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Why Kula Devata/Ancestor-Worship Has Been A Global Norm Rather Than Exception

The movie Kantara has rekindled an ancient fire that smoulders in people's hearts and reaches out to the soul. It has brought to the masses the emotional heritage of the link between the Kula devata of the people and their life of flesh and blood.

Of late, there are many pseudo-intellectual debates about Sanatana Dharma, the word 'Hinduism', the heritage of Tamils being alien to Sanatana Dharma, etc., that are promoted by some 'Breaking India' forces in India.

This is how Sanatana Saint Thiruvalluvar explains the life of a Hindu household.

The chief duty of the householder is to cherish the manes, the Gods, guests, relations and himself. Duty to the ancestors is enshrined in Sanatana Dharma in such a way that the hierarchy of responsibilities starts with the ancestor worship at the top and then only does worship of the Gods follows.

The Kula Devata is considered as the immanent representation of the manes in every ritual. Most of the family rituals start with the Kula Devata and propitiation of the manes.

We can dare say, this is the Hindu worship that Thiruvalluvar extols. This one couplet says clearly that Thiruvalluvar is not Jain, Buddhist or Christian.

As we all aware of, the ancestor worship is not found in either Jain, Buddhist or Christian traditions and theology.

Two Mahabharata verses say the following.

Be it Devas, Asuras, Humans, Gandharvas, Uragas, Rakshasas, Devils or Kinnaras, one should always perform Pitru worship.(4)

Mahabharata, Anusasana Parvam 87:4-5 People are seen worshiping the Pitrus first and then praising the gods to fulfill them. Therefore, one should always perform Pitru worship with great care.[1].(5)

- Mahabharata, Anusasana Parvam 87:4-5 And in Upanishads,

Never swerve from your duties towards Gods and towards the departed souls (Manes). May the mother be, to you, a God. May the father be to you a God. May the Guru be to you a God. May the guest be to you a God. Let only the actions that are free from blemishes be done – and not others. you must follow only those virtuous actions which are irreproachable – and not others.

Taittiriya Upanishad – Siksha Valli – 1-11-2 Ancestor worship and Kula Devata worship are closely related and intertwined. Worshiping the Kula Devata is akin to worshiping the ancestors.

Every Hindu from any corner of the world knows his/her Kula Devata and it may look that this practice is unique to Hindus. But, all the pagan cultures from time immemorial have celebrated their ancestors and their Kula Devata.

We find the proof of this assertion in numerous documented pagan traditions.

We see this tradition continuing even after Buddhism or Islam became a common identity of many ethnicities.

Muslims in Indonesia worship their ancestors. Buddhists in Cambodia celebrate a particular day as ancestor worship day.

Although Buddhism does not in-principle recognise ancestor worship, in Buddhist-majority Cambodia, ancestors are worshiped on Pchum Ben at the same as Indians celebrate Mahalaya Paksha Amavasya as a day of ancestor remembrance.

In Mexico, 1 November is the Day of Remembrance of the Dead. It is a festival they continue to celebrate even after conversion to Christianity.

Ancestors Day was celebrated in ancient Rome during the month of February. On that day they prepared the favourite food of their ancestors and prayed to them.

In Scandinavian countries, such as Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, their 'Kul Devata worship' is called Álfablót and is done at the end of autumn after harvesting.

At this celebration, Odin, who can be regarded as the Kula Devata of Scandinavian people, Elven, and ancestors are worshiped. No one is allowed to this celebration other than the family members. This is very similar to the Kula Devata worship among Hindus.

Slavs worshipped their 'Kula Devata', Dazhbog, along with their ancestors. Just like Hindus, Slavs knew that the ancestors exist on the same spiritual plane as the Slavic deities.

In Europe, 1 November has traditionally been an ancestor worship day.

When Catholicism took over these places, it became Halloween as "All Hallows Eve" or "Hallowe'en". European Catholics celebrate this day as a day to remember their ancestors. It was the Europeans who came to America and made it Halloween, a festival where children dress up and go door to door asking for candy.

In places like Wales, Ancestors' Day, again 1 November, is known as Calan Gaeaf. This continues even today.

The Irish-Scottish people worship their ancestral goddess Cailleach (notably looking like Kali in depiction) as a 'Kula Devata'. But later Christian missionaries have changed the meaning of this word to 'witch'. It is only now that some Irish-Scottish people have started worshiping their ancestral deity in the same place as before.

In Korea, ancestor worship is called Jeraye. This is done every year on the day on the day the person passed away, as Hindus do.

Korea's Catholics, Buddhists, and even non-religious people pay homage to their elders on Charye Day. Protestantism strictly represses this.

The Philippines was once a Hindu country. Even after the forced conversion to Catholicism by the Portuguese, ancestors are still worshiped there.

They had taken the Halloween day to celebrate the ancestors. Like Hindus, Filipinos as well hold that after a certain period of time, the elders are reborn.

The Chinese consider their ancestor worship as their main religion. Even converts continue to practice ancestor worship.

In Thailand, the day of worshiping their ancestors is called Phaun Phii (Spirit Dance).

Many Europeans are now reverting to their ancient Kula Devata worship and to ancestor worship. In many places, temples to ancestral gods are being restored and old forms of worship being revived. This is now known in Europe as 'Modern Paganism'.

Rodnovery among Ukraine, Poland and Russia is an example. It is a popular new paganism called Rodnovery that is spreading across regions in those countries.

The Main pillars of this new movement is worshipping their 'Kula Devata' Rod along with ancestors. Hellenism, the new pagan religion that celebrates Zeus, Apollo along with ancestors is too rising among Greeks.

Almost every region in the world is rediscovering its roots, albeit slowly.


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