Dravidian folk religion

Dravidian religion was centered the worship of Goddess as mother, protector of villages and the 7 sisters often called the 7 Dravidian sisters. [1][2][3]

In the book “Dravidian Gods in Modern Hinduism”, Wilder Theodre Elmore comments that the Dravidian folks religions are not a simple form of animism, but exhibit complex metaphysical concepts. According to Tylor, Dravidian folk religion also has fetishist aspects.[4]. The creation of myth of Dravidian as animist worship of ambiguous deities and Brahmin as refined by Europeans scholars and misrepresentation of the system and people was pointed by scholars like Sree Padma[5]

These beliefs also had some influence on Hinduism and influenced the creation of the Āgamas.[6] Dravidian linguistic influence on early Vedic religion is evident, many of these features are already present in the oldest known Indo-Aryan language, the language of the Rigveda (c. 1500 BCE), which also includes over a dozen words borrowed from Dravidian. The linguistic evidence for Dravidian impact grows increasingly strong as we move from the Samhitas down through the later Vedic works and into the classical post-Vedic literature.[7] This represents an early religious and cultural fusion[8][note 1] or synthesis[10] between ancient Dravidians and Indo-Aryans that went on to influence the Indian civilization.[11][9][12][13]


Ancient Tamil grammatical works Tolkappiyam, the ten anthologies Pattuppāṭṭu, the eight anthologies Eṭṭuttokai sheds light on early ancient Dravidian religion. Seyyon was glorified as, the red god seated on the blue peacock, who is ever young and resplendent, as the favored god of the Tamils.[14] Sivan was also seen as the supreme God.[14] Early iconography of Seyyon[15] and Sivan[16][17][18] and their association with native flora and fauna goes back to Indus Valley Civilization.[19][20] The Sangam landscape was classified into five categories, thinais, based on the mood, the season and the land. Tolkappiyam, mentions that each of these thinai had an associated deity such Seyyon in Kurinji-the hills, Thirumaal in Mullai-the forests, and Korravai in Marutham-the plains, and Wanji-ko in the Neithal-the coasts and the seas. Other gods mentioned were Mayyon and Vaali who were all assimilated into Hinduism over time.


The Dravidian folk religion is based on the native South Asian animism. The belief in an afterlife is common and is contrary to the reincarnation-concept that envolved somewhere in northern India after the Indo-Aryan migration.[21][22]

Throughout Tamilakam, a king was considered to be divine by nature and possessed religious significance.[23] The king was 'the representative of God on earth’ and lived in a “koyil”, which means the “residence of a god”. The Modern Tamil word for temple is koil (Tamil: கோயில்). Titual worship was also given to kings.[24][25] Modern words for god like “kō” (Tamil: கோ “king”), “iṟai” (இறை “emperor”) and “āṇḍavar” (ஆண்டவன் “conqueror”) now primarily refer to gods. These elements were incorporated later into Hinduism like the legendary marriage of Shiva to Queen Mīnātchi who ruled Madurai or Wanji-ko, a god who later merged into Indra.[26] Tolkappiyar refers to the Three Crowned Kings as the “Three Glorified by Heaven”, (Tamil: வாண்புகழ் மூவர், Vāṉpukaḻ Mūvar ?).[27] In the Dravidian-speaking South, the concept of divine kingship led to the assumption of major roles by state and temple.[28]

The cult of the mother goddess is treated as an indication of a society which venerated femininity. This mother goddess was conceived as a virgin, one who has given birth to all and one and was typically associated with Shaktism.[29] Her worship was accepted in the northern parts of India with various names as Devi, Ksetradevata etc. [30] More recent scholarship has been correcting the misrepresentation made by a section of Westerner and Indian Brahmanical scholars in portrayal of the tradition of goddess. Western scholars like Denobili portrayed Brahmin as "gentilism" and the goddess tradition as "idolatarous". [31]

The temples of the Sangam days, mainly of Madurai, seem to have had priestesses to the deity, which also appear predominantly a goddess.[32] In the Sangam literature, there is an elaborate description of the rites performed by the Kurava priestess in the shrine Palamutircholai.[33] Among the early Dravidians the practice of erecting memorial stones “Natukal’'had appeared, and it continued for quite a long time after the Sangam age, down to about 16th century.[34] It was customary for people who sought victory in war to worship these hero stones to bless them with victory.[35] Many Hindu sects such as Bhakti movement and Lingayatism originated in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka respectively. In addition to literary sources, folk festivals, village deities, shamanism, ritual theater and traditions, which are unique to the region, are also good indicators of what early Dravidian people believed/practiced.

The most popular deity is Murugan, he is known as the patron god of the Tamils and is also called Tamil Kadavul (Tamil God).[36][37] In Tamil tradition, Murugan is the youngest son and Pillayar the oldest son of Sivan, this differs from the North Indian tradition, which represents Murugan as the oldest son. The goddess Parvati is often depicted as having a green complexion in Tamil Hindu tradition, implying her association with nature. The worship of Amman, also called Mariamman, who is thought to have been derived from an ancient mother goddess is also very common.[38] Kan̲n̲agi, the heroine of the Cilappatikār̲am, is worshipped as Pattin̲i by many Tamils, particularly in Sri Lanka.[39] There are also many followers of Ayyavazhi in Tamil Nadu, mainly in the southern districts.[40] In addition, there are many temples and devotees of Vishnu, Siva, Ganapathi, and the other Hindu deities.

