Ute Hüsken – A South Indian Festival in Times of Corona – a Child’s Play?

Ute Hüsken
South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University

A South Indian Festival in Times of Corona – a Child’s Play?


In May 2020, the most important festival in the South Indian Varadaraja temple could not be enacted – not only was the temple closed, but there wer strict rules in place, prohibiting people even to venture to other quarters of the town, lest celebrate a festival. Most local devotees and hereditary ritual performers were denied access to the temple, and to the deity. For months, the god Varadaraja would not be accessible to anyone but the priests. While the adults felt powerless and suffered from the situation, the children living close to the temple soon found their own way of dealing with it: they re-enancted the festivals outside the temple walls, making huge efforts to come as close as possible to the original decorations and ritual activites. Many adults responded with strong suppport, sometimes even with devotion towards the “toy-deities”. I will use this response to the restrictions imposed because of Corona to discuss the interface of play and ritual, its function as training for ritual, and the gray area between and connecting these modes of action.

Biography of the author:

Ute Hüsken is Professor of the Department of Cultural and Religious History of South Asia (Classical Indology, South Asia Institute), Heidelberg University. Hüsken’s main research fields are Buddhist studies, Hindu studies, Ritual and Festival studies and Gender studies. Together with Ronald Grimes and Barry Stephenson she edits The Oxford Ritual Studies Series (OUP).