Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deities

 (N.R. Jayaraman) 

In divine worship in India an interesting part of the worship of family deities. It is called  Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity worship in general. I have been researching on this issue for long period of time and gathered information which were only folk lores or word of mouth stories or discussion based  besides generation long belief. Earlier I wrote few articles on it in my *Pen name ‘Santhipriya’.

Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity, refers to the foremost  specific male or female God or Goddess  worshipped  in each one of the families of earlier generation.   The worship of the said specific deity was carried forward by the male members of the said family through generations while the female members, after their marriage, had to worship 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.

The ancestors of one form a lineage called Gothra and their worship of a particular deity brings prosperity to them as the deity showers all his blessing upon the family for generations after generations and makes them prosperous and happy in life. Gothra emanates from the seven Maharishis, believed to have been created first in the universe, each belonging to one Gothra. It is said that the entire humans belong to one of the seven Gothras in the lineage of the Maharishis. Some sects in Hinduism believe that more than seven that is up to ten Gothras prevail.

Over long period of time, I attempted to understand the concept of Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deities, locally called Kulatheivam or Kuladevatha, and talked to several priests and common men spread across the urban and rural areas where the practice and worship of tutelary and family deities was found to be very high as only freak references area available in puranic texts on Kula Devatha Worship. Myths and Legends of God and Goddesses are found in Greek, Roman and Vietnam and some of the Asian counties. I was delighted when I read that worship in the name of ‘Household deities’ are also prevalent in some African countries, Vietnam etc.  

The Hindu theistic believe in various paths of worship of multiple divine forms for spiritual enlightenment, to safeguard families and for progress in life. The worship of Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity concept falls as one in the said path. Every family/sect/lineage/generation had their own chosen deity of either male of female divine forms. Since generations, the ancestors of a family worshipped a specific deity as their Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity, there was always a bond between the family and the specific deity and hence it was custom for the family members to always offer salutations to the Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity immediately after invoking Lord Ganesha in any of the pooja, function or rituals performed in their homes.  Most of the Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity temples are found established in the family’s ancestral village/towns because three or four hundred years ago most of them lived in villages as a group with relatives of same families. When everyone gained knowledge and began venerating the deities, a majority of them who lived in the villages along with their family members and relatives engaged either in the agricultural activities or in the profession as priests or pundits attending to the rituals and functions performed by the folks. Their belief was that any function including ceremonies performed will be incomplete unless the Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity is invoked or worshipped first.  

Those were the days when elders in the family used to be the head of a family, and everyone respected their command and obeyed their orders. Thus the deity, identified and worshipped by the elders became common deity turned into their family deity. The successive lineages continued to worship the same deity as their family deity.  

In the Vedic period the father was head of each family and none reversed his dictum nor felt ashamed of toeing their father’s line.  It was priority to maintain the togetherness of the families, and those family members who disrespected or revolted against the unity of the family were either discarded or condemned by other family members. In the past, most of the families remained together under one family head (joint family concept). The families consisted of grandpa, son and grandson, all lived under the same roof. What the practice prevailed then was that after the demise of father, the first son in that family automatically gained the status of family head. In this manner when the great, great grandfather to the youngest grandson in their lineage kept on worshiping a specific deity in a specific temple in their village, it became their Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity.   

Almost everyone in the family lived under the same roof, or if the members were more and could not be accommodated in a small house, some of the family members along with their kids lived in nearby neighborhood so that on occasions of important events all of them would join together and celebrate the function as one unified family.  On those important days all of them together went to the temple and worshiped their Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity. The practice was continued by the succeeding lineage members. This is how the concept of worshiping the Tutelary/Family deity or Kula Devatha of the first generation kept   flowing down amongst the members of their lineages.

Almost every caste, religion and sects have their own Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deities. Sometimes the same deity of one sect or religion turns out to be  Kula Devatha of other sects. 

In the above background, it is safe to assume that the ‘Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity’ concept emerged from the worship of deities in the villages whose numerous idols and statues are found erected in the villages and venerated as part of the folk tradition. One cannot find even one village without a statue of some kind of deities addressed in many names.

The question before me was:

· 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 Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity?  

· How could there be so many Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity ?

· 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?

With several inputs in hand I intent to post a detailed article soon on ‘Kula Devatha or Tutelary/Family deity worship in India’ under my Pen name ‘Santhipriya’ covering all aspects in detail.

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N.R. Jayaraman

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