KULA DEVATHA OR TUTELARY/FAMILY DEITIES:
ORIGIN AND CONCEPT
1. Kula Devatha’ or Tutelary/Family deity refers to male or female, God/Goddess, Sub or Demigod Goddess, whom a family worshipped traditionally through generations. Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity is the foremost God in each one of the families of earlier generation, who mostly lived in the villages. The worship of specific deity was carried forward by the male members of the family through generation while the female members, after their marriage, had to worship only the Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity of their husband’s side which is the traditionally accepted custom followed over centuries. It is believed that Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity guided and guarded the family members from all hardships and hindrances faced in their life.
2. Over long period of time, I attempted to understand the concept of Tutelary/Family-deities, locally called Kulatheivam or Kuladevatha, and literally conducted research by talking to several priests and common men spread across the urban and rural areas where the practice and worship of Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity was found to be very high.
3. I met few learned pundits, especially those in the temples, some astrologers, elderly personnel and others who practiced the divinatory art of predicting future using cowries, other materials and methods to cull out some information on this issue. They are generally approached by those folks whose family deity was unknown to them. The views I received from them were divergent in nature. I had earlier written few articles on Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deities in my website under the pen-name Santhipriya, over which I received several interesting queries from several readers across the globe. Though I could explain some of them, some were even not known to me and therefore I continued my search seeking answers.
4. I was excited when two to three unknown elderly people spoke to me on telephone, complemented me for the information that I had provided on Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity and discussed certain other issues on worship and requested for further clarifications. They suggested that I publish the article in English for wider coverage to enable the younger generation too understand the fading ethos of continuing the worship of family deity unknown to them till then. There were numerous other callers too who complimented me on my articles on family deities.
5. I would like to briefly quote two interesting instances which I came across during my research. One gentleman from Tirunelveli district in the state of Tamilnadu, belonging to another religion, (whose identity is withheld for obvious reasons) contacted me and after introducing himself, spoke to me at length on how his ancestors got converted into another religion, resulting in not knowing his family deity at all! As he was mentally disturbed due to certain family feuds and personal set backs, he consulted some astrologers and studied his horoscope. They told him that all his family problems were on account of neglect of worship of his family deity, hence he contacted me by Email after reading my article on Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity seeking my advice.
6. Earlier his friends and others had advised him to reach out to predictive astrologers again or other methods available in astrology or soothsayers to find out who his Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity was. Only few modes are generally available to find out who the Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity is when their deity was unknown to them.
a) Contacting the greatest and experienced Astrologers with horoscope to find out the unknown Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity. However if the horoscope is not perfect, they may fail to predict. Also in this method they can only guide you but cannot firmly tell who ones’ Kula devatha is.
b) Similarly another predictive astrology called Naadi Astrology, which works based on the thumb impression of one’s hand could predict the Kula Devatha. But it is again not fool proof .
c) Find out the Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity through those who speak through mediums like spirits. I have heard through many that none of the above predictive methods yielded perfect results as it caused more confusions when they contacted few different personalities to reconfirm on the same issue. Even recently a gentleman shared his bad experience in this system.
d) However the reliable method is to check with our father or grandfather about the native place where all of them stayed together as a family and worshipped some deity. Though me not an expert, but since I had some personal experience and knowledge on such methods, I discouraged him from undertaking such an exercise and instead suggested that he first trace out some elderly relatives in his father’s side to find out whom their forefathers worshipped as their Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity. He agreed to my advice and began searching for the relatives of his forefathers to find out who actually their Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity was and why they discontinued the practice of worshiping their Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity.
7. Few days later he contacted me again by phone to thank me and inform that he managed to get some information from one of the relatives from his forefather’s lineage to learn of the name of the deity whom their forefathers worshipped and location of the shrine. He was surprised when he was told that the deity whom his ancestors worshipped was just outside the compound wall of the same worship center of the new religion through which road he had walked many times. His relative showed him the small structure inside which was seated a Mariamman group of deity (I have forgotten the name mentioned by him), who was worshipped by their ancestors and discontinued the worship after their conversion.
8. His family deity was found seated inside the dilapidated small brick structure touching the wall of the converted religious center. Once he got the full facts, he began to offer worship to the Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity seated inside the brick structure in addition to offering worship in the converted religion which he could not abruptly abandon due to social reasons.
9. The gentleman confessed that after he began worshiping his Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity, he felt as if his mental agony began to decline and several of his family disputes which mentally bothered him started disappearing. He sought some more clarification and again profusely thanked me for my advice. He revealed that thereafter few of his family members too began offering worship to their original family deity. When I finally suggested that as token of his obeisance and prayer, he could start meeting the expenditure of oil meant for the oil lamp kept inside the shrine, he happily agreed to do it.
