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Death and Deification: Folk Cults in Hinduism

Author(s): Stuart H. Blackburn
Source: History of Religions, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Feb., 1985), pp. 255-274
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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History of Religions

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Stuart H. Blackburn D E A T H AND

Were it not better to give death the place to which it is en
reality and in our thoughts ... ? [Sigmund Freud]

As a source of Indian religious thought, death is p
passed; no matter which historical period or cultural l
to examine, concepts lead to or from the problems it p
their cosmic purposes, Vedic sacrifices were designed t
temporarily and attain a full life span for men. A mor
of death was the goal in the philosophies of the U
dhism, and Jainism; it is this secret that Naciketas (in the Katha
Upanishad) asks Yama to divulge to him. And even the process of
samsira, the foundation of Indian thought, was first understood not as
a rebirth but as continual "redeath" (punarmrtyu). Later, in the Pura-
nas, death becomes a force (Time and Fate) that controls men as much
as karma and that Siva absorbs into his array of qualities. A final and
very different attitude develops in the devotional cults that enlist the
intervention of a god to sidestep the problem altogether; there is Mar-
kandeya, who, by clinging to a lingam, was able to remain sixteen
forever when Siva kicked Yama in the chest and prevented him from

The germinal idea for this essay was presented in a paper read at the annual meeting of
the Association for Asian Studies, San Francisco, 1983. Field research drawn on in this
article was carried out in 1977-79 and in 1980 in Tamil Nadu and Kerala with grants
from the Social Science Research Council, the American Institute of Indian Studies, the
Fulbright Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution.

? 1985 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

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As even the follow- ing select and limited examination of this new data will show. 111-24." in The Divine Consort: Radha and the Goddesses of India. however. Heesterman. wear- ing garlands that fade. pp. N.und Ostasiens 8 (1964): 1-31. C. 73-96. are centered on death. this is the conclusion of several important studies of Sanskrit ritual and literary texts." Wiener Zeitschrift fur die Kunde Sud. pp. p. "Sacrificial Death and the Necrophagous Ascetic. Compare Fr6edrique Apffel Marglin. ed. 97-110. 2 (July-December 1976): 265-92. "Death as a Necessity and a Gift in Hindu Mythology. Alf Hiltebeitel. sweating. an opposition between death and life may be. the popular streams of Hinduism.: Cornell University Press. 2 See J.95." in Religious Encounters with Death: Insights from the History and Anthropology of Religions. 119-20. Veena Das. ed. there is enough published research on folk Hinduism (and tribal reli- gions in India) to broaden the basis for discussion. the mythological and philosophical texts.jstor. Stuart Blackburn. Meena Kaushik. we will see a variety of relations with classical Hinduism. 2 above. Reynolds and Earle H. 3 In addition to the studies cited in n." in Death and the Regeneration of Life. "Brahmin. Jack Hawley and Donna Wulff." David R. Death Stories: Oral Performances in a Tamil Folk Tradition" (1983. "Sapindikarana: The Hindu Rite of Entry into Heaven. And even if the pure/impure dichotomy is not the organizing principle of Hindu life." Wiener Zeitschrift fir die Kunde Sud. Kinsley. The Ritual of Battle: Krishna in the Mahabharata (Ithaca." Contributions to Indian Sociology 10.43. This content downloaded from 202.117 on Sun.und Ostasiens 11 (1967): 22-43. death is all the more central because it is the single most polluting human experience. and one confirmed by my own work with an oral tradition. Frank E. 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about. Waugh (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. 1982). chap.3 Now. 1982). Looking at narrative. Knipe." and David M. in some places there is continuity. To date. discussions of the problem of death have been based almost exclusively on classical traditions. if purity and impurity have anything to do with the way Hindus perceive and organize it. no less than the high-status ones. and standing with one's feet on the ground) that separates us from the gods. and "The Case of the Severed Head. 10. O'Flaherty. "'The Death That Con- quers Death': Dying to the World in Medieval Hinduism. p. Ritual. 1977).Y. and Renouncer. no. "The Symbolic Representation of Death. and iconography in cults of the dead in folk Hinduism. 1976).org/terms . In the social world. ritual. Maurice Bloch and Jonathan Parry (New York: Cambridge University Press. 1976). in others I Wendy D. 308. Structure and Cognition: Aspects of Hindu Caste and Ritual (New Delhi: Oxford University Press.256 Death and Deification taking his devotee. Berkeley Religious Series (Berkeley: Graduate Theological Union. ed."' After all. 214. 74-110. typescript). Bruce Long. The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology (Berkeley: Univer- sity of California Press. it is death (along with blinking. 1976). pp.2 This kind of rapprochement between classical and folk streams of Hinduism is the guiding light behind this essay. "Birth Stories. The problem of death is so pervasive that one recent study concludes: "Much-some might even say all-of Indian religion is dedicated to the attempt to achieve immortality in one form or another. see J. "Types of Sexual Union and Their Implicit Meanings. Jonathan Parry.

