Dravidian folk religion

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Dravidian folk religion is a broad range of belief systems and deities found in South India. They constitute a non-Vedic form of Hinduism in that they were either historically or are at present non-Āgamic (which is to say, they have not been granted the sanction of the Vedas). Scholars like Arumuka Navalar worked to subsume native deities in the Vedic pantheon. The Dravidian worship of Village deities is recognised as a survival of the pre-Brahmanic Dravidian religion.[1]


Main article: History of Hinduism

Ancient Tamil grammatical works Tolkappiyam, the the ten anthologies Pattuppāṭṭu, the eight anthologies Eṭṭuttokai sheds light on early religion of ancient Dravidian people. Seyyon was glorified as, the red god seated on the blue peacock, who is ever young and resplendent, as the favored god of the Tamils.[2] Sivan was also seen as the supreme God.[3] Early iconography of Seyyon[4] and Sivan[5][6][7] and their association with native flora and fauna goes back to Indus Valley Civilization. [8][9] The Sangam landscape was classified into five categories, thinais, based on the mood, the season and the land. Tolkappiyam, mentions that each of these thinai had an associated deity such Seyyon in Kurinji-the hills, Thirumaal in Mullai-the forests, and Kotravai in Marutham-the plains, and Wanji-ko in the Neithal-the coasts and the seas. Other gods mentioned were Mayyon and Vaali who were all assimilated into Hinduism over time. Dravidian influence on early Vedic religion is evident, many of these features are already present in the oldest known Indo-Aryan language, the language of the Rigveda (c. 1500 BCE), which also includes over a dozen words borrowed from Dravidian.[10] This represents an early religious and cultural fusion[11][note 1] or synthesis[13] between ancient Dravidians and Indo-Aryans, which became more evident over time with sacred iconography, flora and fauna that went on to influence Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism[14][12][15][16]

Throughout Tamil Nadu, a king was considered to be divine by nature and possessed religious significance.[17] The king was 'the representative of God on earth' and lived in a koyil, which means the "residence of a god". The Modern Tamil word for temple is koil (Tamil: கோயில்). Titual worship was also given to kings.[18][19] Modern words for god like (Tamil: கோ "king"), iṟai (இறை "emperor") and āṇḍavar (ஆண்டவன் "conqueror") now primarily refer to gods. These elements were incorporated later into Hinduism like the legendary marriage of Shiva to Queen Mīnātchi who ruled Madurai or Wanji-ko, a god who later merged into Indra.[20] Tolkappiyar refers to the Three Crowned Kings as the "Three Glorified by Heaven", (Tamilவாண்புகழ் மூவர், Vāṉpukaḻ Mūvar ?).[21] In the Dravidian-speaking South, the concept of divine kingship led to the assumption of major roles by state and temple.[22]

The cult of the mother goddess is treated as an indication of a society which venerated femininity. This mother goddess was conceived as a virgin, one who has given birth to all and one.[23] The temples of the Sangam days, mainly of Madurai, seem to have had priestesses to the deity, which also appear predominantly a goddess.[24] In the Sangam literature, there is an elaborate description of the rites performed by the Kurava priestess in the shrine Palamutircholai.[25] Among the early Dravidians the practice of erecting memorial stones Natukalhad appeared, and it continued for quite a long time after the Sangam age, down to about 11th century.[26] It was customary for people who sought victory in war to worship these hero stones to bless them with victory.[27]

Thai Pongal is one of the most important festivals celebrated by Tamil people in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the Indian Union Territory of Puducherry,[28][29] and Sri Lanka. Thai Pongal corresponds to Makara Sankranthi, the winter harvest festival celebrated throughout India.

