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An Empirical Account


Meena Bhargava

POPULAR CULTURE AND RELIGION IN MEDIEVAL INDIA
By Victor Babu
Kaveri Books, New Delhi, 2005, pp. vi 240, Rs. 475.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 9 September 2006

The book, an empirical account of popular culture and religion in medieval Andhradesa attempts theoretical analysis but does not offer much. The Introduction in the book is rather confusing. In barely four pages the author mentions the importance of studying and applying the methodology of Marxism, Annales, Subaltern, Focault, folk songs and folk tales. However, he fails to relate them to his work or explain how the use of these methodologies has enriched his study of popular culture and religion in medieval Andhra. Chapter 1 entitled ‘Popular Culture in Medieval Context’ is quite a dissatisfying attempt to theorize “popular” and “culture”. It would have been more appropriate had the author introduced the reader to the historiography and characteristics of medieval Andhra before embarking on a discussion of its beliefs, customs and traditions.   Discussing the varieties and appropriation of popular culture by the people, the author observes that the social format of medieval Andhradesa was extremely complex. Although Brahmanism was dominant in coastal Andhra, proliferation of castes remained a significant feature of medieval Andhra society. He also describes several religious sects like Veerasaivism which emerged in Karnataka in the twelfth century. Pluralism, Babu argues, characterized the religious life of the people. They worshipped and propitiated gramadevatas or village deities, believing that the gramadevatas were their sole protector against evil spirits and evil effects and guarded their land and property against natural calamities. Amongst these village deities, the most popular ones were Ellamma, the Goddess who blessed barren women with children and also protected children from diseases; Posamma, the Goddess of smallpox and Poturaja, which was represented by a small stone, placed at some distance from the shrine of the village Goddess. It was believed that Poturaja “flogs and whips those who don’t fulfil the vows taken” (p. 31). He was generally worshipped by the Andhra tribals. Apart from these, the people deified the dead, worshipped nature like trees and snakes and also worshipped their kuladevatas or caste deities. Self torture and self immolation prevailed largely among the Saivites (devotees of Lord Shiva) who regarded these as an expression of their faith and sincerity towards their deity. Yet another kind of self immolation was sati sahagamana (burning of the widows on the funeral pyre of their husbands), practised by all women except pregnant women or mothers of young children as “religious merit… to the departed soul” (p. 35). Worship of sufi saints in medieval ...


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