Folk performers may (and usually do) com the local setting. An ex localization are those folk temples or shrines that attract a large region. folk traditions present a con- trasting and not a conflicting view. most are geographically widespread. does not mean that folk traditions are restricted to a single locale. admit of gradations in that they point to as a word indicates a color that is only more or less prese The "folk" part of folk Hinduism depends primarily on local control and prominence among certain social gr first. 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about. for instance. however. in fact. Though we cannot wish to define folk category. But even in the latter cases. This content downloaded from 202. never truly other varieties of Hinduism. wealthy donors or by a governmental board that does not participate directly in the ceremonies. the settleme town quarter) in which the event takes place.jstor. FOLK HINDUISM But what is folk Hinduism? Certainly it is not an iso rather one stream of the Hindu tradition. Conversely. as a tradition. but this is atypical. however. Practices of high castes have high status. furthermore.117 on Sun.95. but still they are controlled by local pa tion. nonfolk festivals are usually controlled by a trust of far-flung. in folk Hinduism participants and patrons tend to geographically limited area and to be. we can identify its characteristic aspects. or linked by kin to. are part of that group's folklore repertory. but even here participation and patron overlapped. Note. Thus the central difference is that the congruency between participation and patronage in folk Hinduism brings to its events (though such things are difficult to gauge) an immediacy and an intimacy. plus the authority of text and theology.43. High status groups sometimes do patronize or participate in folk Hinduism. but their individual instances are under local control. religious practices found exclusively among high-status groups would not be folk. Folk Hinduism also has a distinct sociological dimension in that it tends to be found at the middle and low levels of the caste and class hierarchies. the proverbs of a Brah- min caste. its forms are readily associated with differential status. the sa exemplary case would be a temple festival celebrated o persons resident in. that this does not mean that these groups have no folklore. By contrast. But because religion in India is so closely aligned with the social hierarchy. and Brahmin participation is extremely rare. it nevertheless differs from tant aspects.History of Religions 257 .

Pan-Indian gods. or some lesser being from classical mythology (Hanuman. bhut. On the last and most local level are those supernaturals called "ghosts. do not (as a rule) possess their devotees. Next. the singing and music often serve as a catalyst for pos- session by the god of his human mediums. contains several levels of gods and goddesses. are goddesses often identified with some form of the pan-Indian Devi (Sakti. They may be helpful or harmful. A third element in folk worship is an oral performance of the deity's story. One element. Typically. not This content downloaded from 202. and are usually meddlesome. jinn. At the top of the hierarchy. pir. these are supernatural forms of humans who lived or were known in the locality.117 on Sun. who is otherwise prone to ecstatic and "mad" states. Bhairava. In these performances. and the main actors are human beings. but they will not dominate there as they do in folk cults. Hariharaputra.). etc. but they are not equal status. we may speak of the objects of worship and the ways of worship. are always accessible." Folk Hinduism is also characterized by elements in the worship of this pantheon. Stories are performed for deities at all levels of the folk pan- theon. The stories themselves are typically accounts of the origins of the god or goddess. not celestial. there emerges what one might call "cults of the deified dead. who died an unusual death. is that gods and goddesses are seen as having curing powers that directly affect the worshipers. by contrast. Durga) but perceived as belonging to the local area.jstor. like the worship of other gods. Another element is that localization can become a per- sonalization: folk gods and goddesses enter into the bodies of their worshipers and possess them. in Tamil) to save them from an un- wanted state of possession. the folk pantheon. 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about. pey or some other term in Indian languages. and who now are worshiped. and unlike the mythological stories about more pan-Indian gods. an extension of the localization in folk Hinduism. Visnu.258 Death and Deification folk Hinduism has its own texts and theologians. Furthermore.95. On a third level are gods of even more local origins who are guardians for the goddesses or are otherwise associated with them. these stories are essentially heroic: their setting is earthly. Kali.43. . Turning to the "Hinduism" or the specific religious features of folk Hinduism. The first of these." "spirits. When the worship of these beings is regular- ized and elaborated with ritual. explaining how he or she came to the specific temple in which the performance is taking place. even Siva. in order of progres- sively more local deities. does not usually possess his devotees but only grants them "grace" (arul. there is usually some local form of Siva." or "devils" in English and pisacu. but those performed for the deified dead are of particular inter- est because they touch the most local forms of Hinduism. These may be found in other Hindu contexts.

the narrative similarity between them approaches uniformity. CULTS OF THE DEIFIED DEAD To the well-known Hindu perspectives on death. One common form. Roghair. but com- monalities in narrative and performance suggest that these five cults are of a piece. influential in other forms of Hinduism as well. However. Eberhard Fischer and Haku Shah. 1973). Stuart Blackburn mance: Narrative and Ritual in a Tamil Folk Tradition. chap. and the vil pattu (bow song) in southern Tamil Nadu. This makes these cults a fundamental form of folk Hinduism and.117 on Sun. Though reports of the actual performances are less detailed than those of the stories. 1973). reprint. let us look first at the death that generates them.jstor. the other three are in coastal areas of South India: the paddana in southwest Karnataka. Beck." Journal of A lore94 (1981): 207-27. At present there are fairly good descriptions of five such cults in which the dead are worshiped with the singing of their stories. K. a story from one could be performed in the others. But even in them there is variation." Ethnology 14. To understand these cults of the deified dead. "Oral Performance. Claus.43. is cults of the deified dead. the one feature shared by all cults of the deified dead is the worship of humans become gods. which is the ritual high point when the hero/god possesses his human mediums. The Three Twins: The Telling of a South Indian Folk Epic (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 5 See Brenda E. see William Crooke. 1978). 1982). Finally their theme is human struggle-the problems of love and death. and the one that interests us here. 27-29. the cult fied dead add something new. 4. Vetra ne Khambh for the Dead (Ahmedabad: Gujarat Vidyapith. F. pp. This last point is important because it explains why the oral per- formance of these stories is the primary ritual in some cults of the deified dead.95. 1982). one shared performative element is apparent: the performances." This content downloaded from 202. turn on the event of the hero's death. pp. .5 Different combinations of the religious features identified above give folk Hinduism its multiple forms. In the Puranas (and in an 4 K. 37-41. like the texts. the teyyam in northern Kerala. The Popular Religion and Folklore of Northern India (1896. vol. Peter J. 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about.History of Religions 259 gods (though the human actors are often deified in the story).4 This essay draws heavily on my own research with the bow song. Gene H. The Cult of Teyyam and Hero Worship (Calcutta: tions. 1982).du: A Study and Translation of the Palniti rVrula Katha (New York: Oxford University Press. Komal Kot Rajasthan" (paper presented at the Conference on Oral Epics in In Wisconsin. The Epic of Palna. if personal and place names were suitably changed. In particular. 1 (January 1975): 47-58. Blackburn. For related cults in North India. Kurup. as I hope to show. N. no. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal. Two are in northwest India: the bhomiya in Rajasthan and the khambha in Gujarat. "The Siri Myth and Ritual: A Mass Pos South India.