Other than literature sources, folk festivals, village deities, shamanism, ritual theater and traditions which are unique to the region also sheds light on ancient beliefs of early Dravidian people. Theyyam is a ritual shaman dance popular in Kerala. Theyyam migrates into the artist who has assumed the spirit and it is a belief that the god or godess comes in the midst of fathering through the medium of possessed dancer. The dancer throws rice on the audience and distributes turmeric powder as symbols of blessing. Theyyam incorporates dance, mime and music and enshrines the rudiments of ancient tribal cultures which attached great importance to the worship of heroes and the spirits of ancestors, is a socio-religious ceremony. There are over 400 Theyyams performed, the most spectacular ones are those of Raktha Chamundi, Kari Chamundi, Muchilottu Bhagavathi, Wayanadu Kulaven , Gulikan and Pottan. These are performed in front of shrines, sans stage or curtains.

The layout of villages can be assumed to be standard across most villages. An Amman (mother goddess) is at the centre of the villages while a male guardian deity (Tamilகாவல் கடவுள், kāval kaṭavuḷ ?) has a shrine at the village borders. Nowadays, Amman can be either worshipped alone or as a part of the Vedic pantheon.[30]

Scholars regard Hinduism as a fusion[11][note 1] or synthesis[13][note 2][31] of various Indian cultures and traditions.[13][32][11][note 6] Among its roots are the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India,[42][32] itself already the product of "a composite of the indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures and civilizations",[43][note 7] but also the Sramana[45] or renouncer traditions[32] of northeast India,[45] and mesolithic[46] and neolithic[47] cultures of India, such as the religions of the Indus Valley Civilisation,[48][12][49][50] Dravidian traditions,[14][12][15][16] and the local traditions[32] and tribal religions.[14][note 8]

Folk dance rituals[edit]

  • Yakshagana literally means the song (gana) of the yaksha, (nature spirits).[51] Yakshagana is the scholastic name (used for the last 200 years) for art forms formerly known as kēḷike, āṭa, bayalāṭa, and daśāvatāra (Kannada: ದಶಾವತಾರ).
  • Koothu (Tamil: கூத்து), and alternatively spelt as kuttu, means dance or performance in Tamil, it is a folk art originated from the early Tamil country.[52][53]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Lockard: "The encounters that resulted from Aryan migration brought together several very different peoples and cultures, reconfiguring Indian society. Over many centuries a fusion of Aryan and Dravidian occurred, a complex process that historians have labeled the Indo-Aryan synthesis."[11] Lockard: "Hinduism can be seen historically as a synthesis of Aryan beliefs with Harappan and other Dravidian traditions that developed over many centuries."[12]
  2. ^ Hiltebeitel: "A period of consolidation, sometimes identified as one of "Hindu synthesis," Brahmanic synthesis," or "orthodox synthesis," takes place between the time of the late Vedic Upanishads (c. 500 BCE) and the period of Gupta imperial ascendency" (c. 320-467 CE)."
  3. ^ Ghurye: He [Hutton] considers modern Hinduism to be the result of an amalgam between pre-Aryan Indian beliefs of Mediterranean inspiration and the religion of the Rigveda. "The Tribal religions present, as it were, surplus material not yet buit into the temple of Hinduism".[34]
  4. ^ Tyler, in India: An Anthropological Perspective(1973), page 68, as quoted by Sjoberg, calls Hinduism a "synthesis" in which the Dravidian elements prevail: "The Hindu synthesis was less the dialectical reduction of orthodoxy and heterodoxy than the resurgence of the ancient, aboriginal Indus civilization. In this process the rude, barbaric Aryan tribes were gradually civilised and eventually merged with the autochthonous Dravidians. Although elements of their domestic cult and ritualism were jealously preserved by Brahman priests, the body of their culture survived only in fragmentary tales and allegories embedded in vast, syncretistic compendia. On the whole, the Aryan contribution to Indian culture is insignificant. The essential pattern of Indian culture was already established in the third millennium B.C., and ... the form of Indian civilization perdured and eventually reasserted itself.[35]
  5. ^ Hopfe & Woodward: "The religion that the Aryans brought with them mingled with the religion of the native people, and the culture that developed between them became classical Hinduism."[40]
  6. ^ See also:
  7. ^ See:
    • David Gordo White: "[T]he religion of the Vedas was already a composite of the indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures and civilizations."[43]
    • Richard Gombrich: "It is important to bear in mind that the Indo-Aryans did not enter an unhabitated land. For nearly two millennia they and their culture gradually penetrated India, moving east and south from their original seat in the Punjab. They mixed with people who spoke Munda or Dravidian languages, who have left no traces of their culture beyond some archaeological remains; we know as little about them as we would about the Indo-Aryans if they had left no texts. In fact we cannot even be sure whether some of the aerchaeological finds belong to Indo-Aryans, autochthonous populations, or a mixture.
      It is to be assumed - though this is not fashionable in Indian historiography - that the clash of cultures between Indo-Aryans and autochtones was responsible for many of the changes in Indo-Aryan society. We can also assume that many - perhaps most - of the indigenous population came to be assimilated into Indo-Aryan culture.[44]
  8. ^ Tiwari mentions the Austric and Mongoloid people.[14] See also Peopling of India for the variety of Indian people.


