Saturday, October 18, 2008


The cult of guardian deities or "kaaval deivams" in Tamilnadu is something I've been trying to fathom for a while. It is not that I don't believe in it but I cannot relate to it. Our guardian deity is in a village called Thandalai, about 5 kms from Tiruvarur. It houses a very small temple to Shashtha or Ayyappan, Badrakali and the more famous "Eetty Manickam" (The Manickam with a Javelin). Anyone in the surrounding regions of that village will be able to point you to the temple of "Eetty Manickam". All vehicles, especially buses and lorries, passing via that temple will stop, drop a coin toward "Eetty Manickam" and then proceed on their way. Legend has it that if they do not do that, they will meet with a fatal calamity. For many years, the temple drew a sustenance based on the charity of these passers-by and still does even though it now has other sources of funds as well.

Until the 1990s, our family had no idea of this temple. Somewhere along the way, many generations past, we'd lost the memory of this place. In the early 1990s, my eldest Uncle was looking to marry off his eldest daughter. Try as they might, they couldn't find a satisfactory alliance for my cousin. One day my Uncle had a very vivid dream of a temple in an isolated village. He dreamt about a Badrakali in that temple and was told that because we had neglected this deity, the marriage of his daughter was being delayed. He could accurately describe the temple, its surroundings and the way to the Badrakali sanctum. But no one in our family knew what this temple was. Finally, my grandmother had some vague recollection of a place near Tiruvarur that was supposed to be our guardian deity. So my uncle hunted around that area for a while and figured out that there was a little-known village called Thandalai.

The entire family consisting of my Uncle, his three younger brothers including my father, their spouses and children made the visit to this place. We worshipped there and when we went to the Badrakali sanctum, my Uncle swore that it was exactly as it was in his dream. "Eetty Manickam" came as a surprise to me. The image was of an English-looking guy in khaki trousers and shirt, with a gun and a white horse. The statue was huge and stood on the outside of the temple. Here's where the drivers threw their coins. "Eetty Manickam" was supposed to guard the village at night and many villagers swore to hearing horse hoof sounds in that area. Anyways, after propitiating the gods there and promising to go back every year, we returned. Soon enough, my cousin got married and we attributed it to the temple.

To go back to the beginning of this post, I have trouble relating to these "kaaval deivams" because of their punishing nature. I've never believed in fear-induced worship and many of the Ayyanars, Karuppannasaamis,Ellai Kaalis, Badrakalis seem to be very punishing. But I suppose their very nature makes people feel protected if they offer the right worship.

S & I just started watching "Marma Desam - Vidadhu Karuppu" and that prompted me to write this post..:-)


Icy said...

Sets me thinking of my husbands own such deity !!!


Jira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jira said...

Reading half way through, I was reminded about marma desam!
Not just kaval deivams, but the general concept of 'ummaachi kanni kuthidum' is funny and silly!!

viswajith.k.n said...

I reminisced of my family's trips to such temples during my younger days.

Venkatesh G said...

That reminds me of Bodyguard Muneeswarar in Chennai. !!

I was already in a dilemma if these kaval deivams existed at all and if they exist why are they worshipped with Saarayam( indianised Vodka ) and Meat unlike the mainstream gods.

You have enhanced my dilemma.

Nice post.

Anonymous said...

QUESTION-1:Why some particular form of deity may be considered as a family deity?
ANSWER-1:For example, when you get some unconditional help from your friend which would have made you come out of disastrous and life & Death situation, then you will consider that friend to be your very dearest one, and if you are too close, then you may end up treating that person as GOD as well. And then onwards, your close associates like wife, kids and parents may also end up following you and give the same treatment that you gave to your savior friend.

Similarly, when you got saved by some particular form of the supernatural, then, you end up treating that as GOD or your family deity. This is same as how you treat your friend who rescued you uncinditionally, except in this case, this savior may not be physically associated with you, but may be of higher level of existence as in existing in SOUL form or more than that.

