Village deities of Tamil Nadu

Village deities of Tamil Nadu that do not belong to the Agamic pantheon of Hinduism are found in almost all villages throughout India and Tamil Nadu in particular. They are known as Kaval deivam or guardian spirits in Tamil. They are associated to a main deity who is generally ascribed as Kuladeivam by various sects of community and clan groups as part of the tracing their generation through centuries

A Typical Shrine

Most of these village deities have their shrines on the periphery (border or outskirts) of the village as a representation of their Village Guardian position. Hence they are referred as "Peripheral Folk Deity". 21 associate deities and 61 servant deities are located in either the same premises or located in different places of the locality, for e.g.: Amman deities may be installed in the centre of the village but the Sonai, Sudalai or the Formless Nadukkal deities may be installed close to grave-yards (cemeteries or burial and sometimes, also near memorial centres).

These Village deities are either represented in the form of a huge, fierce statue or as a simple stone. Most of these temples are not closed premises but are simple and small worship areas. Weapons such as a trident or a lance or sickles are also associated with these shrines.

We also see lots of terracotta horses, elephants, clay dolls & birds and bells. Most officiating priests are non-Brahmins or any local community people or Velars and derive from the local ancestral lineages that had initiated the cult centers generations ago.

The worship pattern is non-vedic through Folk tale, Folk Song and Folk arts (Villupattu, Karagam, Koothhu, etc). The local priest might offer flowers or Veeputhi (holy ash) or Holy flowers to the worshippers and may play the oracle role for shamanism.(see pic here)

Categories & Folk-Lores

The village deities in Tamil Nadu have interesting stories behind them. Mainly these village gods come under one of the three categories:

Guardian Gods

  • Ayyannar
  • Maduraiveeran
  • Karuppanaar swamy (“Karuppu” means black in Tamil and is associated with dark, night, etc). The typical varinats of Karuppu or 18 steps Karuppu, Sanglilikarupan, Maarnatu karuppu, Manda Karuppu, Munnadi Karuppu, Samaya Karuppu, Sinna Karuppu, Peria Karuppu, sonehkarupu etc.
  • Kaateri amman (“Kaateri” means vampire)
  • Sudalai Maadan swamy (“Sudalai” means burial ground/ pyre and “Sudalai maadan” means guardian of burial ground)
  • Kali or Kali Amman was considered as the causative force for cholera
  • Maari was considered as a causative force for smallpox, chicken pox, mumps and measles (Maari in Tamil means rain. Since the rainfall cooled the otherwise hot area and protected people from summer sicknesses like viral infections, people started worshiping the rain goddess as Maari Amman)
  • Ellai amman or Ellai Maari Amman worshipped in many villages is actually a mile stone which demarcated the boundaries of two villages.

In olden days, people when they travel from one village to another village started relaxing near these stones and in due course started praying to them for safe journey. Thus, slowly these milestones attained the position of village gods and goddesses.

There are other various Natural energy worship in the form of Muthaaramman, Muthalamman, Pachai Thanni Amman, Pachaiyamman, Pal Pazhakkari amman etc.

Hero Stones and Sati Stones

Hero stones (Nadukkal or Veerakkal) are the stones provided for the males who sacrifice their life for good causes. Sati stones are the stones provided for females who sacrificied their life for certain specific purpose, especially for chastity and purity.

This category includes people who lived and lost their lives for their community and hence their community members still remembered them and worship them. This group also includes persons who were killed by injustice and hence were worshipped in order to save the village from their wrath. The worship for the fallen brave warriors is one of the popular forms of worship. The early Tamil poetry 'Tolkappiyam' gives an elaborate description in six stages in the planting of such a stone: beginning with looking for a suitable stone, until the institution of formal worship.

The portrait of the hero is often decorated with peacock feathers. Some poems refer to spears and shields erected around the planted stones. Offering of Naravam (toddy = alcohol) to the spirit of the fallen hero, represented in the planted stone, is mentioned in some verses. During latter period these “nadukals” became Ayyanar shrines. Other warrior gods include Madurai Veeran (who lived near Madurai), Kaathavarayan (who lived near Tanjavore) and Annammar swamigal (who lived near Coimbatore).

The "Thee paanch ammman" temples in northern part of TN were basically built to worship widows who were burnt along with their husbands' funeral pyre as part of the "Sathi" or "Saathi" or "Sati".

The “Maachani amman” temple at Polaachi was built to worship a young girl who was killed by a “Kongu” king since she unknowingly ate a mango from his garden.

The “Palayanoor Neeli” was a girl who was betrayed and cunningly killed by her husband and who took revenge by killing him in her next birth. Further, several love pairs who have lost their lives due to caste animosity are also being worshipped as village deities in several villages.

Seelakari amman in various parts of South Tamilnadu and Kannagi worship are considered as a part of Sati stone worship system. These goddess are most revered Female deities for their purity and chastity as they are considered as the prime focus of the way of Tamil women. Kanni amman and Pachai Amman are more common variants of female deities representing the characteristics of Purity and Chastity.

