The Animistic Cults and Blood Sacrifices of the Peasants

Jul 10

Scholars often gave the impression that the populace at large, subsumed in its lay leaders, worships either Siva or Vishnu. At other times however, they asserted otherwise. The gods of the ordinary peasant’s religion were exclusively tutelary in nature; that is, they were conceived of not as saviours taking their worshippers to a desired goal, but simply as protectors from harm, the major causes of which were demons of various sorts. The great majority of the inhabitants ofIndiaare from the cradle to the burning ground, victims of a form of disease which is best expressed by the term demonophobia. Some of these gods have been described, noting that they are included in the Hindu fold as sons of Siva and leaders of troops of demons.

The major deities the peasant worshipped, however, were not male but female: Every village has its own special guardian mother, called Mata or Amba. Peasants thus did not worship a single impersonal absolute or one of two male personal gods of salvation; they worshipped a host of lesser deities, mostly female, which were more demonic than divine.

The making of votive offerings of flowers, lamps, fruits and milk products to an idol, though far from desirable could at least be seen as an extreme or displaced version of the human impulse to Christianity. Post-enlightened Christians’ treatment of the peasants’ form of worship was different. They looked on the village cult as the opposite of the theistic cult of Siva or especially of Vishnu. It took the form of the worship of a rude fetish that is of a symbol actually equated by these ignorant folk with the spirit in question, with bloody sacrifices of animals, the largest of which was the buffalo. Furthermore, the priests who performed these rites were not as with the Vedic rites and the temple rites of Vishnu and Siva, symbolizing Brahmans, but men of the lower castes. Such rites were not grounded in the passions. They were not motivated by an inherent love, however misdirected. Rather they were propitiatory aimed at removing the obstacles to the growth of children and crops, the domain of that lowest part of the feminine Indian soul, the vegetative.

There are two forms of worship at issue in this depiction of a popular Hinduism. One the devotional worship of idols was seen as a reaction, coincident with the rise of the personal gods, Siva and Vishnu, to the excessive ritualism and radical idealism of Brahmanism and the equally extreme nihilism of Buddhism. The form of worship that emerged was itself excessive. It was the worship of a mind that required the flamboyant and erotic symbols of fantasy to focus its passionate essence on an impersonal absolute, a need that the Brahmans were well suited to supply. The other form of worship that this discourse constitutes, the violent sacrifice of animals to rough-hewn fetishes by demon-fearing villagers, was not a development at all since it was held to pre-exist the arrival of the Aryans in India.

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