While there may be a doubt to you that do Souls or Ghosts exist, you should see GHOST HUNTERS program that comes in Sci-Fi channel, where some professional ghost hunters go and investigate the haunted properties in USA. They end up some times, with inexplainable activitiy by the individuality that may not be existing in the Physical body form, but in teh higher level form like a Ghost etc.

Like I said previously, there may have happened in the past that a particular form of Divinity might have saved your forfathers from very disastrous situations or might be that your forefathers might be drawing the power via the particular aspect of the ALL PERVADING DIVINITY, and that ALL PERVADING DIVINITY is responding to your forefathers prayers via that aspect. For example, my family treats Narasimha Swami as family deity, and we offer our prayers at a particular time of the year in a particular location, even though there exists many Narahimha swamy temples in India. The reason is that our forefathers were saved at that time by that particular aspect(Narasimha Swamy aspect) of GOD. You tend to seek someone in the same aspect again and again from the time you got initial response, and this is same in the case of GOD as well. If you started getting respons from the ALL PERVADING GOD when you were offering prayer to Lord Rama, then you tend to be more inclined to be Lord Rama's devotee, compared to ohter deities, until you had truly attained the state of REALIZING THAT GOD IS OMNIPOTENT AND OMNIPRESENT AND IS ALL PERVADING.

Similar is the case of the family deities.

I hope I gave sufficient explanation on the family deities.

Anonymous said...

QUESTION-2:Why are the Deities depicted as being ferocious or violent in Hinduism?
ANSWER-2:Below is the conversation from the world famous book "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Swami Paramahamsa Yogananda.

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."
I did not have this wisdom of Solomon to comfort me; I gazed searchingly about me, on any excursion from home, for the face of my destined guru. But my path did not cross his own until after the completion of my high school studies.

Two years elapsed between my flight with Amar toward the Himalayas, and the great day of Sri Yukteswar's arrival into my life. During that interim I met a number of sagesthe "Perfume Saint," the "Tiger Swami," Nagendra Nath Bhaduri, Master Mahasaya, and the famous Bengali scientist, Jagadis Chandra Bose.

My encounter with the "Perfume Saint" had two preambles, one harmonious and the other humorous.

"God is simple. Everything else is complex. Do not seek absolute values in the relative world of nature."

These philosophical finalities gently entered my ear as I stood silently before a temple image of Kali. Turning, I confronted a tall man whose garb, or lack of it, revealed him a wandering sadhu.

"You have indeed penetrated the bewilderment of my thoughts!" I smiled gratefully. "The confusion of benign and terrible aspects in nature, as symbolized by Kali1, has puzzled wiser heads than mine!"

"Few there be who solve her mystery! Good and evil is the challenging riddle which life places sphinxlike before every intelligence. Attempting no solution, most men pay forfeit with their lives, penalty now even as in the days of Thebes. Here and there, a towering lonely figure never cries defeat. From the maya of duality he plucks the cleaveless truth of unity."

"You speak with conviction, sir."

Kali represents the eternal principle in nature. She is traditionally pictured as a four-armed woman, standing on the form of the God Shiva or the Infinite, because nature or the phenomenal world is rooted in the Noumenon. The four arms symbolize cardinal attributes, two beneficent, two destructive, indicating the essential duality of matter or creation.


Based on the above explanation, we should not see violent form as wrong form of the devotion, but should learn how to look beyond the duality of violence and peace, counter the violence form with the Unconditional Love, which is the basis for everything in the creation and there is nothing that can fall for this unconditional LOVE.

Anonymous said...

Sorry. Forgot to point to the Autobiography of a Yogi conversation link. Here it is:

Here are the acclaims for this book from all ove rthe world irrespective of ones race, religion, nation and any material and mind level bondages. I guess, if you can touch base of an individual, THE SOUL, then, it will result in the same response, irrespective of ones race, religion or other difference, since after all, an individual in their originality is nothing but THE EVER EXISTING AND INDESTRUCTIBLE SOUL.