212. Whether in a short narrative about a household god who (as a human) chopped up his brother-in-law for failing to repay a debt or in an epic recited for thirty hours. Nalla Tainka might be evil. but the villagers rejected this explanation. only a special kind makes the dead hero an object of worship. p. see Talcott Parsons. an end that cuts short a person's normal life span. too. but in these cults it is the dead themselves who are deified. some in less glorious conflicts. First. Shulman. p." I was told. This point was made clear to me while collecting a version of the Nalla Tankal story in a Tamil village.7 Nalla Tankal (the Good Younger Sister) was driven by a famine from her married home and returned to her natal house (now occupied by her brother and his wife) to seek help. When her sister-in-law insulted her and turned her away. (New York: Harper & Row.260 Death and Deification poetry) death is deified. in these folk cults it joins them together. Vogt. Lessa and Evon Z. N. terrible death that 6 On the significance of premature death for religious thinking. However. premature death is a prerequisite for deification in folk Hinduism is also clear from stories performed in cults of the deified dead. see David D.43.6 Second. However. During a discussion with people in a village (the only one where Nalla Tanka! is worshiped).jstor. This content downloaded from 202. "Religious Perspectives in Sociology and Social Psychology. 256-59. the person killed is an innocent (if often fated) victim. but we worship her because she suf- fered and died. not just any death has this effect. If elsewhere in Hinduism death separates humans from gods.: Princeton University Press." in Reader in Comparative Religion: An Anthropological Approach. See also O'Flaherty. and more important. 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about. 1980). unlike the problem of theodicy. I suggested that. the death must be violent. it is a sudden. since the sister-in-law was evil. 7 For a more complete discussion of the Nalla Tankal story from literary sources. 1958). ed. "No." That a violent. an act of aggression or a sudden blow from nature. 2d ed. the question arose as to why she and not the sister-in-law was deified. Although oral tradition tends to por- tray the dead hero as a virtuous . 131. this is a later development to win new adherents to a cult and not a quality required for the original deification.117 on Sun.J. Nalla Taink! threw each of her seven children down a well and then jumped in herself. this deification does not depend on the innocence of the victim. Indeed-and this cannot be overemphasized-it is not moral considerations but violence that transforms humans into deities. Lastly. Tamil Temple Myths: Sacrifice and Divine Marriage in the South Indian gaivite Tradition (Princeton.95. William A. the death that deifies is undeserved. others (especially women) commit suicide. Many deified heroes are killed in battle. pp. the death must be premature. she would not be worshiped. "the sister-in-law is not a goddess not because she is evil (ketta) but because she didn't suffer.

On top lies a Brahmin .95. in an accident. and touched her in the process. O'Flaherty (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of Cali- fornia Press. other high-castes are incensed at the cross-caste marriage. death is similarly violent-men are impaled on stakes. we also know that the stones and wooden slabs are shrines. 1975). stabbed in the back. and then extract the venom from her body. As indicated earlier. pp. Women are raped. with his inner vision. we know that these memorials are erected to people who die a violent death-killed by an animal. particularly at the Nadar's audacity." in Karma and Rebirth in Indian Classical Traditions. or they commit suicide to avoid these violations. the hero stones are named 8 See George Hart. Wendy D. or beaten to death. and eventually their families. too. Even more widely dispersed among these cults is the practice of erecting a monument to the deified dead. The Maharaja decides against their request. The Nadar protests. pp.43. which I summarize here: One day a young Nadar man happens on a burning funeral pyre. following this. From both ancient literature and contem- porary reports. History of Religions 261 transforms a human into a deity. see his "The Theory of Reincarnation among the Tamils. or in battle (usually defending against cattle raiders)-and to satTs (wives who cremate themselves on their husbands' pyres). ed. In her village. similar stories about the deified dead are performed in other cults from Rajasthan to Kerala. bitten by a snake and left to burn by her parents and relatives who could not bear to watch. the Brahmin woman pulls out her tongue. 42-43. and Fischer and Shah. 116-38.117 on Sun. however. 25-26. Suddenly. he is already her husband. the story of Natan Cami (Natar god). but in their impatience the high-caste men misinterpret the message and butcher the Nadar man anyway. All over India. A typical example is a Tamil bow song. thrown down wells. the Nadar man realizes that the woman is not dead and uses his magical powers to cool the flames. In other bow song narratives. there are stones or wooden pillars set up to represent the dead. but she is adamant and finally wins him over. literally from the Indus Valley to Kanya Kumari. for example.jstor. they both go to Siva's heaven where the man is given the name Natan Cami and sent back to earth to enjoy worship in several temples. In the end. Hart has also argued that worship of the dead was a formative influence on the development of devotional Hinduism in South India. The Poems of Ancient Tamil: Their Milieu and Their Sanskrit Counterparts (Berkeley: University of California Press.8 From the same sources. 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about. Seizing him and tying him to a post. In the northern districts of contemporary Tamil Nadu. and plot to kill him. 1980). places where the heroes/gods are worshiped. or cut down with a machete-like knife. crushed to death with stones. This content downloaded from 202. they send a petition to the Maharaja of Travancore requesting permission to quarter him for violating caste rules. Waking up as from a dream. the Brahmin woman declares that he must marry her: since he saved her life.

