Badaga - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Except for perhaps 2,500 Christians (Protestants and Roman Catholics in similar proportions, converts since 1858), all Badagas are Hindus of the Shaivite persuasion. A sizable minority are however of the Lingayat sect, which is almost confined to Karnataka State (formerly Mysore). This is a medieval sect, which adopted Shiva as its only deity and which still worships him through a phallic symbol, the linga. Among Badagas the sect is represented in the entire membership of several clans, namely Adikiri, Kanakka, Kongaru, and the three which make up the Wodeya phratry. The Hindu Badagas, including these Lingayat clans, worship quite a number of gods, all of which are sometimes explained as "aspects" of Shiva. These include Mahalinga and Mariamma (the smallpox goddess), together with many deities unknown outside the Badaga community, among them the ancestral Hiriodea and his consort, Hette.


Religious Practitioners. Most villages have two or three kinds of priest. In addition, the Lingayat clans have gurus to perform their special life-cycle rituals, and various Christian missionaries, priests, and nuns work in the villages too. Men of Woderu clan, one of the three clans of the high-ranking Wodeya phratry, function as village priests for all non-Lingayat villages. The position is hereditary and usually lifelong. All Wodeyas are vegetarian and form an endogamous unit, thus maintaining the high standards of purity expected of priests. The Haruva clan, some of whom claim descent from Brahmans, are a non-Lingayat group who also supply some hereditary priests (even though it is widely felt that the claim to Brahman descent is unsubstantiated). In addition some villages have an accessory priest from a Kurumba tribe who, like the other two sorts of priest, helps in the performance of a few annual ceremonies. Haruva priests usually perform regular temple worship and also the life-cycle Ceremonies for individual families. All priests are traditionally paid through a levy of grain or other produce from each house in the village they serve. There is no hierarchy of the priesthood, except that the Lingayat gurus, spiritual advisers who perform life-cycle rituals, do belong at the lowest level in a nationwide Lingayat hierarchy. Because menstruation is considered an impurity, women never serve as priests. Some however become possessed during ceremonies and speak for the gods. A few men exorcise ghosts, although this service is often performed for the afflicted by non-Badaga exorcists and charm makers ( mantravadis ).


Ceremonies. Each village celebrates about a dozen festivals during the year. The most important are Dodda Habba, "Great Festival," which begins the agricultural year in November, and Deva Habba, "God Festival," which celebrates the harvest in July. Mari Habba is intended to keep smallpox away for the year and is celebrated in a few villages by a fire-walking ceremony in which the devotees walk unscathed across glowing charcoal with no protection for their feet. Life transitions are marked by ceremonies, including those mentioned above associated with child rearing, weddings, and Funerals. On rare occasions each Badaga commune used to hold a huge memorial ceremony ( manevale ) in honor of a whole generation of the dead, once the last member of it had passed away. This ceremony was last performed in 1936.

Arts. While the verbal arts are highly developed in the forms of sung epic poetry, tales, proverbs, and riddles, no visual arts are practiced at all. Even embroidery for Badaga shawls is done by women of the Toda tribe.


Medicine. Over the centuries the Badagas have developed their own folk medicine: its practice is largely in the hands of women, and it depends heavily on mixtures of local herbs. Spells are relatively unimportant in curing, though crucial in ghost exorcism.


Death and Afterlife. The funeral is the most important of life-cycle ceremonies and the only one to be conducted by the village and its headman rather than by one's own family. Its ritual can last for a total of 11 days, culminating in the release of the soul from the village environment.

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