgate: Burlington USA, 233-248.