and flower garlands while music ensembles perform before assembled crowds of one hundred person or more. O example of this form is the cumai taiki (load bearer) found in parts Tamil Nadu. the three slabs may develop i a small shrine. see Fischer and Shah. When conditions (finan . and covered with a tile roof. For at least one kind of memorial. Settar and Gunther Sontheimer. "Death and the Hero. Vetiyappan. there is a standard style of three panels. S. at the Vithoba temple in Pandharpuir. C. banana tree stalks. Tamil Nadu. sometimes with a wooden o even iron gate. G. Maharashtra. Nagasamy. Archer. individual interest) are right." in Mortality and Immortality: The Anthro- pology and Archaeology of Death.43. 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about. this major temple dedicated to a form of Visnu evolved 9 Ra. and the sites themselves are known as "temples of Vetiyappan. Karnataka University and University of Heidelberg. 1947).10 A less elaborate form of these memorials to the dead is found in those put up for women who die in pregnancy or childbirth. surrounded by mud walls. This content downloaded from 202. and in the top panel he is either worshiping a god (usually Siva) or homologized with him. pp. in the middle panel he ascends to heaven. one can find the cumai tiiki with its three stone slabs still intact. Cenkam Natukarkal (Madras: Tamil Nadu Department of Archae- ology. at the base of large temples in Kanya Kuma District. erected to men who died in battle. W.262 Death and Deification after a local deity. two upright and one across. S. Ethel-Jane W. 10 For the iconography of these stones and wooden slabs. Memorial Stones: A Study of Their Origins. 1982). eds. 293-316. 1. Now. When festival time arrives. the woman who d in childbirth and was worshiped only by relatives will be identified w a local goddess (usually Muttar Amman) and become the center o cult embracing more diverse groups. This kind of transformation has occurred elsewhere. which visually present the death-deification pattern found in the narratives of the cults of the dead. 1980). little cumai tdnki will be covered with thatch and decorated with embroidered cloth. p. for ex- ample. too.95. "Monuments to the Dead of the Bhils and Other Primitive Tribes in Central India. Romila Thapar." Annali Lateranensi6 (1942): 117-206. 1981). According to Deleury. But not all these cumai tah structures remain in their original shape. ed. Sindhi Tombs and Textiles: The Persistence of Pattern (Albuquerque: Maxwell Museum of Anthropology and University of New Mexico Press. Humphreys and Helen King (New York: Academic Press.117 on Sun. Significance and Variety (Dharwar and Heidelberg: Institute of Indian Art History.jstor. Built of three stone slabs. On the bottom panel the male figure is shown in battle. Bunting. The Vertical Man (London: George Allen & Unwin."9 Even more interesting are the sculptured reliefs on the stones.. 1972). Wilhelm Koppers. Occasionally. t cumai tahki is used to support the load carried by travelers on f just as the dead woman carried her child.

an educated villager told me. two small pTtams (rectangular mud altars) are shaped by hand. mingled with fragrances. A. a festival is held during which all the gods and goddesses (as many as twenty-one) are fed pija. the ashes are collected. cheroots. Even more sig- nificant is the fact that this puja is called a pataippu and consists of the same materials as those already enumerated for Nadar funerary rites. eggs. A funerary foundation for folk Hinduism was first suggested to me while I was doing fieldwork on the bow song tradition. But in the puja to the minor deities. a few of which at least have been identified as funerary monu- . Peasant State and Society in Medieval South India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press. consists of flowers. arranged on a banana leaf. Every year in local temples. it is clear that rituals and monuments to the dead underlie much of Indian religion. folded into a banana leaf. by the ponkal (sweetened rice). 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about. and placed in a pot wrapped in a cloth. Deleury. for it is the only offering made.43. the largest caste in Kanya Kumari District. "These [folk heroes/ gods] are all 'small gods'. moreover." A similar case might also be made for some of the great Cola temples of medieval Tamil history. but what others frequently mentioned. The Cult of Vithoba (Poona: Deccan College. 335-39. the pataippu stands out." In the pija to the major deities. 12 Burton Stein. But a more important discovery came later: the two groups-the dead and the small gods. one for the deceased and one for Ganesa. During a casual conversation. an act that gives the festival its name: kotai or "offering.'2 When we include the Buddhist stupa. On the morning following cremation. At least this is true for Natars. is that not all the dead are worshiped as "small gods"- only those who have died violently are. literally buried. 9. and then an offering called the pataippu (serving).95. the pot containing the ashes. Though many Natars bury their dead. and anything else that the dead person liked to eat or drink. chap. This offering.jstor.117 on Sun. Near the cremation ground. This content downloaded from 202. These minor gods and goddesses. 1960). and meat (chicken or goat). most burn the corpse. fruits (especially bananas). areca nut and leaves. are usually represented by a mud pTitam of the same size and shape as that used in the postcremation ritual described above (though sometimes by a raised mound of earth sprinkled with white powder). they are dead people and we worship them like we worship the dead. postscript. 1980).History of Religions 263 from a simple stone dedicated to a dead hero. the pataippu is obscured.are wor- shiped with the same ritual materials and sequence. On the deceased's pitam are placed a ghee lamp. washed in honey and milk. pp. This pataippu on a banana leaf is also the basic puja offering in a bow song festival." What he did not explain. Exactly this finding-that the offerings to ancestors are identical to 1i G. liquor.

