Thursday 1 November 2018

Folk Deities And Their Reference in Vedas

A common misconception in regards to folk deities is their crude absence from the Vedas, hence their label as 'non-Vedic' deities.

Origin of Vedas

The entire Universe is reverberating. When there is reverberation, there is sound. In other words, the entire cosmos is simply a manifestation of sound energy. The ancient Vedic sages through penance, were able to download cosmic data directly. They received cosmic truths in the form of sounds that they envisioned. These truths were recited as received, and passed on generation after generation.

Various truths downloaded by various Rishis gave rise to the ocean of Vedas. Veda Vyasa later compiled these Vedas and classified them. This is how the 4 Vedas came into existence. Each of these Vedas had many branches. Each branch had 4 components : 

(1) samhita
(2) brahmana
(3) aranyaka
(4) Upanishad

The Abstract Series of Sounds

The Vedas constitute mantras that mostly present truths in an abstract manner. For example, there are many mantras pertaining to Rudra without specification to a standard form.

As per Vedic Sanskrit, at least 11 definitions of Rudra are given as per the root sounds ( dhatus ). To illustrate a few, Rudra is seen as a ferocious aspect who is roary. Rudra is also the very life force that permeates every living being. 

                          Video: 11 definitions of Rudra

In our tradition, a devata's banner is branded upon any entity which carries the devata's attribute. For example, an entity that resembles divine ferociousness is very well referred to as Rudra. 

So Mahadeva is called Rudra when He takes the ferocious form of Bhairava. He is called Shiva when He embodies auspiciousness ( The meaning of 'Shiva' is auspiciousness in Vedic sanskrit ). Nrsimha who is ferocious is also the manifest Rudra. This explains why 'Rudra' is included as one of the 1008 names of Nrsimha ( Nrsimha Sahasranama ). Another name on this list is 'Shiva'. Nrsimha as a deity embodying auspiciousness, stands as Shiva.

Rudra Prashna and Grama Devata

By the same token, the folk deities we worship also carry attributes of various devatas or aspects contained in the Vedas. If we look at the Rudra Prashna of Yajur Veda samhita, we find mantras that refer to Rudra as the vanquisher of evil, protector, healer and as the One who is manifest in a ferocious personality.

Image: A mantra from the first Anuvaka of Rudraprashna, which describes Rudra as a healer and One who confers protection from evil spirits and harm.

Image: A 300 year old sculpture of Madura Veera Svami.

These attributes are manifest in the folk tradition as the guardian deities we worship - be it Muniandy, Veeran, Madaswami or Karuppar.

To quote a Sakshi Pramana, it is Karuppanaswamy who stands as Rudra, functioning as the Kshetra Pala, Bhairava, in Madurai's Azhagar Temple.

Image: The shrine of 18am Padi Karuppanaswamy of Kallazhagar temple, one of the 108 Divya Desham in the Vaishnavite tradition.

Besides playing the role as a protector, the folk deities are known to perform healing when invoked through trance. Even today, you will find the blind regaining vision, the palsied regaining muscle strength and terminal illnesses getting pulverised in Muni or Karuppar temples in Indian villages when the deity heals via trance.

These deities also play the role of Rudra as Kaala ( synonyms: Mahakala, Kala Bhairava ). Not to known to many, these deities actually grant boons pertaining to the dimension of time. Many devotees attained mastery over time management by praying to Karuppar or Muniappan.

Image: Val Muni temple, Negeri Sembilan. The deity here is famous for His healing attributes, such that He is adorned with a stethoscope by devotees.

No Single Form

Image courtesy:

The Rudra Prashna also describe the infinite ( thousands by thousands ) of Rudras who pervade the world. They come in different forms, encompassing the entire wavelength.

The meaning to this can be experienced in different depths. 

(1) It refers to the absolute reality / consciousness which pervades the entire cosmos. All forms that we perceive are verily His forms. In the Yajur Vedic Rudra Prashna, this absolute reality is coined as 'Rudra'. So every form, including the folk deities, you, and me are all Rudra. This is why the smritis instruct one to 'become' Rudra by attaining oneness with the absolute reality before reciting the Rudra prashna. 

(2) It also refers to the  truth that there are literally infinite Rudras who are present with us, as ferocious embodiments of divinity. This is where our guardian deities become part of it.

Image courtesy:

Why don't the Vedas mention Munishvara or Karuppa specifically ?

I have given the answer to this question earlier, denoting how the Vedas are abstract and most of the mantras ( not all ) do not specify a name or form. I have another explanation to this question too. Let me exemplify.

You cannot expect the Vedas to specifically mention 'Munishvara' or 'Karuppa' because these terms are colloquial.

The term ' Munishvara' itself is a modern invention. Initially, these deities under the Muni banner were called ' Muniandy' ( Muni + Aandi ) which translates to ' Ruler of Munis ( Sages ) in Tamizh. Muni is the short form of 'Munivar' ( saint in Tamizh ). Muni can also refer to a group of malevolent spirits. People coined names to these deities according to their native language. Recently, the suffix 'Ishvara' was added to form Munishvara - which means the same thing. Is it wrong to start calling them Munishvara and not Muniandy? Not for me, as long as it means the same thing. If you go to Karnataka, you see the same deities being called 'Muneshvara'. If you cross seas and go to Trinidad & Tobago, they say 'Munispreen'. Go to a Shaman in Malaysia and he will refer to the deity with the prefix 'Datuk' ( eg. Datuk Misai ).

Image: Muneshvara Svami, Bengaluru, Karnataka with His rum.

