memories of family outings.....


Our shared heritage of subsidiary divinities .

Our shared heritage of subsidiary divinities .

World Heritage  Day  just went by . We were inundated by lovely images  of  our beautiful temples , awesome sculptures , glorious monuments commissioned by  emperors and wealthy people . Certainly a great heritage we have to be proud of, no questions . 
One thought , however , kept resurfacing . When we think Culture , Heritage , Religious Art etc, why is it that our vision does not go beyond the  " Urban " sensibilities ? Are the  pre-puranic, pre-agamic  divinities of our  well rooted populace ( call them Tribal , Aboriginal or Folk ) not part of our shared heritage ? Or , am i missing something crucial in my understanding of the  word " Heritage"  ? 

The simple religious beliefs of our ancient people were fully aligned with Nature  and its forces . They placed faith  in ancestral spirits who were revered as Guardians of the clan / village  and relied upon for protection against disease and calamities . These guardians were closer to humans in  personality  than the puranic gods . They were also tempermental . They could be benevolent or malevolent as they wished . Just like Nature . 
These divinities have lingered on in our villages , in original as well as modified forms . Though the names and rituals seem unfamiliar to most of us , they are very much part of our common  heritage . 
Faith is Internal and personal . It does not matter what symbol one focuses on. When the intensity of Faith is the same in both cases , it is unfair to call the wider spread institutions ( Vedic and Agamic ) as  " Greater " and  the other  as " Lesser " , as is very frequently , and thoughtlessly, done.  

In the South , The Village Guardian dieties continue to have  currency  in Tamil Nadu and Kerala . To a lesser extent , in Karnataka and Andhra , where almost all of them were  suffuxed with "-eshwara" ( /ri ) in medieval times and absorbed into the more influential system. 

Ayyanar , Karuppu , Muni and Veeran are the major generic  Guardians of the old Tamil- Kerala region. Ayyanar has been assimilated into the Shivite Pantheon as Dharmashasta Ayyappan , the third son of Shiva . 

The various Munis were also adopted and classified  as shivaganas . 

Whereas Karuppus continue to enjoy their rustic identities in about a dozen different avatars of their own . 
None of your urban la-di-dah customs for our Karuppannasamis . They are red  blooded kings of good times . Bring on the toddy casks and the spiced mutton ; let the "thappattai" drum up a heady beat ..... Keep them happy . They will keep you happy . 
Veerans are deified heroes . The herostones erected in their memory are deemed holy and magical . MaduraiVeeran is the Superstar among them. 

Panjurli or The Boar Spirit .
The very ancient , PrePuranic supernatural Powers that protect are called Bhutas / Daivas . They are still worshipped in Tulunadu( coastal  karnataka ) Described variously  as Animistic or Shamanic. They have beautiful festivals and rituals involving dancing , Trance and Oracles . Somewhat similar to the Theyyam of Kerala . 
The faithful find direct connection with the Natural powers , no intermediaries necessary . 

Mother Goddesses are more numerous among the Village Guardians . The earliest dravidian Mother Goddesses were Pidari and Kottravai , who have now been assimilated  as  Kali and Durga . The other very ancient, very popular Mother is Maari  . A Nature Sprite who brings rains . She can  function in  different roles as circumstance demands , bringing rain , preventing pestilence , protecting the Fort , granting marital bliss , supervising childbirth etc etc.  And she can be  a fierce Mother too , as Angalamma , Peyichi , Nagamma and Neeli ......The kind of reverence and unquestioning Faith people repose in Mariamma is made apparent by the fact that in modern times , she even gave succour as Plague-amma and AIDSamma - just a small  advance from her traditional role of shielding  against the Pox . 

Women who died defending their honour were  deified as " Attha " ( Mother ) . They were found deserving of ancestor worship , as emanations of The One  Divine Mother , "Amman ". Every village  had , and continues to have,   at least one such Local Guardian Mother .

The rustic divinities , traditionally , did not have built structures housing them. They inhabited Sacred Groves as  just  stones , or clay images along with their retinue of animals . Propitiatory rituals took place under the open sky , amidst the protected trees . 
It is a pity that in modern times , when any villager does well in life , he goes back and builds a bling-bling replica of Urban temples , destroying the Groves and imprisoning the proud, robust  Guardians in gentrified metallic  images . With such homogenisation of culture, we are losing much of our variegated traditions and thoughtprocesses .....and parts of shared Heritage . 

They call him Periandavar , a KavalTheivam . You are free to call him Shivalingam . Eitherway , he is in our blood , as our heritage .