‘Am I a Hindu?’ (Part II)

20 Oct

This is a translation of a blog post from noted Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/?p=21656

(Part 1)



Please examine this question from this background. ‘Am I a Hindu?’. Saivaites, Vaishnavites and Saktars could ask this question too, isn’t it?  Saivite and Vaishnavite forms of worship are different, aren’t they?  Then, who is a Hindu? One is ‘Hindu’ only if everyone stays together.  If they stand alone, they are merely Saivite, Vaishnavite or Saktar.

You have pointed out in your question a duality that is present in Hinduism.  It is the contradiction between theological religion and folk religion.  It is a sociological method developed by the British to study the forms of worship here.  But one cannot understand Hinduism using this.  The great godheads here were folk deities till a few years ago.  A folk deity of today will combine with an existing godhead and become one as well.

Shiva was a folk deity like your Karuppaswamy once.  Today Sudalaimadaswamy is turning into the the Graceful Lord Sivasudalaimadaswamy.  This evolution is constantly happening.  You can worship yesteraday’s Karuppaswamy or tomorrow’s Shiva.  You cannot add a chapter to the Bible about Karuppaswamy and make him a godhead. There is no place for him in the Bible and the Koran.  It’s possible in the Gita.  It is this nature which creates aggregate religions.

Now, the information which you share.  They mostly reveal your ignorance about your own heritage. You mostly do not know anything about your village, deities and forms of worship.  You would have grown up without interest in any of these like most other youth and would have come to the cities for work.  After this, you have imagined a village from what you have read or learnt here and there and are asking this question.

What do you know of Karuppaswamy or Sudalaimadan?  Have you attempted to learn something? I know local deities very well; the local deities and communal deities of Nellai and Kanyakumari districts in particular.  I am in touch with folklore researcher A. K. Perumal and have been discussing with him for over a decade. Only a few communal deities belong to your village alone. Karuppaswamy, Madaswamy, Kanniyamman, Maduraiveeran and Muthupattan are present all over the southern region.

Written histories are available for more than three hundred years for all these deities. In oral folklore, there are stories about these deities from even before this period.  The Sudalaimadaswamy folk song belongs to the 15th century. The Karuppaswamy villukathai (story narrated with a villu musical instrument) belongs to the 16th century. You can try reading them. Almost all of the southern folk deities belong to the Saivite tradition.  Shiva would have been mentioned as the god of these deities. Or they would have become deities having after receiving a boon from Shiva.  These stories are still being sung in the villu songs and kaniyan mudiyetru of these deities.

In our culture, gods continue to be created.  There are three ways through which a folk deity can be created.  One, symbolic deity.  That is, a small deity worshipped to cure a disease or to increase the harvest.  Worship of trees, rocks and rivers fall under this category.  Secondly, worshipping the deceased.  Making deities out of those who faced a violent death, killed in war, or childbirth for the sake of honoring their memory. Thirdly, worshipping elders – deifying one’s ancestors. Templesrise in places where saints are laid to rest.

In the beginning, deities created in this manner stay within the groups that created them.  When this community forms relationships with other communities, they mix with other gods and transform into larger godheads.  All the godheads that you see today were created in this manner.  Deities for a particular family alone continue to exist as their communal deities.

This process of relating would have started several generations ago.  To tell the truth, a local deity starts relating to the Shaivite tradition as soon as it is created.  For example, the temple of ‘Serman’ Arunachala Swamy.  It is in Eral. Arunachala Nadar was born on October 2nd 1880 at Melapudhukudi near Thiruchendur to Ramaswamy and Sivananaindha Ammai.  He took over as the Chairman of Eral Panchayat on 5th September, 1906. He undertook several good measures for the people.  He passed away on Adi Amavasya of 1908.  People established him as a deity and started worshipping him.

