Vellala - Religion

Religious Beliefs. A small minority of Vellala are Christians, via individual conversion rather than mass conversion of an entire subcaste. The majority are Hindu, and the operative principles of Hinduism pervade all spheres of life and activity. Although there is a division between Shaivites (followers of Shiva) and Vaishnavites (followers of Vishnu) there is no bar on intermarriage. While squarely within the orthodox Hindu tradition, the Vellala look to Tamil/indigenous forms in devotion, metaphysics, and philosophy. Thus Shaiva Siddhanta, a respected religious and philosophic system with Vellala as main figures, ultimately stresses Brahmanic values. However, the sources and metaphors are drawn from a Tamil cultural base. At one point in its history, Shaiva Siddhanta was used as a political weapon against Brahman domination. The Vellala owe allegiance to different mathams (apex religious organizations) that are wealthy, landed, and influential. The Vellala also maintain traditional links to the classical (Sanskritic) temples as trustees, donors, and receivers of Temple honors.

Ceremonies. The Vellala cycle of worship and festivals includes forms of worship of deities and other folk goddesses/non-Sanskritic deities associated with lower castes. Vellalas' involvement is structured in such a way that their ritual status is not compromised, while the demands of powerful Indigenous traditions are satisfied. Either a Brahman priest or a Vellala priest called a gurukkal can officiate. Life-cycle Ceremonies are generally as prescribed for upper castes. The rules of purity and pollution for birth, menstruation, and death are elaborate. The grammar of these rules indicates the rank of Vellala as being immediately below that of Brahmans. The mantra (incantations in Sanskrit) component is relatively abbreviated, but the public display of status during Ceremonies—especially puberty, wedding, and funeral rituals—is very important and includes large-scale feeding of relatives, service and labor castes, and the poor.

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