VILLAGE DEITIES OF KARNATAKA
are many undercurrents in the religious scenario of Karnataka or for that
matter any other region of
One finds references to the village deities in ancient texts such as Ramayana. Invariably these Goddesses are amenable to animal sacrifices and Brahmins and to a lesser extent Lingayats are not closely associated with them. These are usually recered by dalits and those belonging to ‘lower’ castes. Each and every village in Karnataka has a ‘village deity’ of its own. Very often, her/his sphere of influence extends far beyond the boundaries of that village and she is worshipped by devotees from neighboring villages. Occasionally, some deities such as mUkAmbikA of kollUr and mArikAmbA of Sirsi become famous all over the state. There are certain common motifs that can be divined in the stories and legends connected with the village deities. Some of of them have variant interpretations for the same phenomenon.
Usually every village has its own deity with a specific name. Occasionally, two or three small hamlets have a single deity at some neutral place. Usually the temple is outside the village. There is hardly any icon worth the name. It is a single stone or a combination of stones. Some marks made on the stone may give it a human visage. The Goddess has a priest who is called a ‘tammaDi’ in South Karnataka. He does not really participate in the animal sacrifices that take place during the annual fair and other auspicious occasions. Villagers are very particular about being loyal to this deity. The loyalty is a matter of course and there are strict taboos against shifting one’s loyalty. However, this transgression takes place during emergencies. Every deity has a legendary story associated with her. (sthaLapurANa)
The annual fair of the Goddess which is called ‘grAmadEvateya habba’ or ‘jAtre’ is an important event in the calendar year. Devotees assemble in large numbers to clear their dues to the Goddess. It is also called ‘banDi habba’. (Car festival) The cart (Chariot) is decorated with flowers and greenery. An icon of the Goddess made of clay is prepared specially for this event. It is decorated with jewelry and flowers. The procession in the streets of the village is accompanied by ‘dAsayya’ and ‘puruSa’ who have there own unique costumes and paraphernalia. Many married women also participate in the procession holding a ‘kaLasha’. Many animals are sacrificed. There are some deities who insist on vegetarian offerings. AsAdi songs and many rituals dances are performed during the festival, almost through the night. All in all, it is a very joyous occasion.
Thus, ‘grAmadEvatA’s have a unique place in village dynamics and they constitute the nucleus that used to cotrol their religious and social behaviour. scholaras such as Dr Siddalingaiah, Prof. S.S. Hiremath and Dr Channanna Walikar have worked extensively on the village deities of Karnataka.