Slowly, the worship of ‘Serman’ Swamy started interacting with Saivism. ‘Serman Swamy’ turned into an incarnation of Siva.  Today Arunachala Swamy temple is an important spot of Saivite worship.  This is how Hindu religion takes birth and continues growing.  Any form of worship here starts a dialogue with Hinduism and over a period of a time merges with it.  Only by merging this like, Hinduism moves forward.  Like all streams of water in a particular region somehow going and merging with a large river in that region.

Hence your deities do not hang out of thin air without any relation whatsoever with the Hindu tradition like you think.  And you are not silent in the dialogue with the common structure of Hindu religion.  You are merely unaware of it.  Even communal deities will merge into the Hindu common traditional worship when the community expands and spreads a bit more.  All other deities will have a historical narrative which fits with the Hindu tradition.  Enquire this when you go visit next time.

As far as our smaller deities go, only a few in the village will have knowledge about them.   The others do not care. The reason is the cultural setback caused in the 19th century due to the great famines. Most of our families would have migrated during that time. The root of the community would be somewhere else. As a result, communal deities were given up and forgotten.  Traditional forms of worship were lost.  Traditional stories and wisdom was lost.  Only simple rituals survived in the places where ended up living.  Our fathers and grandfathers would have existed in a cultural vacuum and slowly gained roots in the new towns and villages. They would have known nothing.

Why this doubt as to what your religion is?  Which other religion does the word ‘Kaliraj’ belong to?  I believe that you atleast know that Kali is a Hindu god.  You mentioned Thiruchendur temple.  You can learn this easily.  Please see if your community has any right to any ritual like mandagappadi in the Thiruchendur festival.  If so, you are a member of a grand, temple based Hindu (Saivite) religious organization which has existed since the tenth century.   If your father or grandfather did not perform the communal worship meant for their community, it is their personal issue alone.

I too have communal deities.  Ittagaveli Neeli and Melaangodu Yatchi.  It is them that my ancestors worshipped.  At the same time, they were also a small part of a grand setup of the Thiruvattaru Adhikesavan temple.  All communities would have this dual religious belief.  Small deities would be their own unique deities.  They would have been attached to temples for larger godheads.

The Vedas were considered merely as books for rituals.  Hence only those who conducted rituals alone read them.  The Gita and the Vedanta were not spoken of as meant for everyone.  It was meant for those who crossed devotion and worship and searched for true knowledge. In all the communities, those who knew these were a miniscule number.

The puranas and epics belonged to all people of India in their respective forms.  For every community, there were different forms of the same stories from the puranas.  That lower class people had no introduction to the puranas and that they had no relation to it is simply a fraud perpetrated by the Folklore Center Palayamkottai and theMaduraiDivinityCollege.

Have you ever known that the puranas and the epics are the sole basis for all the folk arts of Tamilnadu?  There are around two hundred folk arts in the Nellai region like the Therukoothu, Tholpaavaikoothu, Pulluvan Paatu, Villupaatu etc.  All of them still narrate stories form the puranas and the epics.  Even today, over a hundred of them continue to be staged without facing extinction.  All the local deity festivals for the past two centuries have been conducting them only.  The people who act in them playing parts and those who watch them are all from the lower classes only.

When special dramas arrived, they staged dramas from the puranas.  When silent movies came, they were movies on the puranas as well.  Your village or your family is very surprising.  If they really do not know a little bit about all these things, they certainly live in an interesting illusory world.  Their special state should be separately studied.   One cannot examine Hindu religion or Tamil society on that basis.

You say that you and the Hindu form of worship do not have any relationship.  This is a statement made without any knowledge merely by believing in hearsay.  There are four ways of approaching divinity in the Hindu religion.  One, padayal (offerings) and sacrifice. Secondly, poojas  and prayers. Third are the Vedic rituals. Fourth, dhyana (meditation) and yoga. Any folk deity would be within the first two forms of worship only.

