Village Gods of the Tamil Country
From the time that man started leading a civilized life , he realized that there is some power which was outside him and which was much greater than him that controls all his affairs. So wherever there was a large population of human beings , a concept of God arose. In India the lead to this thought process was given by the Vedas. With very few percentage of people learned in Vedas, this concept was understood only by a few people. The other great majority of the population decided that whatever was taught to them by these learned people was right and started believing in the Gods enumerated by these learned people .But in spite of that, this concept did not reach the majority of the people. But like the learned people , these people lacking high knowledge also needed a concept of God and felt badly a need to an object of prayer which would protect them from natural calamities and epidemics as well as the fury of nature. They also needed a concept of God to whom they could talk to and enumerate their needs. Because of this all over India a parallel system of Gods which was outside the Agamas and which were worshipped by the general people in their own fancied way existed.
Tamil Nadu , the land of Tamils was a very civilized and learned nook of India. To them the concept of Vedic Gods who are to be pleased by the Agama system of worship was introduced most probably by sage Agasthya and his disciples. Even among learned people , who were neither Brahmins nor Kshatriyas , there was a great thirst for the concept of God and the concepts of the unique and great Saivisim and Vaishnavism were propounded by itinerant sage poets, by poems and philosophies. These systems were indeed unique to Tamil Nadu . In spite of this development the ordinary and not learned people of Tamil Nadu wanted their own concept of God. They wanted Gods to protect them from fury of nature and epidemics and also give them a very happy and contended family life. It was possibly these people who developed the concept and worship of village Gods. These Gods initially were great men and women who sacrificed themselves for the sake of their families and villages as well as the simplified Gods from Puranas which they were heard from the learned people of their country. Male Gods like Ayyanar based on the concept of son of Shiva and Vishnu , Koothandar , Sudalai Madan, etc and female Gods like Angala Parameshwari, Isakki Amman,Pechi Amman, Pachai amman, Draupadhi, Kali Amman, Mari Amman etc were modified characters whom these simple people admired and taken or modified from the Puranas. . There were also large number of heroes and Heroins who lived and died among them, who became their Gods. The local kings and rich people supported their idea and built temples for these Gods and the faith of these simple people started resulting in a peaceful and prosperous life for them. They realized that these Gods were powerful and would fulfill all their wishes. In most of these temples worship was done by people who were not Brahmins and not following the Agama system of worship.. They offered these Gods what they ate and it was non vegetarian items most of the time. Animals which were slaughtered for food were laughtered in the temple premises and food they liked was prepared and great feasts were held. Most of these deities were surrounded by terra cota or clay idols of fierce animals and Birds as well as the weapons of these deities driven on the mud in front of them. Each of these Gods also had priests appointed to serve them from certain specific families . Most of them also had Samiyadis who would go in to trance in front of these deities and reply to the queries of the devotees of Gods. The opinions of these Gods were made known to the people in general by the God/Goddess entering a lady and making her to tell them about them.
Each of these Gods had stories associated with them, form of worship and festivities all lead by these simple devotees. Most of the villages had a God to guard them outside the village below some trees. The looks of these Gods were most often terrifying.. Some of the villages also had a God inside their village. All the important decision of these families were taken in front of their Gods. All important ceremonies were conducted before these Gods. Wherever a villager went he carried mud from his village temple and established a temple of his God wherever he lived. The Wikipedia mentions that there are 21 main Village Gods and more than 61 servant Gods to these main Gods in Tamil Nadu. I am giving below in brief the stories of Origin of some of these Gods.
Ayyanar is possibly the most popular Village God who guards every village . Almost all his temple would be just outside the Village .By the side his fierce and big statue there would be statues of horses or elephants. On both sides of most of the statues would be his consorts Poorna and Pushkaa. His devotees believe that Ayyanar is the son of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu in his form as Mohini. Most of the people also believe he is same as Lord Ayyappa of Sabarimala. People also believe that Ayyanar killed an asura maiden called Mahishi. People believe that Ayyanar travels on his horse at mid nights and hunts for bad people and miscreants. Perhaps because of this , people present white horses made of clay to him, when he answers their prayers. People also believe that if any one crosses his way while going for hunting at night , he would slap them hard.. In the great and old epic of Silappadikaram there are references to the worship of Ayyanar during those times. Ayyanar is one of those Gods who is very popular in the southern portion of Tamil Nadu.
