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 . 


Swayam Tiwari said...

Heritage is not just stones, palaces etc.Even our rituals and practices are also heritage.Many of our deities and gods appear as shapeless stones and we think that only grand palaces can be termed as heritage.

Incognita said...

'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.'
Beautifully written. It's time some of our assumptions are corrected and you've done that both gently and firmly. I especially like the way you have spoken against the "gentrification" and confinement of these primal deities. I remember hearing about Ayyanar and of course Mariamman from my mother. Was always fascinated by the intimate connection the devotee felt. I am pondering about how this assimilation with the "mainstream" deities has been less pronounced in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.