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Chapter 3Kuldevi Tradition Interpretation and Intention
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Chapter 3
Kuldevi Tradition
Interpretation and Intention

A Rajput wedding is a grand affair. Out on a lawn and under a colorful tent men enjoy one another's company while sampling liquors and traditional spicy edibles. Most sport elegant turbans and long dark high-collared coats with light-colored breeches. Elsewhere, in the household apartments or perhaps in a courtyard, women also enjoy themselves. Wearing their finest Rajasthani dress, satin or chiffon heavily embroidered with gold threads, and their heirloom jewelry studded with gems and seed pearls, they exchange stories and repeatedly compliment their hostess. In time word passes from the men's celebration to the women's that the groom's procession has arrived. The women rush to a balcony or roof to see the groom; riding high atop a much decorated elephant he approaches with his entourage of male relatives.[1] If the sun has set, the procession is guided by kerosene lamps, which enhance the drama of the spectacle. Everyone seems happy and even thrilled—everyone but the bride.

During the first Rajput wedding I attended I was invited back into a bedroom to meet the bride, who was not participating in the festivities taking place in the outer parlor. When I entered the bedroom I found her quietly weeping amid several young friends and relatives, who alternated between sharing her grief and trying to cheer her up. I was surprised and said so. In my country, I explained, brides and their brides-


maids spend the minutes before the wedding ceremonies giggling, preening, and teasing. My audience was incredulous. One asked, "You mean in the States girls aren't sad to leave their families?"

For Rajput girls, getting married not only means leaving the family; it also means leaving the familiar. In most cases both the people and the ways of the conjugal family are unknown. Thus a bride faces learning to love and respect a groom whom she has never met (her parents having chosen him for her) and, in so doing, learning to accept his familial customs, traditions, and gods. To a bride on her wedding day, this may be overwhelming.

Sad to leave her family, the bride is of course excited about the step she is taking. This is the biggest day of her life, the day she accepts the role of pativrata . Thus, while brides may be teary-eyed or withdrawn, in most cases they are not wholly negative about the idea of marriage; usually one can catch on their faces the occasional hint of a smile.[2] The night before they danced with their girlfriends to Rajasthani folk music and cheerfully, if anxiously, discussed the next day's events. On the whole, brides are not simply miserable; they are ambivalent.[3]

The dissonance a bride feels during her marriage ceremony is just the beginning. As the bride adjusts, she finds herself facing new conflicts, conflicts inherent in her role as Rajput pativrata . One place this is particularly apparent is in the bride's assumption of devotional responsibility for her conjugal family's kuldevi .

Kuldevis and Dissonance

Because when a woman marries she loses membership in her father's kul and becomes a member of her husband's kul , she is expected to worship the kuldevi who protects its members. Thus, the very first thing a bride must do when she enters her husband's household is to give respect (dhok ) to her new kuldevi .[4] This is a caste norm; every Rajput must loyally propitiate the kuldevi who has accompanied the family's kul into battle.


Tension arises when a bride feels she cannot immediately, or sometimes even eventually, abandon her loyalty to the kuldevi associated with her parents' kul .[5] Having worshiped the kuldevi of her natal family throughout childhood, she may well find it hard to trade devotion to a beloved deity with proven powers for devotion to an unknown deity with unproven powers.[6] She may continue to venerate her natal family's goddess and perhaps feel entirely justified in doing so. She understands that the natal kuldevi will protect her in her new home by helping her to do her duty as a wife, which means protecting the welfare of her husband. Here arises a disjunction between the wife's Rajput caste-derived norm of worshiping the conjugal kuldevi and her gender-associated duty of protecting her husband to the best of her abilities.

The retention of primary loyalty to the old kuldevi is a potential source of friction between the bride and her husband's family. The reason is easily surmised. Like members of other Hindu castes, Rajputs generally live in extended families. More than members of other castes, Rajputs take brides from distant locations.[7] The explanation they usually offer is that this practice is a holdover from the times when Rajputs sought to make political alliances with many different states through the marriages of their daughters.[8]

Thus in a Rajput home with five sons there could well be five daughters-in-law hailing from diverse and distant locations. Each bride might be tempted to retain loyalty to her natal family's kuldevi . Under these circumstances it is difficult to see how the conjugal family's kuldevi could long continue to reflect kul unity and inspire solidarity. If daughters-in-law, the primary socializers of children, retain their old allegiances, the family's kuldevi tradition will disintegrate.

