Book Excerpt: ‘Daiva’ by K. Hari Kumar

Book Title: Daiva: Discovering the Extraordinary World of Spirit Worship
Author: K. Hari Kumar
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Number of Pages: 272
ISBN: 978-9354899744
Date Published: May 13, 2024
Price: INR 327

Daiva by K. Hari Kumar Book Cover

Book Excerpt


The Devi Bhagavata Purana describes the mother goddess as the singular cause of the entire universe, encompassing all that is seen and unseen. She is the embodiment of Maya, assuming myriad forms, and is the ultimate source of all creation. Even the most revered gods pale in comparison to one-hundred thousandth of her divine magnitude. Many feminine spirit deities are believed to have sprung forth from Shakti, the primal Mother Goddess.

In the regional folklore and mythology of Tulu Nadu, the mother goddess holds significant importance. Indeed, as we journey towards Northern Kerala, a kinship emerges between Malayalee folklore and the legends of Tulu Nadu.They offer a profound window into the enduring faith and rich cultural heritage of the region, highlighting the deep connection between Tulu and Malayalee folk beliefs. One of the most powerful deities of this class is Sathyadevathe.

Sathyadevathe, also known as Posappe, Posabhuta, or Hosabhuta, is an androgynous deity, where the prefix ‘hosa’ or ‘posa’ signifies newness. Their upper body is male, while the lower body is female. During the kola dance, the artist is bare-chested above the waist but drapes a saree below the waist to symbolize the deity. Sathyadevathe represents the all-encompassing Mother Goddess and is worshipped within the confines of the household. Her weapon is a beththa (wand), and she wears a crown resembling the radiant rays of the sun. Mallige(jasmine) flowers are offered to Sathyadevathe, believed to be her favourite.

While the precise origin story remains elusive, legend has it that four men embarked on a quest to build a boat. One morning, after their respective routines, they convened to deliberate on the source of wood. With each advocating for a different direction, their discussions persisted until they unanimously agreed upon a single course: southward.

Sathyadevathe in Idol form
Sathyadevathe in Idol form

After consuming the previous night’s rice for breakfast, they packed provisions for their journey and set off southward with their tools in tow. Upon reaching a forest abundant with trees, they discovered a magnificent specimen suitable for their boat. Its roots delved deep into the netherworld while its branches reached skyward, boasting impressive strength. However, their attempts to fell the tree were futile as their axes failed to even scratch its bark. Faced with this predicament, the men turned to prayer, making a parakke (solemn vow in English/mannat inHindi/nercha in Malayalam) to offer portions of the tree to sacred temples if it would fall. Miraculously, the tree toppled of its own accord. Recognizing the power of the spirit, the men invited it to accompany them home, pledging to venerate it and fashion a cot from the same wood. As it was a new unknown spirit, she was called Posabhuta.

In an alternate version, the deity was already present in their home, and they beseeched her to bring down the tree. Posabhuta has been interpreted in various ways, with some viewing her as a manifestation of Bhadrakaali, while a few draw parallels with Kallurti due to similarities in the makeup worn by kola dancers. As Sathyadevathe, she is depicted as a benevolent deity in her idol form, yet transforms into a fierce figure during the kola ritual. During the performance, the dancer executes vigorous somersaults and rolls on the ground, embodying the deity’s ferocity. During the kola ceremony, a tender coconut is typically selected, upon which the face of a woman is artfully drawn. This adorned coconut represents Sathyadevathe’s sister and is reverentially placed in the kodiyadi, adding a symbolic dimension to the ritualistic proceedings.

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Interestingly, while this aspect of daiva worship may seem distinct, the concept of ‘Satyadevta’ also appears in Tibetan Buddhism, where it refers to a group of guardian deities fulfilling various roles. Some like Manjusri Bodhisattva and Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva exhibit serene countenances while others, like Vajrabhairava and Haigreeva, appear fierce and formidable.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to acknowledge the profound influence of Sathyadevathe throughout my journey. As a descendant of migrant Tuluvas, separated from our ancestral land by five generations, the worship of the daiva remained an elusive enigma to me. However, my journey took a transformative when I arrived at my spouse’s ancestral home in Karkala for the first time. In that house, aged perhaps a century or more, a dimly lit pooja room beckoned, where the ceiling was so low that my head easily touched it. After offering my respects to the gods, I prepared to exit when I was gently instructed by the elders to pause and turn around. There, I was introduced to Varte and Sathyadevathe, revered figures enshrined on a swinging cot within their sacred chamber. It marked my initiation into the ancient customs of my forefathers—a pivotal step into a realm beyond the mundane.

Excerpted with permission from Daiva: Discovering the Extraordinary World of Spirit Worship, written by K. Hari Kumar, and HarperCollins India.

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