Forest Amman-s

To quote another example, we have many deities who are the Devatas of the forest region. For instance, Katteri Amman ; Kaadu ( forest ) + eri ( water body ) = Katteri.

Image: Katteri Amman in Bodyguard Munishvara temple, chennai

In the Rig Veda, we find a portion in the 10th Mandala, 146 Sukta which speaks about an Aranyani Devi without specifying a name or form to Her. Aranyani means forest. Any deity who resembles the primitive energy of the forest or who dwells in the forest fits into the banner of 'Aranyani Devi'.

Aranyani Sukta, Rig Veda 10th Mandala,146 Sukta recitation by my Student Kum. Shravanthi.

Image: Stone worship as nadukkal finds reference in the Tamizh Sangam literature which is more than 2500 years old. These stones are arranged and deitified by smearing bhasma, sandal paste and kungkuma. There was no 'Munishvara' as a term back then. The deities were called 'Muniandy' or 'Muniappan'

For example, in colloquial tamizh - Mahadeva is called 'Peyandi' ( Ruler of spirits). So it is logical that we cannot find ' Peyandi' as a word in the Vedas. That  does not mean that 'Peyandi' ( Mahadeva ) is a non-vedic deity right ?

The Trinity in Tamizh: Mahadeva is called Peyandi. Lord Vishnu is called Mayandi and Lord Brahma is called Virumandi.

The Worshiper and The Worshiped Are No Different

Tantra is Vedas applied. Here, the worshiper and worshiped is non-different ( except in few sampradayas which are rooted in dvaita / duality ).

This truth of oneness in worship is referenced in the Vedas. We have to look at the Narayana Suktam which comes as a part of the Taittiriya Aranyakam of the Yajur Veda.

This verse means that the person who is meditating on Narayana is also Narayana. It is Narayana who is meditating on Narayana.

Video: My student Shravanthi and I reciting the complete Narayana Suktam. Meanings included in video.

This truth is directly applied in Tantra. If you approach a Bhairava Upasaka, he will identify himself as Bhairava. In fact, the worshipers of Bhairava are called 'Bhairava'. They go beyond their bodily consciousness and attain complete oneness with the deity.

The same is applied in Shaivism also. In Shaiva Tantra, an initiated disciple must perform his daily puja before commencing any other work. An important component of this puja is Sakalikaranam, where the devotee uses mantras to energise his entire body into Shiva. 

No Shaivite ritual is possible without attaining oneness with the deity.

So the key idea here is, whether we say Bhairava, Vishnu, or Shiva, it is not specific to only one form. Anyone who reverberates and possesses that complete attribute comes under the banner of the mentioned deity.

Names That Are Not Found in The Vedas

The Puranic names do not necessarily find reference in the Vedas. So if you find Lalita Tripurasundari being glorified in the Brahmanda Purana, you don't call her a non-vedic deity just because you do not find the word 'Lalita' in the Vedas. She has infinite names. Our focus should be on the attributes carried by the name 'Lalita'.

Lalita is seen as the manifest absolute reality in Shri Vidya. The Devi Sukta of Rig Veda is a popular portion which speaks about the feminine absolute reality, the queen who is the source for everything. As per this sukta, the entire cosmos is empowered only by Her grace.

Video: Shravanthi and I reciting Rig Veda's Devi Sukta. Meanings included.

So whether we call her Amma, Lalita, Devi or Gayatri, the context lies in revering Her as the absolute reality.

There is a beautiful analogy I always use:

Vedas quote a truth in this manner - 

1+1 = 2

The smritis illustrate the same truth as -

Ali has an apple. Abu has an apple. There are two apples in total.

Arguing about the presence of a specific name is like arguing about the mention of apple. Whether an apple or mango, the purpose is just to illustrate a crude truth. Someone can story the equation using an apple and another can use mango.

Khaṇḍobā Svami, a folk deity in Northern India. Saw Him presiding a shrine in Mumbai. He has another name - Martanda Bhairava.

Folk Form of Hindu Gods

What I intend to share now is something which dawned upon me as an inspiration from within. It may seem like an interesting opinion to others, and therefore I thought of sharing it here.

We cannot deny the specific mention of singular deities who have a very specific form in the smritis. This includes the Puranas, Itihasas and Tantra.

My take is that the folk deities are simply a different version of the scriptural deities.

Muni + Andi. When we refer to Muniandy as the Lord of the Sages, I can relate it to Dakshinamurti.

Karuppanasamy, the dark god simply links my bhava with Kala Bhairava. Mahakala translated loosely is Periya Karuppu.

( In Keralite Tantra, Karuppanasamy is literally worshiped as Kala ).

Pachaimman, the green hued Devi links my bhava with Shyamala or Matangi.

Ayyanar, as the very folk form of Sashta.

 Madasamy, Maadu ( bull ) + Sami ( Lord ) as the folk form of Nandi.

Image: Madasamy. Notice His bovine ears, resembling a cow/ bull.


  1. OK... I agree your statement. But why you all offered to the Muni & Karuppar deities non-vege and alcohol. Is that Shiva's forms eat their own creation.

    1. Bali is given to Bhairava. That is part of Tantra and it's specific to a certain form of Lord Shiva. It is not about the deity eating the meat. Also, the offered animal will take a higher birth once reborn

    2. Heard about Kannappar, the hunter who offered meat to Lord Shiva? It is out of love, we offer what we eat to the loved one, with reverence too. Attitude is the crieria here and not specifics.

  2. Hi vinnith. Nice info.

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