Popular Culture and Religion in Medieval India

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Item Code: IDJ513
Author: Victor Babu
Publisher: Kaveri Books
Language: English
Edition: 2005
ISBN: 9788174790514
Pages: 240
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 450 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

Ritual and customs may express some human need or aspect of life. Medieval Andhra people observed a lot of rituals in their lives. A variety of beliefs underlie these rituals and practices. Some deities were thought to be both benevolent and malevolent. The latter were believed to be responsible for certain epidemics and the cause of many disastrous things such as sickness, crop-failure, rain-failure, etc. Therefore, the medieval Andhra people tried to manipulate these supernatural forces, through various rituals, customs and propitiation rites: Jatara, human sacrifices, kanumari, and kavu ritual, notitalalu, sigamugadam and sidi vrelatam. One of the remarkable features of these rituals is that they were very popular among the lower and depressed castes and they took a leading part in these rituals. Because they not only increased their worldly options they also made sense theologically.

Later when Sufism entered the land, a lot of Dargahs and Khanqas became important centers of worship and pilgrimage, irrespective of caste, creed and race. Because Sufi saints were believed to possess supernatural powers: granting children, curing diseases of men and cattle and to overcome vicissitudes of every sort. Most people visited these dargahs for the solution of their problems without any religious boundaries. Even medieval states appropriated these popular religious practices for their legitimate existence.

This book will make a useful companion for the historians of medieval and modern Andhra, Anthropologists, Sociologists and to the general readers as well.

About the Author

Vector Babu is a graduate of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and University of Hyderabad. He is a Reader, Dept. of History & Archaeology, Nagaland University, Kohima, Nagaland. His publications include: A Companion to Ancient and Medieval Indian History, Reports of Missionaries as sources for the reconstruction of Naga history, beliefs and practices, A perspective change among Nagas, Reorganization of Dobashis in Naga Hills.


'History from below' as a concept in the recent historiography has made several advances in understanding past societies. The aim of reconstructing 'History from below' has been to bring the marginal, subordinate groups onto the stage, analyse their influence. Such an approach is based on the conviction that the groups in question were important by virtue of having influenced historical processes in some significant way not be complete without a portrayal of the contributions made by subordinate populations through their work, their suffering, or their distinctive forms of expression. We cannot properly discuss warfare or plague without making clear their impact on the victims, even if the latter were unable to change the conditions under which they were living. Therefore, the study of popular culture is intended to extend and deepen our understanding of people who constituted the subordinate and subjected.

The study of popular culture is also more fruitful when we study the interaction between 'elite' and 'popular' than distinguishing between these two. Connections are established between the popular culture and larger processes. In order to learn about political action, social organization, the operation of gender or the transformation of religion, the evidence of varieties of sociability, forms of violence, complexes of beliefs, types of resistance, systems of rituals and hidden forms of power has to be sought out. A distinction has to be made between 'popular culture' (the forms of thinking and acting of politically or economically subordinate groups) and 'mass culture' (culture disseminated by modern forms of mass media which are not generally controlled by popular groups).

People in Medieval Andhra had their own notion of worldview. They held a variety of beliefs about the world, God and spirit. Some spirits were believed to be responsible for certain epidemics. Some deities were also thought to be both benevolent and malevolent. The wrath of the goddesses was believed to be the cause of many disastrous things, for example, sickens, crop-failure, rain-failure etc. Therefore, the supernatural was manipulated. This took the form of many rituals, customs and traditions, like jatara, human sacrifices, kanumarim, kavu ritual, noti talalu, sigamugadam and sidi vrelatam. For many people who performed these rituals, it was an expression of their deep-seated beliefs about the world in which they lived. These rituals and customs were popular especially among the low and depressed class people, not only because it increased their 'worldly' options and opportunities, but also because it made sense theologically; because it reflected a view of the world which was already inhabited by particular kinds of deities who were believed to control natural forces and who could be pleased or mollified by the 'victims' suffering of self-sacrifice. The rituals in their religious an cultural aspects became a resource-something which, if used effectively to please or manipulate supernatural power, could make a difference between health the sickness, fertility and infertility, rains and drought or life and death. In carrying out this study many owe my debts of gratitude.

I wish to express my profound thanks to my supervisor Dr. R.L. Hangloo for all his help. He is more than a research supervisor to me. I greatly appreciate his kind help in giving his time for my work, particularly for valuable suggestions, corrections and for putting the whole work in right perspective.

I place on record my thanks to the libraries and Institutions where I received help in this work. University of Hyderabad, Osmania University, Archaeological Museum Library, Andhra Pradesh State Archives and State Central Library are duly acknowledged. These institutions help me in a great way to get my research data and material.


I take it as a great privilege to write a foreword to this book which is meticulously prepared, scholarly as well as informative. This work covers the medieval cultural history of Andhradesa.

Supernatural powers have been considered with reverence and fear ever since the inception of human society. Things like epidemics, natural calamities, sickness and death have been viewed with much interest and enthusiasm. Man tried to explain away these things by way of rituals, customs and propitiatory rites. In India, early Aryans invested divinity to the forces which they could neither control nor understand and these natural forces were personified as male and female Gods and Goddesses. In the course of history, Brahmanism, Jainism and Buddhism and later what is referred to as Bhakti emerged. In medieval Andhra Vaishnavism, Saivism, Sri Vaishnavism and Veera Saivism appeared and became popular. However, along with mainstream sects, people, particularly who belonged to lower castes, had their own worldview, beliefs, presuppositions and practices. Later attempts were made to sanskritize these local Gods and Goddesses. Hence these beliefs and practices, pilgrimage and other rituals and propitiatory rites became common both for upper and lower categories of people. Therefore, popular culture was not only widespread particularly among lower order people, but it also enclosed forms of thought and practices like Jatara, Kumumari, sigamugadam and Sidi Vrelatam.

In this book the author has succinctly depicted as to how people of both higher and lower orders thought about these supernatural phenomena and tried to manipulate them accordingly to their benefit. I feel this book will fill the gap which exists in the cultural history of medieval Andhradesa.

I hope that scholars, student of History, Anthropologists and Sociologists will welcome this book. Even general readers will find this book interesting. I wish this book a great success.-Prof. R.L. Hangloo




  Foreword iii
  Preface v
  Abbreviations viii
  Introduction 1
1. Popular Culture in Medieval Context 7
2. Varieties of Popular Culture and their Appropriation 20
3. Popular Religion in Perception 50
4. Popular Religion in Practice 87
5. Performing Popular Culture 126
6. Power Relations within the state Structure 168
  Conclusion 205
  Bibliography 208
  Index 235

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