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Kerala PSC Indian History Book Study Materials Page 1109Book's First Page
Spirits of nature caused disease, drought, flood, and fertility for animals, crops and humans. Visible and invisible powers mingled whimsically. Priests, rulers, mystics and saints evoked divinity and gods lived in society. Medieval domains were institutional environments for organising deploying and controlling powers that circulated among people and gods. Incorporation of Local Deites and Cults As in the case of politics, in religion also, it is useful to take a bottom-up, locality-first approach to early medieval history, and trends in Tamil Nadu provide a useful example. In ancient times, before the Christian era, Tamil verse portrayed localities full of spirits, one called Seyon, who was red like the red earth of hills where he lived. Feared and propitiated, Seyon became the subject of stories that highlighted his power. Personified in ancient Tamil verse, he became a living being with a personality, a human divine. He later acquired various names, one being Murugan; and sometime in the middle of the first millennium, Murugan became a son of Shiva, identified with Skanda. Thus, an ancient local spirit was gradually incorporated into the textual tradition of the Puranas. The Skanda Purana was recreated in the Tamil language by translation from Sanskrit. Other Sanskrit texts were similarly adapted to new settings, most famously, the Ramayana, whose Tamil version by Kamban endows Sita’s captor, Ravana, with a rather more heroic character than the Sanskrit version. Hundreds of local spirits and gods were incorporated into a pantheon in which Shiva and Vishnu reigned like two great rajas, complete with their own sprawling clans. Role and Influence of Priests A diverse Hindu cultural complex expanded across medieval domains, endowing many local traditions with common features, but also being defined distinctly in each place as local people continued to adopt local traditions. Learned brahmins received gifts of support from rulers and local elites to manage temples and to conduct ceremonies that incorporated local deities, sentiments and practices. At the same time, brahmins rationalised and ritualised the local status hierarchy; they defined local identities in the ritual vocabulary of varna and jati. They utilised high-culture elements from ancient Sanskrit texts, to compose locally grounded Hindu ritual systems that multiplied disparately in bits and pieces, in a motley pattern of AD hoc adjustments.