and great-grandfather of th deceased-are worshiped by feeding them rice balls (pinda). ancestral shrines often evolve into cult centers for the clan gods. ed. Hopkins in 1885: "It is not denied that th Hindus made gods of departed men" (The Religions of India [Boston: Ginn Co. A." the 13 Hart. 4 above). we know it exists also in the postcre- mation rites of classical Hinduism: the sraddha rituals. Bhar (Paris: Mouton.Y.jstor.43. . 3 above).'4 Beginning with deaths in the family and tracing the development of the cult. The Poems of Ancient Tamil. has been reported for the Kurichiya in central Kerala. grandfather. Caste in Tam Culture: The Religious Foundations of Sudra Domination in Tamil Sri Lanka. p. ancient Tamil Nadu and modern Sri Lanka. 10). 18 Knipe (n. 169-223. This content downloaded from 202. In his lengthy monograph on the Gonds. 7 (Syracuse. 1982).'8 During th highpoint of the sraddha ceremonies. 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about.. Verrier Elwin describes the connec- tion between ancestors and gods in eastern India this way: "Among the Saora." when his son dies. Bryan Pfaffenberger. on entering the Under World after the proper performances of the guar (mortuary rite)." in The Realm of the Extra Human: Agents and Audiences. he shows how the category "ancestor" shades off almost imper- ceptibly into that of "god and goddess."'7 CONTINUITIES FROM FOLK TO CLASSICAL HINDUISM This close relation. Kothari. 1976). deities. 139-48. von Fiirer-Haimendorf explains how the central ceremony for the dead (karun) is folded into worship rituals for clan deities. "father. Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Aiyappan. 1885 p. . from deceased to deity.95.'6 And in the most comprehensive study yet published on tribal (or folk) religion in India. p. cf.. pp. pp. South Asian Series. every ancestor.. between funeral rituals and the worship of the gods is not limited to folk or tribal cultures in Indi From an article by David Knipe. no. 14 Kothari (n. N. Followin these offerings. not surprisingly. . 16 A. The Gonds of Andhra Pradesh: Tradition an Change (London: George Allen & Unwin. C. the statement made by E. 81. "Deified Men and Humanized Gods: Some Folk Bases of Hind Theology. becomes one of the . pp. three catego- ries of ancestors-father. 82. 1979).117 on Sun. 15 Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf.'5 A similar progression from funeral to wor- ship. sometimes identity. 17 Verrier Elwin. the process of god-making never ceases . The Religion of an Indian Tribe (Bombay: Oxford University Pres 1955). the sapindikarana. 363-93." The same phenomenon has been observed also by writers on Indian tribal religions.264 Death and Deification those for other gods-has also been reported among Tamils in two other .13 A more general connection between funerary rituals and worship of ordinary gods has been described for Rajasthan by K.: Syracuse University. the dead man joins the ranks of ancestors and will be worshiped in the first category. This transi tion bumps each ancestor up one level: the father to "grandfather. W.

or ritual attention to the dead. the arrangement of the three classes of ancestors is nearly identical to the lineup of deities outside a small bow song temple. 89-92).19 Even without this ritual conveyer belt moving ancestors into the pantheon. 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about. the social groups that support these two traditions are for the most part. In anthropological terms. flowers." and the great-grandfather to the Visvedevi. And these categories of the dead have correspondingly different destinies.117 on Sun. different. The bow song. the category of the "all gods" who preside over the rites and were themselves previously ancestors.20 But the two sets of rituals deal with different categories of the dead. Thus. of course. the folk cults and the sraddha ceremonies have developed their rituals for the dead in different direc- tions. sraddha rites are normally per- formed for all those who die a natural death (though women and children are not as likely to be honored as are adult males). they do retu Furthermore. p. but the bow song and similar cults celebrate only those who die violently and prematurely. both are forms of secondary treatment of the dead: they occur after death and after the primary rites have been performed. This content downloaded from 202. Rather. see Richard Huntington and Peter Metcalf. Celebrations of Death: The Anthropology of Mortuary Ritual (New York: Cambridge University Press.95.jstor. too. the sraddha and bow song rituals show affinities because they share the funerary foundation. 1979). Castes who participate in the b song tradition have relatively simple and brief funerary (both prima and secondary) . These continuities are not. Knipe's point is very sim- ilar to Elwin's: ancestors become gods. And the deceased himself in the form of a pinda rice ball (later mixed with the pinda offerings to the ancestors) is worshiped with the same materials-incense. 120. none observe anything like the sraddha system Conversely. for example. but some concern rituals to the noncorporeal dead (see pp. other continuities exist between sraddha rituals and folk cults. most of their examples concern secondary treatment of the corpse. In the sapindTkarana. as discussed below. that underlies much of Hinduism.. Among the castes that follow them. for example. 20 On secondary treatment of the dead. but the violen killed are never reborn (though. ghee lamp. The natural dead become ancestors sustained through ritual and sacrifice until they are reborn. Stemming from these differences. to be explained by any sort of historical borrowing or derivation.History of Religions 265 grandfather to "great-grandfather. and water-used to honor the minor gods and goddesses in the folk cult.43. those castes (generally Brahmins) who follow the srad ceremonies in detail are usually not involved in cults to local gods an goddesses. has generated a large pantheon '9 Ibid.

pp. pp. Finally. in other words. In the Puranas.266 Death and Deification (more than one hundred gods and goddesses in Kanya Kumari Distric alone) who are honored with puja. as the diagram suggests. is fraught with danger and meets formidable celestial resistance. The folk tradition has created a pantheon of deities. 66-68. Clifford Geertz. or beaten back. This circular world view is based on a complementarity between folk cults and classical Hinduism. and then deified in Kailasa. N. the human-god continuum moves in one direction: through the avatdra mechanism.43. pp. humans are born.: Princeton University Press. There is thus a continual flow between earth and Kailasa: humans go up. 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about. while the high-caste practice honors a group of humans. and Other Mythical Beasts (Chicago: Chicago University Press. even the gods. Along the left-hand arc of the circle. gods exist (or are born) in Kailasa and come down to earth for transactions with humans. epics.J. A combina- tion of this deification in folk Hinduism with the avatara in classical Hinduism forms the symmetrical circle diagramed in fig. for the bow song and the sraddha system emphasize opposite ends o the human-god continuum in Hinduism. into a system of ancestor worship. and gods come down. when the mortuary rituals in the folk traditions and the transition to divinity in the sraddha rituals are brought to light. Androgynes. 22 See Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty. This content downloaded from 202.2' These variant elaborations of a common base of mortuary ritual are complementary. killed. 1980). the full continuum-from human death to deified dead to god-is visible Given the nature of the Hindu world view.22 But. human aspirants ar corrupted. Along the right-hand arc.117 on Sun. gods (particularly Visnu) take earthly forms and work in the world of men. not barred from. Here the complementary nature of folk and classical perspectives on the dead is even more apparent. 130-32. on the other hand. has developed the funerary base into that complex of gods and temples usually referred to as village or popular Hinduism The sraddha ceremonies. the ranks of the gods.jstor. 1980). though not actually reborn. 1. see Huntington and Metcalf.95. and other rituals. this human-god con- tinuum can also be seen as a circle. However. Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali (Princeton. . possession dances. 116-20. this deifi- cation of the dead is at the very core of many folk cults: dead heroes are recruited into. and law texts. are caught in something like samsira. have developed the base in the other direction. This folk tradition. as we have seen. deceived. but the two are not mirror images of each 21 A third development of the mortuary base in Hinduism might be the state funerals in Bali. Movement in the other direction. long oral performances of thei stories. this circular flow is a variation on the better-known cycle that connects ancestors with the living. Women. humans becoming gods.