It is therefore far from surprising that mothers-in-law have pressed their daughters-in-law to express foremost loyalty to the conjugal


family's kuldevi . As many women remarked, "A bride has no choice in the matter. She must worship her husband's kuldevi ." One might speculate that responding to such pressure a daughter-in-law would seek to find some way of worshiping the kuldevi of her conjugal family, thus demonstrating loyalty to husband and caste, while continuing to worship the kuldevi of her natal family, thus demonstrating faith in the old kuldevi 's capacity to protect her and in so doing help her protect her husband and family.

As it turns out, women have indeed approached and reconciled their conjugal and natal kul goddesses, and they have done so in various ways. Viewing these options will throw light on the subtler motivational indications of the kuldevi myths and stories with which we have already become familiar.

The first solution was revealed to me by an older noblewoman known throughout Udaipur's Rajput community for her piety. During her interview and in several subsequent conversations, she explained that it is possible and legitimate to reconceive one's natal kuldevi as an ishtadevta , a deity of choice. In her household temple she not only worships her husband's kuldevi (Ban Mata), she worships her father's kuldevi (Naganecha Ji), whose image is also present. She said that her father's kuldevi had become her ishtadevta and that as an ishtadevta the goddess protects not the kul but the family.[9] Thus by reclassification the woman has taken her natal kuldevi out of direct competition with her conjugal kuldevi .[10]

I find it particularly significant that this woman, considered a very traditional and venerable older lady by the community, offers a division-of-labor compromise unapologetically. At the very least it illustrates the same flexibility of interpretation apparent in the solutions utilized by other women.[11] Here as elsewhere the functions that two kuldevis perform are no more theoretically antagonistic than when one kuldevi performs them. What is important is that whereas the conjugal devi has


two potentially conflicting loyalties, kul and family, the natal devi , brought in as a household goddess, has only one loyalty: the family, whose preservation is the foremost concern of her pativrata devotee. The kul , as I have said, is to a wife largely an abstraction, its operation being for the most part peripheral to her household-delimited life. She relegates the unknown conjugal kuldevi to the unfamiliar domain of kul , while the known kuldevi settles into the home that has replaced the natal household.

A second way women rationalize their retention of allegiance to the natal kuldevi is to identify both kuldevis with the Sanskritic Goddess (Devi, Shakti, Durga), of whom all other goddesses, they say, are forms or emanations. Just as all official kuldevis are homologized to the great Goddess on Navratri, the competing kuldevis are now both homologized to the Goddess, so that the tension between them is reduced. In interviews women frequently spoke of both goddesses as Shakti or Devi (Sanskritic names) and, if pressed about this, pointed out that ultimately the new kuldevi is the old kuldevi . Aptly summarizing this shared understanding, one noblewoman said that "all Rajputs worship Devi" and another that kuldevi forms differ, but their essence is one (kai rup hoti haim; sacmuc ek hi haim ).[12]

Thus a woman may call the new devi "kuldevi" but identify her with the old kuldevi , whose function in the new kul is family protection. This accommodation is facilitated by the fact that women typically worship the kuldevi in the form of her symbol, the trishul (trident). Because of this, they need little or no visual accommodation. Very few women have pictures of anthropomorphic kuldevi icons to ornament the goddess's zanana shrine. Such lithographs of devis as are commonly available for popular goddesses (such as that in fig. 16 or even those of local goddesses) in the bazaar are not, or perhaps not yet, commonly available for most kuldevis . Even in cases where they are available, the focus of veneration remains the trishul , the prominent representation of the goddess in most thapanas or household temples.[13] Hence, the Sanskritic transference remains particularly easy.

In short, the identification of both goddesses with the Sanskritic Goddess allows the identities of the two goddesses to merge one into the other; both may be subsumed within the identity of the Goddess, or one may subsume the identity of the other. Because the imagery of the fa-


miliar tends to dominate the imagery of the unfamiliar, it is likely that in the short run the goddess homologized to Devi will be the old kuldevi functioning primarily as a household deity, even where the goddess's name remains that of the new kuldevi . In the long run, however, the bride's participation in the rituals for the new kuldevi and her absorption of the mythology belonging to the new kuldevi will allow for a gradual transformation.