10. Another lady from Bangalore once contacted me sometime in Feb 2019 by mail followed by telephonic call. After exchanging pleasantries, she spoke to me at length on her ordeals as if I was closely known to her for many years. She mentioned that she could not offer worship to her unknown Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity since her husband was disinterested in finding the temple where her Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity – Goddess Thanjamma- was enshrined and sought my help to find out where the temple of Goddess Thanjamma existed. Some of her ancestors lived in and around Kanchipuram near Chennai in Tamilnadu. She gave me few hints on the deity as worshipped by her ancestors. She was eager to find out her Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity since some astrologers had indicated to her that discontinuing the family deity worship being the main reason for her current predicaments. She was suffering from terminal cancer and wanted to identify her family deity before anything happened to her. With the inputs I received from her, I searched in the web extensively but could come up with only two or three places as the possible location of the temple. Still, the information was insufficient to locate the exact location.
11. She rang me after a few days to tell me how mysteriously she could find out the place of her family deity from a sign board in a nearby car repair shop in Bangalore itself! The sign board carried the deity’s name! Since her story was interesting, with her permission I published her story in Tamil and English under the title ‘In search of Kulatheivam (Family deity) – a true story’ (Link: https://santhipriya.com/2019/03/tanjamma-kuladevathai.html) in my website withholding her real name and place of stay as requested by her.
12. Strangely after the story appeared in my website, there were few more callers seeking information on the very same Goddess Thanjamma who was their Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity and the temples where the deity had been installed. They approached me because the details on those temples were not available in any web sites. My interaction with some devotees revealed that the same deity in the same name was worshipped by different sects in two to three different other temples in faraway places. Each group or sects offered worship to the same deity in the same name, but only in the specific temples where their ancestors had offered worship. I was thrilled to face many such interactions through mail, telephonic talk etc including calls from foreign countries who wanted some advice on their Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deities. Since I continued to receive queries from many callers on how to find out the unknown Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity, based on the centuries old custom and practice which was not widely known to the folks, I published an article on how to find out the unknown Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity (Link https://santhipriya.com/2020/10/family-deity-kulatheivam-how-to-find-out.html). From the inputs I received, I came to know that many were benefited by my article and were able to trace their Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity by this practice and thanked me for the article.
13. The unique experience compelled me to search for more material for this researched article. I began collecting information on
• How were the divines created?
• How did the concept of worship of the divines and worship of Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity emerge?
• How were the Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity adapted by families?
• Does specific ritual exist through which one can adapt newer Tutelary/Family deity or Kula Devatha?
• How could there be so many Tutelary/Family deity or Kula Devathas?
• The newer family deities when emerge as Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity, from where do they derive divinely powers?
• Can one change their Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity at will?
14. To those who contacted me, I promised to write a detailed article on the origin of Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity covering all their queries to the best of my knowledge. The inputs in my article are based on the discussions I had with various temple pundits, some persons of deeper spiritual mind, read in several sources, word of mouth stories which flowed through generations, heard in discourses, folk lores, discussions with few individual elders at various periods of time and other materials in web.
15. Lot of theories and debates float around the origin of Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity. If one read several texts of Puranas and epics they can find the reference of how the divine worship began during the Vedic period which led to the worship of Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity. As per the folk lore, one of the Pandava brothers Yudhishthira came to Bagalakmukhi Devi temple in Nalgheda, Ujjain and offered prayers to the Devi for victory in the war on the advice of Lord Krishna who reportedly told Pandava brothers that Goddess Bagalakmukhi Devi was their family deity (Read the story of the devi in link: https://santhipriya.com/2012/05/ujjain-bagalamuki-temple.html) which confirms that the worship of Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity existed even during the period the Mahabharata war was enacted. Mahabharata war may have occurred sometime between 3500 years or 7000 years as several views are aired as the scriptures say that the during the end of Dwapara Yuga, and that Krishna left his body right at the moment when Dwapara Yuga (the age of energy) turned into Kali Yuga (the dark age).
Part- 2 Continued…….
References:- Some of the information found in the following sites, folk lores, discussions with temple Pundits and elders of yester year generations helped me in compiling the above article.
Acknowledgement: I acknowledge with grateful thanks, Dr. V. Sankarkumar, consultant medical officer in USA, who edited my article with valuable inputs before publishing it. He has been writing articles of spiritual nature in both Tamil and in English and has contributed much in one of the Shirdi Saibaba blogger (https://shirdisaibabatamilstories.blogspot.com/-in which I was one of the two coordinators) by translating the English articles into Tamil. …..N.R. Jayaraman (firstname.lastname@example.org).