One of the mysteries that has not been explained by historians is that why did the Hindus in the North started to pray within the confines of their homes in the medieval ages and what happened to all the large temples of Hindus and where did they go? While there is considerable knowledge that in pre medieval times Hindus did their prayers by going to temples, celebrated all their festivals as a group and their ways of praying was collective, why did it give way to praying within the confines of their home and why it stayed like that for centuries. According to many scholars it perhaps happened due to the restrictions placed upon religious freedom and praying in the Mughal times and later reinforced by the British. It was a culture of fear that took deep roots in the Hindu psyche, an issue that was not talked about or discussed.
According to Shawn Landres, geography, trauma and religion are intricately linked with each other and have a relationship that can be only understood fully once we understand how different forms of prayers spring up in society. Often these three combine to give rise to unique ways of praying that characterize each religion and the society it came from. In the present article, it is from this viewpoint that I bring in the concept of ‘Kul Devi’ and ‘Kul Devta’ and the strong association of the two in the Hindu mind.
The attachment of the Hindu to his religion, otherwise called ‘Sanatan Dharma’ has been seen to be deeply ingrained and not changed by the assaults on it for over one thousand years. Faced with a choice either to convert or die, the Hindu like no other follower of any other religion had to fall back upon his inner strength and develop coping mechanisms that would keep his faith intact. He had to work hard to maintain this attachment in the confines of his home developing ideas and notions that helped him to build an island of peace, a secure base and protection that would be part of his daily existence. Hindus prayed to many deities from Durga, Mahadev, Kali, Ram and Krishna all representing the manifestations of cosmic forces that represent the cosmos. He also needed someone who looked after his land, his geography, his home, his women and children who were threatened by a culture that was oppressive and humiliating.
As has been noted by many psychologists, for the Hindu the cosmic is deeply personal and percolates down to the minutest details of his life, to his home, to the geography he occupies and the space he lives in. This is a concept like no other religion where the God is an impersonal god who is threatening and punishing at every step, who watches over your actions like an angry father ready to punish you for the slightest misdemeanor. This is where the concept of Kul Devi or Kul Devta came in though it existed long before threats to his religious identity took place. It really took deep inroads after the Hindu psyche felt threatened and began to struggle for retaining its identity. It was the Kul Devi or Kul Devta, a deity who protected him, looked after his home, his land, his family members and his possessions. In the medieval ages, when the focus turned to his religious survival, it was the faith in the Kul Devi or Kul Devta that kept him going and alive in his darkest hour and in the midst of despair.
I had once asked an old Kashmiri Pandit about the Kul Devi in their family and what was her role in sustaining them. In a voice choking with emotions, who was otherwise a man who rarely expressed emotions, before answering my question, he had silently bowed to her as if praying and then replied that the Devi’s name was ‘Tripore Sundari’. He had told me how the Devi had given their family strength to fight almost every calamity they had faced in the last one hundred years in Kashmir. It was the Devi they all prayed to when the ‘Kabalis’ came in 1947 to protect their home and women from the invaders. “Every time the family was humiliated and attacked in the name of being Hindu, her name was invoked for protection and it was she who was asked to protect the family. When we were forced to leave in 1990 to the plains of India, we prayed to her and believed that she will protect our ancestral home. We hid the jewels under the tree knowing Devi is protecting them. We all know she is looking after that space and will not let it be desecrated. She will keep a watchful eye on all of us till we come back.”
“So, the Kul Devi is with you right now looking after everyone.”
“Yes, her blessings over our family remains intact where ever we may go or travel to whichever part of the world,” he had replied.
It is a similar story that almost every Hindu can recount about how the Kul Devi or Kul Devta is protecting the family and casting a benevolent blessings on the family. It is a faith that is rooted in a consciousness that the universal reality of the deity though is a concrete one but can be individualized and invoked through the Kul Devi or Kul Devta.
So, is the purpose of Kul Devi or Kul Devta only a protective one? Its primary function may be protective but there is a deeper significance and that is both nurturing and enhancing personal growth for each member of the family. It is to see god in a deeply personal capacity by creating a personal relationship and space that percolates the geography, from the air one breathes, the space one lives in to the safety of the family. It remains a trans generational entity for every family who passes it on to the next generation and who never leaves the family.
This is a unique feature of Hinduism and perhaps belongs to no other religion. It can be said to have given a strength to generations of Hindu families over centuries to keep their identity, culture and heritage and will exist as an integral part of Sanatan Dharma.
As I write this, I think of all the tribulations and struggles our families had to go through in recent past. I think of the times we have invoked and prayed to her to not only give us strength and let us be out of our trouble but also stay together in the midst of despair. The story of Kul Devi or Kul Devta is integrally linked to the very story of Sanatan Dharma and will always remain so. With the digital age and modernity, the concept of Kul Devi or Kul Devta needs to be taught to our children so that they understand the price we have had to pay for upholding our Dharma. I pray that everyone who reads this passes the message onto their children to carry on this message for the future.
Psychologist, Speaker and Author of ‘The Infidel next Door’