A third situation is that in which the old kuldevi is retained as a kuldevi but given less observable status than the new kuldevi in terms of image (generally trishul ) location and ritual performance. When I visited the family shrines and temples of women whom I interviewed, quite often I found a kuldevi image flanked by images of other sakhi (companion) images. Sometimes these were kuldevis ; sometimes they were other local goddesses. In both cases the cohorts were worshiped but given less attention than the main kuldevi .[14]

In some of the kuldevi temples one can find a basket containing gold kuldevi pendants worn by now deceased members of the zanana (see fig. 18). As noted earlier, each pendant depicts a kuldevi in the company of six other, identical, kuldevis . Each kul gives its own kuldevi precedence but recognizes the importance of subordinate sister goddesses. The six sisters of the conjugal family's kuldevi take on aspects attributed them by the women wearing their images as pendants. Because the images are iconographically indistinguishable—all the devis are identical stick figures while Bheru, their male escort, is a diminutive stick figure at the end of the line—women can and usually do identify one of the companion figures with her natal family's kuldevi , then identify as many of the others as they can as kuldevis with whom they are familiar, their father's kuldevi often being first among these. The kuldevi forms, like their functions, are, quite simply, substitutable.

In sum, women have much opportunity to accommodate their old kuldevi tradition to the demands of the conjugal family.[15] Paradoxically, the flexibility that can soften the mandate that the new kuldevi replace the old also contributes to gradual religious accommodation. Eventually, modes of rebellion or even subconscious reconceptualization transmute at least partially into avenues of acceptance. It makes


sense that over time, as the new daughter-in-law becomes better integrated into the household and learns about the domestic history of its kuldevi (such as the time the kuldevi cured an ailing husband or saved the family from financial ruin) she will become increasingly able to attribute to the new kuldevi a complete character. The conjugal kuldevi comes to protect not only the kul but also family, the bride's consuming concern. The family rituals in which the bride participates gradually take on more meaning, and hence inspire her faith, at the same time that her faith in the old kuldevi , who is now removed from the context of her family ritual, is weakening.

Up to this point I have not mentioned the woman who consciously tries to suppress any desire to worship her paternal kuldevi and other natal family gods. This omission may seem strange in view of the fact that most women vehemently express their desire to fulfill the expectations of their husbands' households (sasural s), but even those women who wholeheartedly commit themselves to accommodation must go through a time of adjustment. It is inconceivable that their resocialization can be instantaneous. Some women speak openly of the difficulty they had adapting to their new family traditions. At the very least, every woman brings into her marriage preconceptions that affect the way she understands and worships her conjugal family's gods. Without consciously attempting to alter interpretation of the traditions she will do so; she imports ways of seeing, understanding, and contextualizing from her experience in her natal family. Only time and experience can bring her interpretation more or less in line with the traditions shared by the family as a part of the kul .

The question remains whether all importation ultimately fades into accommodation. Clearly not. There are many conditions under which young wives' resistance frustrates their accommodation to an appreciable extent. For example, if there are several daughters-in-law in a family, the bulk of the responsibility for carrying out religious observances tends to fall disproportionately on the shoulders of the senior daughters-in-law. The younger ones, busy with caring for the youngest children in the extended family and perhaps engaged in performing chores less desirable (heavier and more time-consuming) than those performed by senior daughters-in-law, are farther from the context of religious tradition and at greater liberty to improvise. Mothers-in-law often complained to me that although their older daughters-in-law have followed the traditions, the younger ones are just not interested in learning. They sometimes attribute this to the changing times, in which the young are


less interested in learning the proper ways of doing things than they used to be. The same lament, however, is heard about women of very different ages, young brides and women with grown children. The younger daughters-in-law, it appears, have always had greater freedom of interpretation than have their elders, on whom the preservation of family tradition most depends.

Another common condition in which resistance persists is when a mother-in-law dies before or not long after the marriage of her eldest son. In this case the senior daughter(s)-in-law has no time to learn the traditions of worship by women of the family. This possibility was pointed out to me by a Mewari noblewoman who said that her mother-in-law died at a relatively young age. When her mother-in-law's health first began to fail, she found to her surprise that she suddenly felt a strong sense of responsibility for learning all the tradition she could while her teacher was still alive. She noted with regret that people she knew of in similar situations did not necessarily feel this responsibility or did not feel it before it was too late.

As my informant's comment suggests, even if a relatively young bride has the opportunity to learn the proper traditions from servants or daughters of the household, she does not always do so. Lacking incentives, a bride may retain many of the ideas she brought from her natal family. The segregation of religious ritual means that she will have latitude in performing female rituals. Whether she intends to deviate from the traditional patterns of her in-laws or not, she has more opportunity to incorporate her own interpretations than would otherwise be the case.

