Arts and Cultures - Sacrifice in Ancient South India

Arts and Cultures

Dr Archana Verma

In the ancient South Indian literature, sacrifice was used largely in the form of killing an animal and offering its blood and meat to the deity, often along with toddy, Cey/Murugan and the goddess Koṟṟavi being the most prominent recipients of the sacrifice of this nature. We have references from the Sangam poetry, which talk about oblations being offered to the sea-god Varuṇan on a full-moon night by the fishermen community, as homage to the god’s grace in providing livelihood to his worshippers. Toddy was offered to the god and later drunk by the fishermen in this case, accompanied by dancing.  The goddess Koṟṟavi granted victory to her devotees in battle, cattle-raids etc. and the hunting tribes of the hills offered her animal sacrifice in order to gain victory. Cey/Murugan was also the god of war who received similar offerings. Other than this, toddy, meat and blood were also offered to Murugan during exorcism rites, since he was also believed to ‘possess’ women. In the case of Murugan, we know about the shamanic priest velan, who makes the sacrificial offerings and performs the exorcist rites. 

These cases show that the sacrificial ritual in the ancient South India was used by the community as a surviving strategy.

This was a society oriented along kinship alliances, rather than territory-based kingdoms  and martial superiority in the battle and raids was instrumental for the survival of the community, as also a success in the professions specific to the ecological-zone (tiṇai) specific to a social group such as the fishermen. The sacrificial act here acted as a contract between the community and the patron deity, aimed at deriving sustenance and survival in the world. How important was this sense of exchange between the oblate and the recipient is evident from the reference that if the goddess was not propitiated she would not grant victory to her devotees and therefore, they offered their own heads in sacrifice to her.