gods and h in a circular flow even without the avatara process tradition. com interact with human beings (both beneficially and n ever.History of Religions 267 Kailasa/gods deification/ascent avatara/descent I Y ama Loka/ancestors J death rebirth earth/humans FIG. The first category consists of gods who violent death. the reverse-the descent of gods rejected by folk traditions. the second of gods born in Kailasa. Bow song deities born in Kailasa include the stand Siva. Visnu. of all the events in their stories. or armpits) or through their agency. usua a huge celestial vat that the devas keep heated in Kailasa these deities describe how they are born in Kailasa. while the other is born to it. Ganesa. are differentiated by how they acquire the status one must earn it. for instance. While the ascent of humans to Kailasa (deific in the classical texts. These stories tell how humans (like Natan Cami) are born on earth. born from some part of Siva's or Parva sweat.43.jstor. it is the death and ascent to the same place that define narra- tives of "cut-up spirits.117 on Sun. in this way. Murukan." the other category in the bow song pantheon. In fact. Th lesser birth. 1 other. 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about. are treacherously killed or forced to commit suicide. neatly divides its pantheon into "cut-up spirits" (vettuppatta vdtai) and figures of "divin vamcam). many cults conta gods who are "born" in Kailasa and who descend to e their business and win worship. tears. and then are "taken" This content downloaded from .95. Th then. If the birth and descent from Kailasa define the stories of these deities. and ParvatT (especiall but there are others who are worshiped more often. it is this one alo from Kailasa to earth-that is singled out and given a kaildca varavu (coming from Kailasa).

covered with snakes many-armed and Lord of Kailasa. this last segment is ex- tremely short in texts. usually on the order of. Their hands raised in worship they stood before Mahadeva and asked for boons. Murdered. And fell on the field where his brother had fallen. "This is the end!" Kuficu Tampi cried." Fairly typical is the following excerpt from a performance (which I recorded in 1979) of the Tampimar story about two brothers (Kuincu Tampi and Valiya Tampi) murdered in the eighteenth century in Travancore and now worshiped in a small cluster of temples in Kanya Kumari District. For giva. "They went to Kailasa to receive boons from .43. This content downloaded from 202. Then Siva. Significantly.117 on Sun. To rid yourself of impurity go wash in that fire pit!" But one should not expect that the deification process would be any more important in these narratives. Taking out a little dagger. their purity is lost. those who die on the bloody field.268 Death and Deification by Siva to Kailasa where they are given new names.95. those who die by suicide have both tapas and boon.jstor. my Kuficu Tampi. and when formal rituals are performed to him. But. that person is deified. the actual act of deification itself in the narrative is uneventful. the heroes/gods return to earth (like the birth deities) to avenge their murders and to win worship. he slit Kufcu Tampi's throat. Spoke to those who had died. the death and ascent to Kailasa is the focus in both narrative and performance. the two brothers went to Kailasa to Lord Siva. Yet. Now deified. in granting new names and boons. Cut like a goat or a chicken. is only rubber-stamping what already has been conferred on the dead by their worshipers on earth. instead. When fortune or misfortune is attributed to the spirit of a dead person. 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about. "Those who die a cruel death have neither tapas nor boon.

240-72. and Ghosts in Edo Religion.. p in Africa. as Goody has demonstrated. Elders. 117-22. Lugbara Religion (London: Oxf Press. pp." in Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion. Bradbury. J. 1950). this problem has not been well researched. Medusa's Hair: An Essay on Personal Symbols and Religious Experience (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. distributing wealth and successive generations. Norton & Co. From this perspecti toward the departed spirit. 1959). the special problems presented b folk cults will stand out more clearly. Strachey (New York: W. One anthropological interpretation of ancestor worship. M. 1973). A. 1962). A. Gananath Obeyesekere. ed. In this view. are the out worshipers' personal relations with that person before studies from this perspective. pp. 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about. "Father. D. Yard & Co.: Stanford University Press. Important interpreta- tions from a psychological perspective include Kathleen Gough. has been to see it as an extension of social relatio afterworld. One reason for this stagnation is that the only type to receive sustained scholarly attention is ancestor worship.24 The aggression of a also be a form of secondary projection that relieves the gui from negative feelings toward the human turned spirit. (n. p. The Cult of the Dead in a Chinese Vill Calif. 1981). trans. ancestral or not. 127-53. 51-63. this essay it has been shown that other Hindu cults of t tered on the deified dead) share a ritual base with the ances sraddha and that these folk cults diverge from the clas elaborating their common base into a system of god worshi sidering below some standard explanations for cults of t ticularly ancestor worship.43. esp. and our ing of it has not advanced much beyond the theories of Freud. Property and the Ancestors (Stanford. follow Freud in suggesting that the worshiper proje spirit the hostility he felt toward the relative or friend (whi worshiper's hostility then becomes the "spirit's" malevo then must be appeased by worship. Michael Banton (London: Tavistock.jstor.95. B Kuttner (New York: Moffat. 24 Sigmund Freud. Opler. "Cults of the Dead among the Nayar." in Lessa and Vogt. assuring the continuity of the norms that govern so and. using data from South A where.23 A second anthropological appr sociological and more psychological. Reflections on War and Death. Goody.117 on Sun. Death. 6 above). 1966). wh 23 J. "An Interpreta- tion of Ambivalence of Two American Indian Tribes. 421-31. and Totem and Taboo. trans. eds. ed. pp. R. 1918). This content downloaded from 202." in Traditional India: Structure and Change. 1960). Emily H. the authority of the elders con death. W. Milton Singer (Austin: University of Texas Press..: Stanf Press. . 150. see also John Middleton. pp. pp.History of Religions 269 EXPLANATIONS FOR THE DEIFIED DEAD Behind the death-deification pattern identified in folk mat a basic question: Why are the dead deified in the first place nately. Ahern. Calif.

