is a pluralistic society where no one ethnic community or religious
group dominates the scene. They are all minorities, and
all minorities have their place. All are Keralites first;
then they are Brahmins, Nairs, Ezhavas, Muslims, Christians, and
Jews. The extinct religious communities of Jainism and Buddhism
also have made their contributions to Kerala's culture.
Cheras, the ancestors of present-day Keralites, were at one time
Indian Mundas and later Indian Dravidians, but not Hindus. They
worshipped many gods and goddesses, among whom the most important
one was Lord Shiva, the Supreme God, who was specifically adored
as the Sun God. They did not have idols and icons; they
worshipped lingam-shaped stones as abodes of the divine presence;
they believed that some of these self-grown stone pillars, as
opposed to man-made structures, were physical transformations
of invisible gods. Besides praying in front of these stones
located usually under the sacred Pepal tree, they used to anoint
vh with water, alcohol, oil, and colored powder. Occasionally
they would sacrifice a chicken and pour the blood on the stone.
This form of worship is still practiced in many villages in Kerala.
The Hindu temples also have taken over this form of worship and
per-fected it with elaborate rituals and Sanskrit hymns and prayers.
early people also worshipped the Mother-Goddess and various manifesta-tions
of her, besides a number of minor gods and ancestors. The
reason for all this worship-ritual is their belief that the universe
is inhabited by super-natural beings and powers. All the
rituals and prayers are designed for coping with this religious
world which is not always consistent, but arbitrary; the gods
control the destiny of man and the universe. Therefore,
it is necessary to propitiate these deities and spirits so that
they may be benevolent to the living or that they may not at least
bring harm to the people.
remarkable thing about the early religion is that it was never
a static institution. It constantly evolved by the addition
of new gods and new rituals and by the dropping of some old gods
and old rituals. The early Indians gradually absorbed many
Vedic gods or identified their own gods with the Vedic gods; for
instance,the Shiva of the primitive religion was identified with
the Vedic Rudra and was absorbed into Brahminical Hinduism; Murugan
became identical with Subramonya/Kartikeya and Madura Meenakshi
with Parvati, and so on. As a result of this contact with
the Brahmins and their religion, a new pan-Indian religion called
"Hinduism" evolved in India. It was neither purely Aryan/Vedic
nor purely Munda/Dravidian; it was a healthy synthesis of the
early religion and Vedic Hinduism; the brilliant Brahmin theologians
created new mythologies and rituals to fit the needs of this new
religion; they did not destroy the old, pagan, primitive religion,
but rather baptized it, enriched it, and found a place for it
in the new religious universe of Hindu India.
best way to study the primitive religion is to study the religions
of the tribals who still retain the basic beliefs and basic rituals
of the early religion in spite of their exposure to Hinduism.
The few remarks on early religion made above are the result of
my fieldwork among the various tribes in India and particularly
of Kerala; one of my current research projects is the study of
the religion of the Kadar of Kerala.