In rural Tamil Nadu, many local deities, called aiyyan̲ārs, are believed to be the spirits of local heroes who protect the village from harm.[41] Their worship often centres around nadukkal, stones erected in memory of heroes who died in battle. This form of worship is mentioned frequently in classical literature and appears to be the surviving remnants of an ancient Tamil tradition.[42] The early Dravidian religion constituted a non-Vedic form of Hinduism in that they were either historically or are at present Āgamic. The Agamas are non-vedic in origin [43] and have been dated either as post-Vedic texts [44] or as pre-Vedic compositions.[45] A large portion of these deities continue to be worshipped as the Village deities of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, and their subsequent influence in South-east Asia, examples of which include the Mariamman temples in Singapore and Vietnam. Worship of anthills, snakes and other forms of guardian deities and heroes are still worshiped in the Konkan coast, Maharashtra proper and a few other parts of India including North India which traces its origins to ancient Dravidian religion which has been influencing formation of mainstream Hinduism for thousands of years.

A hero stone, known as “Natukal” by Tamils and “Virgal” by Kannadigas, is a memorial commemorating the honorable death of a hero in battle. Erected between the 3rd century BC and the 18th century AD, hero stones are found all over India, most of them in southern India. They often carry inscriptions displaying a variety of adornments, including bas relief panels, frieze, and figures on carved stone.[46] Usually they are in the form of a stone monument and may have an inscription at the bottom with a narrative of the battle. According to the historian Upinder Singh, the largest concentration of such memorial stones are found in the Indian state of Karnataka. About two thousand six hundred and fifty hero stones, the earliest dated to the 5th century have been discovered in Karnataka.[47] The custom of erecting memorial stones dates back to the Iron Age (1000 BCE–600BCE) though a vast majority were erected between the 5th and 13th centuries AD.


"Veriyattam" refers to spirit possession of women, who took part in priestly functions. Under the influence of the god, women sang and danced, but also read the dim past, predicted the future, diagnosed diseases.[48] Twenty two poets of the Sangam age in as many as 40 poems portray Veriyatal. Velan is a reporter and prophet endowed with supernatural powers. Veriyatal had been performed by men as well as women.[49]


Among the early Tamils the practice of erecting hero stones (nadukkal) had appeared, and it continued for quite a long time after the Sangam age, down to about 11th century.[50] It was customary for people who sought victory in war to worship these hero stones to bless them with victory.[51]


Theyyam is a ritual shaman dance popular in Kerala and parts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Theyyam migrates into the artist who has assumed the spirit and it is a belief that the god or goddess comes in the midst of fathering through the medium of possessed dancer. The dancer throws rice on the audience and distributes turmeric powder as symbols of blessing. Theyyam incorporates dance, mime and music and enshrines the rudiments of ancient tribal cultures which attached great importance to the worship of heroes and the spirits of ancestors, is a socio-religious ceremony. There are over 400 Theyyams performed, the most spectacular ones are those of Raktha Chamundi, Kari Chamundi, Muchilottu Bhagavathi, Wayanadu Kulaven, Gulikan and Pottan. These are performed in front of shrines, sans stage or curtains.

The early character of Tamil religion was celebrative. It embodied an aura of sacral immanence, sensing the sacred in the vegetation, fertility, and color of the land. The summum bonum of the religious experience was expressed in terms of possession by the god, or ecstasy. Into this milieu there immigrated a sobering influence—a growing number of Jain and Buddhist communities and an increasing influx of northerners.

The layout of villages can be assumed to be standard across most villages. An Amman (mother goddess) is at the centre of the villages while a male guardian deity (Tamil: காவல் கடவுள், kāval kaṭavuḷ ?) has a shrine at the village borders. Nowadays, Amman can be either worshipped alone or as a part of the Vedic pantheon.[52]

Influence on modern Hinduism

Dravidian influence on early Vedic religion is evident, many of these features are already present in the oldest known Indo-Aryan language, the language of the Rigveda (c. 1500 BCE), which also includes over a dozen words borrowed from Dravidian.[7] The linguistic evidence for Dravidian impact grows increasingly strong as we move from the Samhitas down through the later Vedic works and into the classical post-Vedic literature.[7] This represents an early religious and cultural fusion[8][note 1] or synthesis[10] between ancient Dravidians and Indo-Aryans, which became more evident over time with sacred iconography, traditions, philosophy, flora and fauna that went on to influence Hinduism, Buddhism, Charvaka, Sramana and Jainism[11][9][12][13]

Scholars regard the modern Hinduism as a fusion[8][note 1] or synthesis[10][note 2][53] of various Indian cultures and traditions.[10][54][8][note 4]