This explanation is more plausible because.43. In fact. the sociological argument that worship of the dead transfers authority across generations. 27.117 on Sun. but this is not true for the larger cults of teyyam. some of the deified dead in the bow song tradition do receive the ordinary cremation and post- cremation rites. according to this theory. it does not require that the spirit be related or even known to the worshipers. in these cults. such as that described by Kothari in Rajasthan or illustrated by the cumai tdhki in Tamil Nadu.95. paddana. A third major explanation for the worship of the dead is based on the concept of liminality. however. it should defuse the powers of the hero/ god and transfer him to the ancestor category. The first. 1849). At an early stage of a cult.25 Neither of these interpretations. bhomiya. can apply to cults of the deified dead like the bow song and others in India. the victim is unconsciously gratified because he feels he deserves the punishment. Finally. fit the case of these folk cults. The liminality interpretation fails because it ignores the actual type of death that brings deification. Robert Caldwell. 254. p. Most figures worshiped in them were not only un- related to their worshipers during life but were even unknown to them. This content downloaded from 202. is inapplicable because in these folk cults the dei- fied dead are not necessarily kin to the worshipers. How could these theories explain.jstor. and Their Moral Condition and Characteristics as a Caste (Madras: Christian Knowledge Society Press. In fact. and bow . 25 Gough. the case of Captain Pole of the British Army who was killed in 1809 trying to take the Travancore lines. for example. Nor will the psychological explanation. 26 Rev. based on ambivalent personal feelings toward the deceased. was buried on the seashore in Tinnevelly District.270 Death and Deification attacks. and then (within a decade) was worshiped by local villagers with offer- ings of liquor and cheroots?26 Neither social continuity nor psychic projection could be said to have motivated this deification. since the bow song festival (kotai) is itself a form of mortuary ritual. be- cause they are out of social and ritual bounds. Are not the deified dead in these cults simply pretas that were not given proper funerals and therefore are not incorporated into the world of the ancestors? These figures are power- ful and dangerous and worshiped. the god or goddess may be worshiped only by relatives. The Tinnevelly Shanars: A Sketch of Their Religion. but this is not the case. unlike the other two. the argument would continue. the failure to perform proper mortuary rites cannot by itself account for the worship of the dead since not all who fail to receive proper funerals are deified. Still. 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about. p. it is not unusual for the deified dead to be of an entirely different caste from that of the worshipers.

I would highlight three themes as keys to under- standing the deification of the dead: (1) its (partial) triumph over death. This content downloaded from 202. its finality denied. for the ladder that human heroes use to ascend into the world of the gods is pulled up after them-were it left dangling. and Kothari (n. 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about. premature deaths with which we are concerned would seem death's most complete victory: its victims. are denied access to the world of the ancestors where they could be fed and from where they could be eventually reborn.43. When their stories are sung in a festival. 4 above). In this way. the local cults of Hinduism. this interpretation is not fully satisfying because not all deified dead are "social heroes". the deification process under- mines itself. but this does not explain why they are deified at the outset. Deification defeats death on the narrative level as well. Though banished from the ritual world of the ancestors. it is necessary to look back at the death event itself and at its violence. Moreover. while others are more like villains. The effect of this pattern is that the human history of the deified hero is gradually absorbed into a divine pedigree. these men and women manage (through the agency of Siva) to return as gods. Even the stories of Shakyamuni Buddha.jstor. the deified dead do return. vow. often his birth and his death are forgotten or simply explained away as a consequence of a prior . mold figures into the social hero type.95.History of Religions 271 A fourth. or boon from Kailasa. death is beaten back. some are simply vic- tims of violence.27 Once again. Surely death." This explains the deification of the hero by reference not so much to his death as to his life-the fact that he defended values and material goods important to the social group that deifies him. (2) the power of the violently killed. Specifically. Killed or murdered. Mahavira. Deifying the dead celebrates not a triumph of death but a partial victory over it. if anything. How- ever. and (3) deification as a means to make that power accessible.117 on Sun. and Sankara were constructed to establish the prior divinity 27 See Thapar (n. and when they are honored with puja. in fact. rather quickly. somewhat vague explanation for worship of the deified dead identifies it as "hero worship. On the surface. others might try to climb it. the violent. the victims of violent death return through deification to another ritual world. 10 above). the first seems curious. Stories (especially epics) about folk heroes/gods in India seem to develop in a particular pattern by adding two primary motifs: a supernatural birth and then an identification with a pan-Indian god or hero. For a more adequate explanation of the deified dead in folk Hindu- ism. Folk tradition may eventually. signifies a human defeat and not the reverse. as the theory of the unincorporated preta holds.