Do your offer prayers to your Karuppaswamy? Or a joint prayer session?  You would light a lamp or a torch.  You would deck it with flowers, offer food and worship it, wouldn’t you? And you would share the food as sacred prasadam. What is this but Hindu worship?  This what Hindus do in the Fiji Islands, South Africa and in Nepal.  This is what is done to Thiruchendur Murugan as well.  Its sacred ash (thiruneeru) that is smeared on Karuppaswamy and Sudalai.  You would know this if you went to a Karuppaswamy temple.

There would be life sacrifice and food from meat in a Karuppaswamy temple.  In a temple for a larger deity, vegetarian food would be offered.  There would be a few differences in the materials and in the words used, that is all.  This is because a few centuries ago, Thiruchendur Murugan became a god for a larger set of people.  Hence he moved towards a form of worship common to all the people.  Life sacrifice existed till around a hundred years ago in several of the great Hindu temples for major godheads.

Any small deity would continue to exist somewhere in the Hindu common tradition.  It will definitely not be completely outside of it; even the deities of the dalits and tribal people.  How far within it depends on how big the worshipping community is, how wealthy, how educated and how much social status it possesses.   The deity of a community gains as much importance within a larger tradition (and merges with it) as the extent to which the community gains stature in society.

That’s why Hindu religion is not thrust down your throat.  Who is there is to do so?  Does someone come door to door for religious conversion?  Do they distribute pamphlets or do they campaign with loudspeakers?  There are no evangelists for Hinduism.  Counter campaigns happen from all quarters with the utmost rigor.

It’s you who force yourself into the Hindu religion.  This is the history of the past five or six thousand years.  Every community jostles for social power.  It searches for its own place in society.  Once it reaches there, it establishes itself there.  Soon their deities gain prominence.  Convincing proof for this is the great prominence gained by Badrakaliamman temples of the Nadars and the importance being gained by Mariamman temples of the Vanniyars.

Watch the roadside when you go.  You will notice brand new Ammans and Karuppaswamys standing up out of the concrete.  A few people from the community that worships those deities would have earned money inDubai.  As they move up the social ladder and slowly gather authority, their deity will move towards the current core of Hindu religion.  If it has to move towards the centre, it should have a dialogue with the centre.  It should transform itself.  It should size the centre. That is what is continually happening.

This is what is happening in your village as well.  When smaller deities turn into larger godheads, their appearance and rituals get transformed.  When Karuppaswamy which seeks life sacrifice is worshipped as a the All Pervading ruler of the universe, it has to become a god which has compassion for all living beings.  After that, it is not possible to offer life sacrifice to it anymore.  It transforms into the Graceful Lord Karuppaswamy.

 There is no question as to whether this is right or wrong.  This has been the way culture has functioned in the Indian subcontinent for the past five thousand years.  This is how Hinduism was formed.  This society has grown and has progressed forward.  Our intellectuals who scream that this is cultural colonialism shamelessly dance to the tunes of proselytizing forces that uproot and destroy entirely the worship of local deities.

 Hence, if you ask if you are a Hindu, I would say that yes, you are a Hindu.   Hindu religion is not an ear-marked region.  It is an expanse in which several fronts continue to be in dialogue.  You and your deities are already a part of this vast Hindu expanse.  From what you have said, it appears that you continue to move towards the general way of life.  You are one among the group of people who are gaining ground within the Hindu religion and are making themselves the new core.


4 Responses to “‘Am I a Hindu?’ (Part II)”

  1. Jataayu November 24, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    A very nice and lucid translation. Wonderful. Thank you for the great service that you have done by translating this important article.

    • Gokul November 24, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

      Thanks Jataayu.

  2. Pritam December 14, 2011 at 1:07 am #

    Thanks for excellent article.

    • Prakash March 4, 2012 at 10:37 pm #

      Beautiful, insightful, evolutionary and enlightening article by Mr. Jeyamohan.

      Please continue to translate more of his blog entries for the benefit of people like me who understand Tamizh but cannot read it. Else, people like me are deprived of the opportunity to be part of a revolutionary social and intellectual movement spearheaded by Mr. Jeyamohan and his expansive and immeasurable cauldron of wisdom.

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