On our way back from a recent visit to the ashram of Sri Siva Siddhar Mona Swami, we stopped briefly at a small shrine set off the Nallan Pillaei Petral village road. The Goddess is represented at that place in the form of an uncarved stone and both the Shrine and surrounding area had a serene, peaceful atmosphere.
Despite the number and variety of gramadevatas (village deities), several typical characteristics of these local deities have been noted. First they are usually female, second these deities are usually not represented by anthromorphic images instead they are usually represented by uncarved stones, trees, or small shrines . . . third, these deities, goddesses for the most part, capture the primary interest of the villagers and tend to be worshipped with more intensity than the great gods of the Hindu pantheon . . . the village goddess engages the villagers directly by being associated with their local, existential concerns. She is perceived to be their deity and to be concerned especially with their well-being and that of their village.
|Goddess as manifest in the form of uncarved stone|
“Many Indian villages have Brahmanic temples within them, however the religious focus is mainly on the shrines of the village's goddess and god. Rural Indians inhabit a world full of divine and semi-divine beings; tree spirits (yakshas), ghosts (bhootas), puranic, local, personal and ancestral gods who co-exist in a complex hierarchy. . . . Unlike in orthodox puranic Hinduism villagers have direct access to the local gods and do not require the intercession of a priest. The Goddess also plays a larger role in local religion, and rural religion is centred on specific places of perceived spiritual power. The shrines themselves are relatively simple affairs.
|Guardian of Shrine|
In parts of South India Goddess shrines are located to the north of the village. This is significant as the north is associated with spiritual knowledge and disease and so emphasises the innate duality of the Goddess.
An unpaid priest and his assistants have the duty to maintain the shrines (at the community's expense) and to propitiate the deity to ward off communal bad luck and disease. Individual villagers, regardless of caste, can approach the village deity directly as and when they have a need. At specific times of year and during crisis a festival is held in honour of the Goddess. Generally main feature of these festivals is the sacrifice of an animal, at one time buffalo sacrifice was widely practised, nowadays the victim is more likely to be a goat or chicken.”
|Painted terracotta horse|
At this particular shrine, the Tamil words are written under the shrine which translated specifically declare: ‘Don’t kill animals in the name of God.’