A third context in which variation is likely to occur is that of the small family unit. If an extended family happens to be small or has splintered into separate households, the possibilities for conscious resistance or unconscious deviation are great because there are few elderly women around to instruct and guide in the ways of devotion.[16]

The presence in a family of daugher-in-law with unusual will power, charisma, or storytelling ability creates one more situation for variation. If she holds fast to the traditions of her natal family, she will disproportionately influence the religious ideas of other women in the family. The stories she tells may quickly merge with the religious lore of the family.[17]


Thus the extent to which a young bride accommodates over time depends on her character, disposition, and circumstances. I treated these conditions separately and sequentially. A typical family, however, contains several or even many daughters-in-law, perhaps representing two or more generations; each daughter-in-law influences the tradition even as she accommodates to it. This reciprocity dilutes the influence any individual wields on a household's tradition yet also shows that tradition does subtly evolve, even in a large family whose current daughters-in-law consciously lean toward accommodation.

At the same time, we need not assume that in-marrying women bring an infinite store of traditions. Families prefer to intermarry with certain kul s they feel have sufficient status and prestige. Therefore, the kul -related legends and the family-related ritual variations that arrive with daughters-in-law may be repeatedly reintroduced. Various daughters-in-law in a family may share a single kul; kul s may trade daughters back and forth over generations.[18] Such reinforcement surely increases the chances for the gradual and subtle incorporation of exotic traditions.

Moreover, the evolution of all kuldevi mythology, particularly family kuldevi mythology, is facilitated by the way women transmit myth. One woman hears a myth from a second woman and then later recalls the story line but not necessarily its identification with a particular kuldevi . Still later, when she recounts the myth to her children, grandchildren, sisters-in-law, or daughters-in-law, she may end up telling it in association with the conjugal kuldevi . In this way myths are continuously introduced from the outside. There is no other likely means to account for the striking similarity of family-related kuldevi narratives. Furthermore, this process affects kul -related mythology. It undoubtedly accounts for some changes within the mythic traditions of kul and state. To test this hypothesis, let us examine the evidence within the foundation myths.


One of the most striking aspects of kul -related tales is their tendency to incorporate alternative themes—either in twin variants or within the same variant. We have already considered the first theme: the founding of a dynasty in association with the granting of victory by a kuldevi to a king and his kul . But the myths also speak of a kuldevi as coming to her new kingdom because she wishes to escort a bride marrying into the royal family.

Both themes occur in the story of the Sisodiya conquest of Girnar. Recall that the victorious Maharana weds a Gujarati princess who has fallen in love with him. The princess's kuldevi is Ban Mata. After the wedding, Ban Mata accompanies the princess to the Sisodiya capital. The myth gives Ban Mata's relationship with the princess as the reason for her decision to become the protector of Mewar. The bridal theme conveys the conflicting loyalties that a girl feels when leaving her home after marriage. The notion that the princess cannot bear to leave her protectress behind is conveyed by the kuldevi 's refusal to leave her. Having arranged for the victory of the Maharana in order to precipitate his marriage to the princess, the kuldevi has no intention of abandoning her. Hence Mewar receives a windfall profit: the guardianship of Ban Mata (see fig. 12).

This account comfortably accepts the idea that a kuldevi can come to a kingdom through marriage and even goes so far as to say that Ban Mata usurps the position of the former kuldevi , Kalika Mata, who is still actively worshiped as a Sisodiya guardian by visitors to Chitor.[19] In fact, located where it is, in the center of the group of monuments to which Chitor visitors flock, Kalika Mata's temple is much better attended than the small temple to Ban Mata, situated in the midst of the still inhabited part of Chitor where visitors rarely come.[20]

This bridal motif recurs throughout kuldevi mythology. Not every recurrence, however, includes the complete usurpation of a conjugal kuldevi 's position. As we saw in the discussion of brides' accommodation to the traditions of their sasural s, a kuldevi can fit into the sasural 's tradition without divesting the conjugal kuldevi of her title. There is the well-known story of a Marwari princess who marries the Maharana of


Mewar. After the ceremonies have been completed and the princess is preparing to leave her parents' home, the Rathaur kuldevi , Naganecha Ji, hops into one of the baskets containing items for the dowry and remains hidden there until the long journey to Mewar is over. When the basket is unpacked, the stowaway kuldevi is discovered and dispatched back to Marwar. Later, however, Naganecha Ji again makes her way to Mewar and her beloved princess. Again she is sent home. Every time she travels back to Mewar she is discovered and returned. Eventually the sasural becomes resigned to her presence and begins to venerate her but continues to reserve its chief place of honor for Ban Mata.