  • Zimmer, Heinrich (1951), Philosophies of India, Princeton University Press[12]
  • Tyler (1973), India: An Anthropological Perspective, Goodyear Publishing Company. In: Sjoberg 1990,[56][note 5]
  • Sjoberg, Andree F. (1990), "The Dravidian Contribution To The Development Of Indian Civilization: A Call For A Reassesment", Comparative Civilizations Review. 23:40-74[57]
  • Flood, Gavin D. (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge University Press[54]
  • Nath, Vijay (March–April 2001), "From 'Brahmanism' to 'Hinduism': Negotiating the Myth of the Great Tradition", Social Scientist: 19–50, doi:10.2307/3518337, JSTOR 3518337[58]
  • Werner, karel (2005), A Popular Dictionary of Hinduism, Routledge[59]
  • Lockard, Craig A. (2007), Societies, Networks, and Transitions. Volume I: to 1500, Cengage Learning[8]
  • Hiltebeitel, Alf (2007), Hinduism. In: Joseph Kitagawa, "The Religious Traditions of Asia: Religion, History, and Culture", Routledge[60]
  • Hopfe, Lewis M.; Woodward, Mark R. (2008), Religions of the World, Pearson Education[61][note 6]
  • Samuel, Geoffrey (2010), The Origins of Yoga and Tantra. Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century, Cambridge University Press[62]</ref>

Among its roots are the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India,[63][54] itself already the product of "a composite of the indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures and civilizations",[64][note 7] but also the Sramana[66] or renouncer traditions[54] of northeast India,[66] and mesolithic[67] and neolithic[68] cultures of India, such as the religions of the Indus Valley Civilisation,[69][9][70][71] Dravidian traditions,[11][9][12][13] and the local traditions[54] and tribal religions.[11][note 8]

Folk dance rituals

  • Yakshagana literally means the song (gana) of the yaksha, (nature spirits).[72] Yakshagana is the scholastic name (used for the last 200 years) for art forms formerly known as kēḷike, āṭa, bayalāṭa, and daśāvatāra (Kannada: ದಶಾವತಾರ).
  • Koothu (Tamil: கூத்து), and alternatively spelt as kuttu, means dance or performance in Tamil, it is a folk art originated from the early Tamil country.[73][74]

See also


  1. Lockard: "The encounters that resulted from Aryan migration brought together several very different peoples and cultures, reconfiguring Indian society. Over many centuries a fusion of Aryan and Dravidian occurred, a complex process that historians have labeled the Indo-Aryan synthesis."[8] Lockard: "Hinduism can be seen historically as a synthesis of Aryan beliefs with Harappan and other Dravidian traditions that developed over many centuries."[9]
  2. Hiltebeitel: "A period of consolidation, sometimes identified as one of "Hindu synthesis," Brahmanic synthesis," or "orthodox synthesis," takes place between the time of the late Vedic Upanishads (c. 500 BCE) and the period of Gupta imperial ascendency" (c. 320-467 CE)."
  3. Ghurye: He [Hutton] considers modern Hinduism to be the result of an amalgam between pre-Aryan Indian beliefs of Mediterranean inspiration and the religion of the Rigveda. "The Tribal religions present, as it were, surplus material not yet buit into the temple of Hinduism".<ref name='FOOTNOTEGhurye19804'>Ghurye 1980, p. 4.
  4. See also:
  5. Tyler, in India: An Anthropological Perspective(1973), page 68, as quoted by Sjoberg, calls Hinduism a "synthesis" in which the Dravidian elements prevail: "The Hindu synthesis was less the dialectical reduction of orthodoxy and heterodoxy than the resurgence of the ancient, aboriginal Indus civilization. In this process the rude, barbaric Aryan tribes were gradually civilised and eventually merged with the autochthonous Dravidians. Although elements of their domestic cult and ritualism were jealously preserved by Brahman priests, the body of their culture survived only in fragmentary tales and allegories embedded in vast, syncretistic compendia. On the whole, the Aryan contribution to Indian culture is insignificant. The essential pattern of Indian culture was already established in the third millennium B.C., and ... the form of Indian civilization perdured and eventually reasserted itself.[56]
  6. Hopfe & Woodward: "The religion that the Aryans brought with them mingled with the religion of the native people, and the culture that developed between them became classical Hinduism."[61]
  7. See:
    • David Gordo White: "[T]he religion of the Vedas was already a composite of the Indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures and civilizations."[64]
    • Richard Gombrich: "It is important to bear in mind that the Indo-Aryans did not enter an unhabited (sic) land. For nearly two millennia they and their culture gradually penetrated India, moving east and south from their original seat in the Punjab. They mixed with people who spoke Munda or Dravidian languages, who have left no traces of their culture beyond some archaeological remains; we know as little about them as we would about the Indo-Aryans if they had left no texts. In fact we cannot even be sure whether some of the aerchaeological finds belong to Indo-Aryans, autochthonous populations, or a mixture.
      It is to be assumed - though this is not fashionable in Indian historiography - that the clash of cultures between Indo-Aryans and autochtones was responsible for many of the changes in Indo-Aryan society. We can also assume that many - perhaps most - of the indigenous population came to be assimilated into Indo-Aryan culture.[65]
  8. Tiwari mentions the Austric and Mongoloid people.[11] See also Adivasi people for the variety of Indian people.


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