Ritual. death was rationalized out of the ancient Vedic (srauta) system when the agonistic. they may lack the status and authority of the other deities with divine origins. Violence and destruction. recitation.29 This ritualization of violence is dramatically illustrated in a late Vedic text by Prajapati's conquest and absorption of death (mrtyu). and "The Case of the Severed Head" (n. but by different means: the classical ritual defuses it. these weapons of death are precisely the central ele- ments of a bow song performance. p. violence is brought within the ritual frame of bow song per- formances where people can make safe contact with it and. and in other local cults. and Renouncer" (n.95. from the very beginning. Here the folk cults stand against the felt need in Hinduism to isolate death as a polluting experience.jstor. and Other Mythical Beasts. as the source of the power of the deified dead. They are as powerful as death itself. 28 See O'Flaherty. driven inside them at death. It may be that village religion in South India and ancient Vedic sacrifice join hands in accepting the necessity of death in the world process. it is true that both these ritual traditions. "The Ritualist's Problem" (paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies. the deified dead have become the violence they experienced. were typically non-srauta elements-song. of course. The fact that the deaths are violent gives that deification a more pragmatic payoff. San Francisco. Androgynes. pp. 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about.272 Death and Deification of these "historical" figures. and even death. see also O'Flaherty. Androgynes. "The 'weapons' of Prajapati were the standard elements of the classical ritual-chant. disaster. then. perhaps because they met it in its rawest form.117 on Sun. the folk ritual embraces it.. Women. Indeed. on the other hand. manifestations of a transcendental reality. 30 Heesterman. 2 above). espe- cially by their weapons: in Heesterman's words. as Heesterman has shown. it is a necessary element in their worship Instead.28 But it is not only a theological victory over death that deification accomplishes. but they have a more immediate power. and (orderly) act. 1983).. too. Even in the ritual realm. to show that they were. .43. pp.. This content downloaded from 202. violent elements were smothered by sacerdotal formula. the deified dead are the most powerful gods and goddesses. in other words. are part of the Hindu world process. 29 See Heesterman. wanton act. but much of Hindu philosophy and theology has been mar- shaled against it. and Other Mythical Beasts. Those of Death. direct it toward their own ends. Women. then becomes a source that worshipers can call on to counteract other elemental forces of disease."30 Not coincidentally. 4. In the bow song tradition. 67-68. violence cannot be banished from the folk ritual since. "Brahmin. achieve a victory over death. That force. possibly. dance. Both the Vedic and the folk tradi- tions. 2 above).

so.32 Perhaps the bow song and other folk cults are part of this early ethos (continued. 32 Shulman. This essay has also pointed to a more general continuity: mortuary ritual base shared by folk cults and classical ceremon There are contrasts as well: folk cults embrace violence. it is also a category transfer that allows others to make cont with the power of death. Just as the embodie subtle self must be made into an ancestor.117 on Sun. finally. they ca not be made into ancestors. On continuities between sacrifice in the Mahabharata and folk cults in Tamil Nadu. there are complementarities in the circular world view formed by the deification 31 See Olivier Herrenschmidt. Bolle. pp." Purusartha 5 (1981): 137-78. then. The death in these cults may be sacrificial and animal. And. Thus the relation between folk and classical Hinduism. 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about. death is natural and inevitable of that there is little doubt. What the folk cults are con- cerned with is not the continuity of that process but the appropriat of its power. 1982). are centered on the sacrificial kill- ing of animals. Only when the violently killed are deified there established patterns for interaction with them. "Le Sacrifice. 1 (August 1983): 37-63.3' And. 3. in the Mahibharata) that did not shrink from death. while the classical sacrifice and philosophy rejected it. furthermore. too. Shulman (n. is not just an hono . with Brahminical modifications. another categor is needed. Deification. 7 above)." History of Religions 23. the violently kille must be transferred to a known cultural category. 90-93. du buffle en Andhra Cotier: Le 'Culte de Village' confronte aux de sacrificant et d'unite de culte. further discussion is found in Kees W. but to differe ends. As we have just seen. pp. Death's presence in them. later overlaid with concerns for purity. Fred Clothey (Madras: New Era. in terms of the problem of death. "A World of Sacrifice.History of Religions 273 both the ancient and the modern.95. 72-1 1 1. and this is supplied by some level in the folk pantheon lik vettuppatta vatai (cut-up spirit) in the Tamil bow songs (and som times by the term preta itself). This content downloaded from 202. as David Shulman has shown in detail." in Images of Man: Religion and Historical Process in South Asia. 4. there is cont nuity in that both folk and Vedic cults involve death. see Alf Hiltebeitel. ed. the sacrifice-the necessity of winning life from death-is the original layer of the Tamil Puranas. passim. "Sexuality and Sacrifice: Convergent Subcurrents in the Fire-walking Cult of DraupadT. like the ordinary dead. Instead. is complex. However. does not indicate the necessity of destruction and dissolution in the world process. Here preta-pitr model provides a useful analogy. chaps. but it is also unwilling and human. because the v lence of their end makes them too powerful. But the Vedic sacrifice does not explain much in the folk cults of the deified dead. And it is deification that makes that power accessible-the fin point in this explanation of Hindu cults of the deified dead. no.jstor.

org/terms . most esoteric literature with its most contemporary. Dartmouth College This content downloaded from 202.95. 09 Oct 2016 19:32:52 UTC All use subject to http://about. It could indicate that exuberance for life that unites Hinduism's oldest. Of course. folk traditions. preoccupation with death is not neces- sarily a sign that a culture is pessimistic.43. it could just as easily indicate the opposite.117 on Sun. 274 Death and Deification of the dead in folk Hinduism and th Hinduism. The study of folk Hinduism and its relations with the classical tradi- tion is only just beginning. For the present at least.jstor. we can say that these two streams of Hinduism are consistent in their concern with the problem of death.