It seems once upon a time Goddess Parvathi wanted one more child but at that time Lord Shiva was doing prnance. When Goddess Parvathi informed her wish to Lord Shiva. He requested her to go to Patalam (nether world). She went there and went on hiding the light of the divine lamp which was burning there by her dress.. But when she reached Kailasa , she saw that the light had turned in to a shapeless piece ,Lord Shiva asked to give it to Lord Brahma so that he can give it a good shape. Brahma did as per her request and gave him the name of Sudalai(he was born from the ray of light(Sudar) of Lord Shiva.. Parvathi fed that child nectar instead of milk. But over time his hunger increased many folds and he started eating everything that he saw and even corpses burning in the cremation ground. Goddess Parvathi who was greatly disturbed send him to earth with a request to protect all the creations of God. Sudalai Madan when he came to earth brought with him folk musicians as well as dancers. He very much like to hear the musical instrument called Urumi as well Thapattu being played. His wife is Madathi. People believe that it is better to pray to Madathi because Madan , obeys only her and no one else. People also believe that Madan is very truthful. When people pray and entrust him with any job, they are 100 % sure that it would be done. Sudulai Madan is also is considered as the Guardial of the burial ground.
3.Karuppanna Sami or Karuppu
Essentially his name means black God . He always appears with a sickle and turned up moustache . He is called by several aliases like Karuppasamy , Periya Karuppa Sami , Malayala Karuppu and so on. People believe he is very short tempered God. There is a story connecting this God with Rama. It is as follows:-
After Rama started ruling Ayodhya, based on the words of a washerman he sent Sita to the forest. Sage Valmiki found her and started looking after her who was in the family way. Later a son called Lava was born to her . One day Sita entrusted the baby Lava to sage Valmiki and went to take bath in the river. After little meditation when the sage opened his eyes, he could not see Lava, who had been taken by Sita after some time.. Becoming nervous the sage created a new baby from a grass. At that time Sita returned along with her son Lava. After this Sita considered both children as hers and looked after them. When after Aswamedha Yaga the children were reunited with Rama,Rama wanted to find out who was his real child. He asked both children to cross a fire and come to him. When Kucha tried to cross the fire , his entire body became jet black.. Then Rama understanding the facts about Kucha made him the security chief of his palace and started calling him Karuppu and gave him many boons.
People believe that the original temple of Karupannachami is in front of Azhagar koil in Madurai. All other temples were established after taking mud from here. People affected by black magic consider him as their only protection. Goat and sheep are given in sacrifice to him. He is seen as security God in very large number of village God temples in Tamil Nadu. The famous Sabari Mala temple also has a Karuppachami guarding it. Most of te Karupannachami idols are accompanied by his hunting Dog and his steed which is a lion or a horse. The people who follow the Thanthric worship consider him as their greatest God.
Muneeswaran loosely translated means a sage who is a God.. The God is also called Muniyandi. There are two stories about the origin of this god.
1.When Sathi devi who was insulted by her father jumped in to the yaga fire and died, Lord Shiva got very angry and produced Virabhadra from his eyes seven sages from different parts of his body to kill Daksha. These sages according to the legend are Muttayar Muni. CHinna Muttayar Muni, Raya Muni, Jata Muni, Poo Muni , Chemuni and ValMuni. All these sages assisted Veerabhadra to kill Daksha and they all decided to stay in the earth itself.. Lord Shiva entrusted the job of guarding human beings to them. Wikipedia gives their names and also gives their role, which is as follows:-
· As he appeared from Lord Siva's face. He assumed the form of Shivamuni.
· He became Mahamuni who possessed immeasurable divine power.
· Nathamuni offered blessings to the Devagananga and Puthaganga.
· Jadamuni grew trees and possessed Rudrakshamala Kaatgar and the book.
· Dharmamuni was the protector of the good and the destroyer of evil.
· Vazhamuni is praised and worshipped by the Kapalis who live in the jungle.
· Pandi Muni who praised his(?) , he is talk to them in spiritual manner.
2.Pachayamman is a form of Goddess Parvathi who had to live in the earth due to the curse of Lord Shiva. Many Rakshasas and asuras were giving her lots of trouble. Then Lord Shiva created the above seven Munis and asked them to protect Pachayamman till she gets rid of her curse. After that, they were entrusted with the job of guarding human beings. It is a very common practice in Tamil Nadu to pray Muneeswaran before crossing the borders of the village. These Gods are also worshipped in fierce as well as peaceful forms. The fierce forms are offered animal sacrifices.
