Agasthya 5.3 Changing identities
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Centre for Excellence in Conservation Science
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As a part of a larger study which required interactions with the 'Kanis', an indigenous tribe found in the Agasthyamalai region, I began taking a personal interest in observing the inherent religious processes, structure and functions. My first encounter of a unique Kani religious symbol was just a few well kept stones that lay decorated in the fringes of Injikuli, by the banks of Tamirabarani. Instinctively, I assumed homogeneity in religious symbolism represented by the neatly arranged stones of Injikuli across the different Kani settlements inside KMTR. However, with continuous interactions over four years I understood that even for a small, homogenous and isolated population with a seemingly static societal norms, the trajectory of religion was a dynamic one, undergoing rapid change, transformation and metamorphosis. Today the Kanis, apart from sustaining age old practices of offering their land produce during Karthige month at Kodethi just outside Periya Mylar, have also started incorporating rituals and totems generally associated with mainstream religions. For example, there is a statue of 'Karumaandi Amman' a deity of another dominant community of the landscape in the Kani sacred site in Chinna Mylar. In Servalar, the Kanis' participation in the annual festival of the Sangili Boothathar temple was not too common about a decade ago. Interestingly this temple was built by the labourers who had come from the plains during the construction of Servalar dam. In addition to such rituals, there have been Christian evangelists who preach to the Kanis intermittently and find a substantial audience in them. A few families in Servalar and about fifty per cent of the population in Agasthyamalai Kani Kudiruppu now follow a certain sect of Christianity. Though they do not have a religious site inside KMTR, frequent meetings are held in one of the ‘believers’ houses. Though the Kanis follow varied religions, old community practices are still retained and often combined with newer ones they are beginning to adopt. Yet, there seems to be an inner urge among the Kanis to identify themselves with the larger section of the society. Though it may not have conservation significance, it would be interesting to study why the Kanis feel the need to merge or associate themselves with the mainstream identities.



Editorial Team
Editor: Allwin Jesudasan
Associate editor: Rajkamal Goswami
Editorial Review: R. Ganesan, M. Soubadra Devy, T. Ganesh
Design and presentation: Kiran Salegame

Volume 5,  Issue 3
      November 2011

A S H O K A   T R U S T   F O R   R E S E A R C H   I N   E C O L O G Y   A N D   T H E   E N V I R O N M E N T

Changing identities
- Allwin Jesudasan
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