Hindu

The worship of cobra, which is related to Siva and his consort Sakti, according to some, is an ancient custom of the Dravidians. The king cobra is considered divine and is never killed. There are many temples, big and small, dedicated to Naga, the cobra, where festivals are held on a grand scale. Cobras are allowed and encouraged to stay unmolested in certain spots of the temple premises and both priests and devotees offer cups of milk to them. It is claimed that no one has died of snakebite in a certain village where there is a Naga temple. If a snake bites someone, he goes to the temple and drinks a little water taken from the sacred tank, mixing it with a lump of earth culled from an anthill. He remains a few days in the temple till he is cured.

Mother goddess is worshiped in the form of Kali or Durga At times she is considered the guardian goddess of the house. It is interesting to note that some temples dedicated to Kali are officiated by

Brahmins whereas others are officiated by pusaris or non-Brahmin village priests according to the old Tamil custom. During puja, some devotes get into a trance. Kavadi or dance procession on a hook after piercing one’s body with needless, and karakam, namely the carrying of a copper pot filled with water and covered with margosa leaves in a state of frenzy, are also devotional practices associated with the worship of Kali.

On the second level, there are practices that connote the deep religiousness of people in the villages. People often say under their breath “ellam nee than” (you are everything) and often use the wise saying “avaninri anuvum asaiyatu” (without his knowledge, not even an atom will move).

In order to obtain a favor, e.g. cure from disease, a devotee will go to the temple and observe a sit-in called kovilil pazhi kidathal. One could observe many such devotees in temples such as the one at Sellachannithi. When a devotee does not get what he wants, he blames God saying “kuruddu theivam” (blind God) or “sekiddu Pillayar” (deaf Pillaiyar). The note of familiarity which these practices point at is corroborated by the use of the terms nee (you), appan (father) and amma (mother) when addressing God.

In houses of Saivites, there is usually a prayer room called cuvami arai with an image or picture of one or many deities. Before starting to worship, one has to purify one’s body by bathing and by washing one’s mouth. Holy ash called viputi is applied on one’s forehead. One may either sit or stand while worshiping. A worshiper closes his eyes and holds his palms together. This worship takes place before breakfast and is normally repeated before dinner.

If the above may be called private worship, then a form of public worship takes place in the temple. Temples are dedicated to Siva, Murugan, Vairavar, Pillaiyar and Kali. When the bells of the temple toll, people invoke the name of the village deity.

There are two types of temples: agama kovils or shrines built according to the Agamic rules and regulations where Brahmins perform Sanscritic rites, and non-agama kovils or shrines of Kali, Kannaki and Amman where non-Sanscritic rites are performed. Scholars point out that while the agama worship of Siva, Murugan, Pillaiyar and Parvati seeks to enclose within a bounded, purified, and above all else, ordered space the devastating and amoral power of the autonomous god” and emphasizes dignity, the non-Sanskrit rite worship tends to be “expiatory” in the sense of emphasis is laid more on the violent and bloody sacrifice than on “order and purity”these two types may also be called temples of ” great tradition” and of ” little tradition”. The first consists of “Sanskritised ritual and liturgical practices pertaining to the theology of Saivism” and the second consists in the worship of, and rituals related to ” mother-goddesses, fertility and therapeutic cults, animism” etc.

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