Kota - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Kotas consider themselves Hindus and no Kotas have gone on record as converting to any other Religion, although one or two marriages have reportedly occurred between Kotas and Christians. The major Kota deities are A-yno-r (father god) and Amno-r (mother goddess). A-yno-r, also called Kamati-cvara or Kamatra-ya in some villages, is identified with the Hindu god Shiva. Some villages have a "big" and "small" A-yno-r (Doda-yno-r and Kuna-yno-r), but there is only one version of the goddess. Kana-tra-ya is a deity in the form of a stone and is found only in Ticga-r. Generally, Kota deities have no anthropomorphic representation, although once a year faces of silver ornaments are pasted onto the front of the A-yno-r and Amno-r temples. Today temples for the Hindu deities Krishna, Rangarama, Munisvara, Badrakaliamman, and Mariamman have also been erected by the Kotas, each in response to a particular need or supernatural event in the village.

Religious Practitioners. For ceremonies relating to their indigenous deities the Kotas have two types of priest. The mundika-no-n, the primary priest, leads the Kotas in all important community activities. The other priest, the te-rka-ran, acts as a vehicle through which god ( so-ym ) communicates with the people. The te-rka-ran effects such communication by becoming possessed and responding to questions, which are usually posed by male elders. Possession occurs in established spatiotemporal contexts for which instrumental musicians ( kolvar ) play particular tunes ( kol ) and rhythms ( da-k ). The deity "chooses" the te-rka-ran initially through causing him to be possessed and speaking through him. Then the mundika-no-n is named by the deity via the te-rka-ran. Although there is a special te-rka-ran family (kuyt) in some Villages, the te-rka-ran may also belong to a different family. The mundika-no-n can only come from the mundika-no-n family.

A village should have a te-rka-ran and mundika-no-n for each of their two or three indigenous Kota temples. For one reason or another several villages have been unable to replace all their priests in recent years. A peculiar feature of Kota Priesthood is the participation of the wives of the priests. In fact these women are so important that a priest can no longer hold office if his wife dies. In major ceremonies not only the priests' wives, but also the gotga-rn's wife and those of the other ceremonial helpers ( ca-tranga-rn ) play instrumental roles. Whereas most practitioners are adults, young boys are essential in several ceremonies. For example, in death Ceremonies a young boy called tic vec mog acts as head priest and, among other things, lights the funeral pyre. The Kota priests for widely recognized Hindu deities are not related to the te-rka-ran or mundika-no-n and have no ritual interaction with them. However, sometimes the wives of these priests, like those of their counterparts, play an integral role in the Rituals performed by their husbands.

Ceremonies. The major yearly festivals are the Kamatra-ya festival, which takes place in December or January and is three to thirteen days long depending on the village; and the annual varalda-v or "dry" funeral, which usually takes places before Kamatra-ya (recently this ceremony has been discontinued in some villages). Other festivals include Pabm, Ye-r ca-tram, Vei aytd ca-tram (agricultural festivals), and the milk ceremony (Pa-1 ca-tram). This latter festival, seen as one of the most solemn, is not celebrated with music or dance. Ceremonies are enacted along Hindu lines for recently introduced Hindu deities, although the actual ca-trams or rituals are often revealed to the concerned priest during trance. There are yearly festivals for each Hindu god worshiped by the Kotas but not for each indigenous Kota deity individually—except for Kana-tra-ya in Ticga-r. His festival is associated with the bringing of rain. While Kotas from outside villages may sometimes attend, there is no occasion that requires the attendance of all Kotas and no festival that is celebrated exactly the same way in two villages.

Medicine. The Kotas have indigenous remedies for such ailments as broken bones, diarrhea, boils, and weariness. Many of the plants used in Kota medicine are becoming difficult to find because the Nilgiri ecology has been altered drastically in the last half-century. Kotas, like many educated Indians, have access to and place their trust in allopathic medicine, partly because it is associated with the West, Science, and upward mobility. At this time no system of "faith" healing seems to be in existence, but stories are still told of various afflictions that were in fact signs that the deity wanted to speak through the patient, wished a temple to be built, or had some other request. Kotas do not consider themselves adept at magic but have traditionally feared the Kurumbas and Irulas for their sorcery. They still believe themselves to be the "guinea pigs" on which the Kurumba sorcerers test their spells.

Death and Afterlife. The ordinary or "green" ( pac ) Funeral is a rather simple ceremony led by a small boy known as the "fire-keeping boy" (tic vec mog), who is from the deceased's family. Kotas are cremated in a special place called the dav nar (death region), and a portion of the forehead bone is saved if the village of the deceased performs the annual "dry" funeral, or varalda-v. Each step of both the "green" funeral and the "dry" funeral is highly articulated by means of special musical tunes played on the double-reed instrument, kol, and rhythms on the barrel drums, do-par and kinvar, and the frame drum, tabatk. The tunes themselves are called du-kd kol (sad tunes), ke-r kol (badness tunes), or da-v kol (funeral or death tunes). These tunes should not be played except at funerals. The "dry" funeral is an event of up to ten days, which is seen to remove karmandram, inauspiciousness or evil caused by death. Only after performing this festival can the yearly cycle of festivals begin. Due to the expense involved, and, possibly, an unwillingness to emphasize death-related rituals in front of Hindu neighbors, villages are Beginning to discontinue the ceremony or to celebrate it only in extreme cases, such as after a priest has died. Before going to the dav nar or varalda-v nar (death region), the ceremonies are carried out in the ke-r in which the deceased lived.

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