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  4. ^ Mahadevan, Iravatham (2006). A Note on the Muruku Sign of the Indus Script in light of the Mayiladuthurai Stone Axe Discovery. harappa.com. 
  5. ^ Ranbir Vohra (2000). The Making of India: A Historical Survey. M.E. Sharpe. p. 15. 
  6. ^ Grigorii Maksimovich Bongard-Levin (1985). Ancient Indian Civilization. Arnold-Heinemann. p. 45. 
  7. ^ Steven Rosen, Graham M. Schweig (2006). Essential Hinduism. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 45. 
  8. ^ Basham 1967
  9. ^ Frederick J. Simoons (1998). Plants of life, plants of death. p. 363. 
  10. ^ Krishnamurti (2003), p. 6.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Lockard 2007, p. 50.
  12. ^ a b c d e Lockard 2007, p. 52.
  13. ^ a b c Hiltebeitel 2007, p. 12.
  14. ^ a b c d Tiwari 2002, p. v.
  15. ^ a b c Zimmer 1951, p. 218-219.
  16. ^ a b Larson 1995, p. 81.
  17. ^ Harman, William P. (1992). The sacred marriage of a Hindu goddess. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. p. 6. 
  18. ^ Anand, Mulk Raj (1980). Splendours of Tamil Nadu. Marg Publications. 
  19. ^ Chopra, Pran Nath (1979). History of South India. S. Chand. 
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  21. ^ A. Kiruṭṭin̲an̲ (2000). Tamil culture: religion, culture, and literature. Bharatiya Kala Prakashan. p. 17. 
  22. ^ Embree, Ainslie Thomas (1988). Encyclopedia of Asian history: Volume 1. Scribner. ISBN 9780684188980. 
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  31. ^ Samuel 2010, p. 193.
  32. ^ a b c d e Flood 1996, p. 16.
  33. ^ Ghurye 1980, p. 3-4.
  34. ^ Ghurye 1980, p. 4.
  35. ^ a b Sjoberg 1990, p. 43.
  36. ^ Sjoberg 1990.
  37. ^ Nath 2001.
  38. ^ Werner 2005, p. 8-9.
  39. ^ Hiltebeitel 2007.
  40. ^ a b Hopfe 2008, p. 79.
  41. ^ Samuel 2010.
  42. ^ Samuel 2010, p. 41-42.
  43. ^ a b White 2006, p. 28.
  44. ^ Gombrich 1996, p. 35-36.
  45. ^ a b Gomez 2002, p. 42.
  46. ^ Doniger 2010, p. 66.
  47. ^ Jones 2006, p. xvii.
  48. ^ Narayanan 2009, p. 11.
  49. ^ Hiltebeitel 2007, p. 3.
  50. ^ Jones 2006, p. xviii.
  51. ^ "yaksha". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2007-09-06. 
  52. ^ Dance forms of Tamilnadu
  53. ^ Tamilnadu.com