Religious Beliefs. Village Hinduism is vibrant, as are the imposing, large, and ancient temples in the center of all the old towns. Village beliefs are focused on a large number of deities, with most castes or social groups claiming a special deity. Female deities are more numerous and are worshiped for their power to intervene in healing, fertility, and other life situations. Male deities are protectors and dominate the landscape, especially Murugan, whose image stands on many stone hillocks and especially on Palani Hill, where people make special pilgrimages to him as protector of Tamil Nadu. By the process of Sanskritization over many centuries, most local deities acquired linkage with Sanskritic or Brahmanic deities. Among Brahman castes the distinctions between the sects of Shiva and Vishnu are maintained, but not always in village religion. It is very common that a person needing assistance of the power of the deity to solve some problem in life will make a vow to bend the will of the deity; for example, one may promise that if one's son passes his examination, if a disease is cured, or if an infertile woman gives birth, one will undertake some pilgrimage or make some gift to the deity. Tamil Catholics make similar vows. There is a strong stream of devotionalism ( bhakti ) in Hindu literature and in the practice of modern Hindus, Christians, and Muslims.
Ceremonies. Among the most important religious events in villages are the birthdays of the special deities, which are celebrated with processions in which the deity is taken from the temple and carried around the village and with night entertainment performances. Festival days of the deities of major temples, as of Madurai or Palani, are regional Tamil festivals in which hundreds of thousands of pilgrims throng those places. Pongal is a distinctive Tamil festival, in which kin groups boil rice in front of their special temple and eat it communally. This occurs in January, along with Māt tu Pongal, in which oxen are honored, their horns painted red and green, and garlanded. North Indian festivals such as Holi and Dassara are far less important, though Tamils celebrate Dipāvali (Diwali), the festival of lights. The Tamil New Year is widely celebrated, in mid-April.
Arts. South Indian music, dance, and architecture were enhanced in Tamil Nadu in late medieval centuries by royal patronage, while north India was under the Moguls. There is no question that Bharatanātyam dance, preserved in the Temples, along with south Indian classical instrumental and vocal music, are among the highest classical art forms anywhere; they are far too complex to discuss here. Tamil temples, immediately distinguishable by the soaring towers ( gōpuram ) above the gateways, are imposing living institutions. Large temples have tanks, thousand-pillared halls of stone, passages for circumambulating the deity, and an infinite number of sculpted images and figures, all done according to ancient architectural rule books. In villages today, troupes are commissioned to perform all-night musical narrations of epics such as the Tamil version of the Rāmāyana, itinerant drama troupes are popular, and there may be magician entertainers, transvestite dancers, and fortune-tellers.
Medicine. The medical systems are: Ayurveda, based on Sanskrit texts; Siddha, a south Indian system using strong chemicals and herbs; Unani, the Muslim system; and Mantiravāti, the use of magical phrases (mantras) and herbal medicine that are found in villages everywhere, whose practitioners also prepare amulets many people use to ward off disease. Allopathie (scientific) medicine is available in towns in government hospitals and private clinics. Disease etiology may be analyzed as multiple, with proximate and ultimate causes. There are multiple possible cures including herbs, medicines, mantras, diet, psychological change, and divine intervention. Tamils believe that bodily qualities should be in balance, and they classify foods as "hot" or "cold." Vegetarianism is widely practiced by upper and middle castes on grounds of both religion and health.
Death and Afterlife. The doctrine of rebirth is not actively held by the majority of Tamils, though those who tend to orthodoxy are likely to assert that the doctrine is taught. But according to an old belief or longing, a child who dies has a soul that will be reborn in the same household, and Therefore on death burial may be under or near the home. Many Tamil castes bury their dead, but those influenced by Brahmanic tradition cremate them. At a burial in a middle-rank caste, the corpse is wrapped in a cloth and lowered into the grave, whereupon the male relatives carrying pots of water circumambulate the grave counterclockwise (an inauspicious direction), then break their clay pots in the grave, while the women stand by watching. Death pollution lasts for a number of days that varies by caste; after that the house is cleansed and there is special food. For an important man, a brick Structure may mark the grave, and there is an annual ceremony of offering food on the death anniversary.