This God is supposed to be the son of The king of Kasi whose name was Thulasingam and his queen Karpagavalli. Seeing the fierce look of the baby , the king placed the baby in a basket and left it in the river. This baby was safely found by a cobbler called Chinnan and his wife Chinnayi. They called the baby as Muthukumaran. Fearing that the original parents would come and claim the child , Chinnan moved south. On the way in a kingdom Chinnan got the job of the security God..He said his son to the Gurus to learn sword fighting as well as use of arrow and bow.. The king of the country was called Bommu. He had a daughter called Bommi , who on seeing Muthu Kumaran fell on love with him. The king refused to give his daughter in marriage to Muthukumaran. Muthukumaran and Bommi ran away from the place got married and reached the present day Madurai.. Thirumalai Naikkan was ruling Madurai at that time., He appointed Muthukumaran in his army and started calling him Veeran. Veeran was entrusted the job of controlling thje thieves who used to rob and plunder Madurai town. At this time Vallaiammal a dancer in the court of the king ,was attracted by veeran. The king did not like this. The enemies of Veeran complained to the king that Veeran instead of controlling the robbers was in league with them.. The king ordered that Veeran should be executed and this was carried out. Bommi and Vellaimmal came to know of this cursed the king and got back Veeran alive by the blessings of the God. He was transformed in to the security God of Maurai and is believed to be resting in a cave there. From then on he became well known as Madurai veeran and is worshipped in very many villages. In the southern gate of Meenakshi Temple of Madurai there is a famous Madurai Veeran temple. It is interesting to know that Bommi and Vellayammal are village Goddesses in their own right.
Isakki Amman in is one very important village Goddesses. Some people believe that Isakki has come from the word Yakshi and some others believe that Isakki has come from the word Iyakki , which means “she who makes thing work”. She always appears carrying baby and with very fierce look. The stories about her origin are:-
1.She was a girl child called Isakki who belonged to a rich prosperous family, who prayed Goddess to give them a child.. One bad individual attracted her by his guile , made her run away with him. On the way he killed her and took away her Ornaments. On his way a snake bit him and he also died. Since her soul had divinity attached to it , it went to Lord Shiva and told him , that such a simple death to the bad man did not satisfy her and she wanted to revenge on him. God then gave back their souls to both of them and told that after she takes revenge she should become a Goddess of the people and protect them. That bad man got his soul bck and walked and reached a village near by. Isakki made a baby out of Cactus and carrying that baby reached the village and claimed that the bad man deceived her and the child was his.,. when the child addressed him as father, they compelled that man to live with Isakki. Isakki assumed a horrifying form and killed him with his knife and later became a guardian Goddess.. Ladies who wanted to protect the honour started praying to Isakki and built a temple for her in Muppanthal.
2.” Ambika, a housewife, was leading a peaceful family life with her husband Somasharman and their two male children. One day the dutyful "dharpan" ritual had to be performed to the ancestors of their family and all the items were duly prepared. However, while Somasharman was away to take bath in the river, Ambika offered food to a starving sage who begged for it. Suddenly Somasharman became enraged since the food prepared as offerings to ancestors had been served to the sage before the necessary rites & pujas. Thus Ambika and her children were chased away from home. Ambika wandered until she found a calm place. Realising his foolishness later, Somasharman went in search of his wife and children. But fearing him, Ambika gave up her life. After her unfortunate death, it is believed that she took the form of "Yakshini" and that she still wanted to take care of her growing children. Later, with the grace of God, she was able to regain her human life for the benefit of her offspring. It is when Ambika took the Yakshini form and regained human life with the intention to serve the family that she became Iyakki or Isakki ..”
Mariamman is supposed to be the daughter who was born to Yasodha when Dewvaki gave birth to Lord Krishna.,. When Vasudeva brought her to Mathura and Kamsa tried tokillher , she cursed him and went back to help the people of the world. She is the Goddess who cures Pox and is called Sitala Devi in northern India.”Mari” also means rain. It is believed if she is worshipped she would bring rain and make the earth cool. She is also called Muthumari in certain temple. Her most important temple is that of Samayapuram in Trichy town., She likes garlands made of lime fruits and neem leaves . In many places she is a ferocious goddess who expects people to sacrifice animals to please her.
Very many more such interesting Gods and Goddesses are found in every village of Tamil Nadu. Some of them are Angala Parameswari, Pechi Amman, Pachai Amman, Katteri Amman, Periyachi, Ellai amman, Ellai appan, Nalla Thanga , Periyanandaar and so on. The villagers who are simple have total faith in them. I have collected various articles and books about temples of some of these Gods and Goddesses and these are available in
Please read them and understand the simple but deep faith of the simple and poor people of Tamil Nadu towards many of these Gods. Even if you are one who are not the devotees of these Gods, you will find yourself at peace.