In general, Sati stones have not become part of the 21 sub-deities of Ayynar but at some places Seelakari amman is considered as part of 21 sub deities. A more detailed research is required to identify clear clarity on various sub-deities including Isakki Amman, Sonai or Sonai Karuppu and others.

Any person who stood for justice and valiantly fought for justice or lost life for the cause of justice have become part of Hero Stone worship. The more prominent are Pandian Nedunchezhian of Silappadhikaram fame, becoming Pandi Muneeswar along with the support of Samayakaruppu. Maduari veeran and so many other stories run parallel to becoming Folk Deities worshipped by large following and becoming part of Kuladeivam cult.

Gods to tame Evil and Devil Forces and converting to good powers

There were Forces or elements which the people were scared of.

Munishswaran or Muniappan in olden days was associated with protecting people, drinking devil's blood, doing good things, bringing in good-effect, etc.

Peichi amman (“Pei” means devil) also covered under this form.

Legends from Disastrous Social Events

These legends include social suppression stories such as Kannagi, Nallathangal - out of which various worships were created to remind the people not to commit or repeat the same social mistakes of the past. Purity and Chastity of women were given more reverence and prominence. Chitra Pournami is celebrated grandly in memory of Sati women and Kannagi. Nallathangal and similar stories represent the poor familial support leading to the suicide of womenfolk & children. These emphasize moral stories and not to repeat such mistakes again.

Genesis of Vedic Connections

The third category contains certain less spoken characters in the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Like, you see lots of temples for Draupathi (Panchali) and Darmaraja (Yudhistran) in the Northern parts of TN, you also see temples for Ganthari (mother of the Kauravas), Kunthi (mother of Pancha Pandavas) and Aravan (the son of Arjuna and the Manipuri princess Chitrankatha) in TN.

Typical Temples for "Kaval Deivangal" or Guardian Angels

These deities are always found in the outskirts of the Village. The maintenance of the temple of these deities is taken care by the whole of the village. It is believed that these Gods shoo away all evils and devils from entering the village.

These temples are usually in the open space and will not have traditional Gopurams like any other temples. You can see big statues of Gods with weapons like bow and arrow, swords, knives and other protective weapons. There also will be statues of Goddesses, and animals in these temples.


During the Tamil Months of Karthikai (Sokka Paanai during Karthigai Dheepam); Thai (Thai poosam, Makar Jyothi of Ayyappan); Masi (Masi Kalari - Shivarathiri); Panguni (Panguni Uthiram considered as the auspicious birthday of Ayyanar); Aadi (Aadi Perukku) and Vaigasi (Vaigasi Visakam), festivals will be conducted in these temples. Generally, a mass convention assembly of large number of related family member gathering is organized during the spring season for a period of 2 to 3 days. For the annual mass convention festival, the tradition is that the commencement of the festival will be with that of a hoisting of the flag and tying "Kappu." After this time, villagers neither can go out of the village to different village or come into the village from a different village.

Mayana Pujai is mostly practiced in midnight during the worship of Irulappasamy or Sadalaisamy.

Of special mention is that of the traditional "Theru Koothu" and “Villu Pattu”; it is a dance-drama (Koothu) enacted on the street (Theru). The Koothu performers dance and recite songs/ narrations which often end with moral quotes. Through these kind of performances, the villagers are told what is good and what is bad; also the do's and don'ts.

Since the earlier days, these were the only means of media that took messages to the people.

People who always had greater belief in God agreed with the decisions that was taken by the committee members. More importantly, it is the belief of the village people that the Karuppu samy God is being disguised in the form of the man who predicts the future. This belief system about Karuppu samy is called the "Arul vaaku" in several parts of Tamil Nadu. The social issues will be discussed through the temple fore-tellers (Kodangi) whom the people usually consider as the voice of the Karuppa sami deity. When Lord Karuppa sami addresses the people in different villages through Kodangi, different issues and dimensions on social, cultural and psychological aspects of people and society are reviewed for possible solutions.

Worship of Goddess ANKAMMA: Ankamma is also known as Angamma, Ankalamma, Angalamma, Ankali, Angali, Ankala Parameswari, Angala Parameswari. She is worshipped with these names in Andhra, Karnataka, Tamilnadu. Ankali and Kali are one and the same goddess. Ankamma is considered to be the mother of Trimurtis. The most important part of Ankamma Kolupu is that a midnight puja was performed with the help of ballads by making a colorful Rangoli with wheat flour, turmaric powder, kumkum, black charcoal powder, etc. At the end of the puja, the devotees sacrifice a goat. The devara kolupu / veerla kolupu is normally performed on some special occasions by individuals or by community as a whole. During the worship singers recite historical stories about warrior ancestors.

But in the later days, the bureaucratic society exploited the innocence of the people, which led to blind faiths that are being followed even these days without any real effort to address the problem for resolutions.

See also

  • Urumee - a Folk musical instrument used in festivals and as an instrument of getting into trance.
  • Veeramanidasan - popular Tamil devotional singer.


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