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..:-)