Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Religious Practices of the Narikoravas

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Religious Practices of the Narikoravas

Article excerpt

The author conducted a four-week-long field research project in the summer of 2001 among the Narikoravas, a formerly seminomadic people, located in one of the civil districts of Tamil Nadu in India. Although regarded as Hindu, their religion consists of unique elements of its own. Based on his own field work, he provides an account of their religious practices.

Key Words: Narikoravas: Hunter gatherers; Semi-nomads; Puja; Sami Moottai; Erumakada Puja; Vellattukada Puja; Tamil Nadu; India.


History bears abundant evidence that human beings have traveled through different socio-cultural levels such as nomadic, semi-nomadic and settled life-pattern. These different sociocultural subsistence levels have had varying impacts on human beings/societies depending on peoples' ability to adjust or adapt themselves to the changed situations. In the process, the different levels have also brought out certain changes in sociocultural behavior, and even in religious practices. The focus of this paper is the religious experience of the Narikoravas in India, who formerly lived outside the limits of the dominant Hindu agrarian community. The Narikoravas were forced out of their forest habitat by the steady expansion of the Tamil farmers around them, who cleared the forests to win more land for cultivation.

The Narikoravas of Tamil Nadu, one of the southern states of India abandoned their nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle after they were given permanent settlements by the government of Tamil Nadu. There are nearly one hundred and fifty such settlements in different parts of Tamil Nadu. Most of these are located some distance from Tamil towns or large villages. Although the majority of the men continue to be hunters, women sell beads, hairpins and other such articles at bus-stands. Indeed, they are now adjusting to the transition from their former nomadic lifestyle to their life in settlements, but they still retain their former religious practices with seemingly little change. This paper highlights certain unique features of their religious rituals.

The People

Communities of Narikoravas are still to be found in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, three southern states of India, although they are known by different names in different regions. Some of their best known names are Kurivikaran, Pittalollu (bird catchers)1, Guvvalollu (dove catchers), Pusalollu (bead sellers), Usi Korava (needle sellers), Shikan (hunters), Hakkipikki, and Nakkala. The words Nakkala and Narikorava are derived from Telugu and Tamil, two south-Indian languages that belong to the Dravidian family of languages. The words nakka and nan mean fox and jackal, respectively. These two popular names seemed to have come from their profession, namely, hunting fox and jackal. In fact, Narikoravas are traditionally nomadic hunters, bird catchers, and in more recent times, beggars.

Narikoravars refer to themselves as Vaghriwala or Vaghri in their spoken language2. Vaghri, their language, is a mixture of Gujarati and Marathi, languages that are spoken in the western region of India3 and belong to the Indo-Aryan language family. However, Telugu or Tamil are also spoken as a response to the requirements of their present habitat. The nature of the Vaghri language and their oral tradition seems to suggest that they might have migrated from central and northwestern India, and they have a close genetic affiliation with certain other tribes of that area.

The nomadic or semi-nomadic life pattern is very different from a settled life. Security and certainty are the hallmarks of the latter. These have resulted in a growing emotional attachment to the land on which they are now settled, the nature of their local ties, the assurance of food supplies and the manner, mode and timing of the celebrations of rituals and feasts at the individual and community levels. Obviously, the way of life, culture and social life of nomads are different from those in settled lives. …

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