New cultures of worship
I was observing Pongal revelries in a village named Damkothapalli, where concrete roads are only now making their way. Sam Venkat, one of the villagers asked me to accompany him to a temple. Curious about why he wasn’t taking me to the relatively bigger and newer temples, I followed him.
The temple turned out to be a decrepit one, located under a tamarind tree. It was dedicated to a native deity called Mariamma, who is worshipped by a large number of villagers here and in other rural parts of Tamil Nadu. Mari is considered the South Indian incarnation of Goddess Kali. She is usually depicted in a sitting posture, with one of her hands displaying a mudra to ward off fear and diseases. I was told that this temple was one of the oldest temples of Mariamma.
Sam’s excitement about his cultural heritage was tinged with a sense of fear. There had been a rise in the worship of mainstream Hindu gods in the area, especially among migrants.
Migrant families hold socially powerful positions on their return to the village from metro cities. They showcase their adopted culture by building temples for gods who are predominantly worshipped in cities, such as Ganesha. Apart from building temples, they promote their religious tales and songs, called bhajans, and distribute prasada, or auspicious food.
In this way, a sense of religious homogeneity gets imposed on the natives, at the risk of wiping out their own religious culture.
Iqra Khan has recently graduated from Azim Premji University with an MA in Development. She is currently working at PRADAN.