This myth asks, may the kuldevi come along or must she stay home? Convention requires renunciation, but the princess and Naganecha Ji are inseparable. In the end, rebellion is defused and institutionalized. The kuldevi is relegated to an honorable but subordinate position. Today in the Ban Mata Temple of the Udaipur City Palace one can still see something of the mythic accommodation made.[21] Ban Mata retains her superiority. She is surrounded by an elaborate pantheon of attendant deities. The image of Naganecha Ji, however, is nowhere to be seen. When I inquired about Naganecha Ji in Ban Mata's temple, an elderly priest (pujari ) explained to me that she is now kept in a closed chest (tijori ). She is taken out for public viewing (darshan ) only on designated holidays.[22] The priest said that she is to be venerated along with the great saints (pirs ) who are connected with snakes and snakebite.[23] Because Naganecha Ji's animal form (rup ) is a snake, she is venerated by some devotees as a goddess who can prevent and cure snakebite. Hence her services as a kuldevi have been specified and delimited; to the Sisodiyas she is not a full-fledged kuldevi , as she is to the Rathaurs. The worship of Naganecha Ji in Mewar has become calendrically contextualized and minimally important in the daily routine of temple ritual. It is possible that Naganecha Ji's stature has gradually diminished. In any case, the myth of Naganecha Ji suggests that her intrusion has been understood as significant and at least partially successful.[24]


To whatever extent the veneration of Naganecha Ji has infiltrated palace ritual, her myth demonstrates both the dissonance an in-marrying bride experiences and the challenge this dissonance may present to the ritual and mythic traditions of the husband's sasural . More important, it affirms the proposition that a bride's kuldevi may subtly or even drastically alter the devotional life of the sasural . The myth about Naganecha Ji and Ban Mata presents this alteration as partial; the myth about Ban Mata and Kalika Mata presents it as complete. These myths suggest specific historical changes in kuldevi tradition. But even if the myths do not show specific historical changes, they reflect a general consensus that although a kuldevi comes to a kul by presenting herself to the king at a time of crisis and then receives reverence from the families in the king's kul , a kuldevi may also come to the kul via the zanana , where she may partly or wholly supplant a preexisting kuldevi .

Standing in between the position of Ban Mata when she supplants Kalika Mata and that of Naganecha Ji when she joins Ban Mata as a clandestine attendant is Shila Mata, who could loosely be called the unofficial kuldevi of the Kachvahas of Jaipur. As we have seen, the official Kachvaha kuldevi is Jamvai Mata who first appears to the Kachvahas as a life-granting cow. Many of the Kachvaha women I interviewed, however, listed Shila Mata as their kuldevi .

The myth of Shila Mata, which is well known in Jaipur (much better known, even to the Kachvahas, than the myth of Jamvai Mata) is inscribed on a plaque outside her temple in the pre-Jaipur Kachvaha capital, Amber. The plaque gives two accounts of Shila Mata's appearance to the Kachvahas. The first is detailed; the second seems something of an afterthought.

The detailed account states that during the last quarter of the sixteenth century the great Man Sinh, Maharaja of the Kachvahas, unsuccessfully fought King Kedar in East Bengal. Frustrated, Man Sinh prayed to Kali, who granted him a vision, promised him victory, and exacted from him a promise that he would retrieve a stone image of her from the bottom of the sea. After his victory, Man Sinh fetched this image and


brought it back with him to Amber, where it became known as Shila Mata, the "Stone Goddess."

This account accords with the pattern described early in this chapter: a king is in trouble, a goddess appears to him in a vision, the king is victorious, and he adopts the goddess. The second account, however, conforms to the alternate pattern that has evolved: the kuldevi accompanies a young bride to her new home at the time of marriage and then wins acceptance there. This explanation of the arrival of Shila Mata holds that when King Kedar conceded defeat, he bestowed his daughter upon Man Sinh. At the marriage ceremonies he presented to Man Sinh the image of the goddess Jessoresvari, who came to be known as Shila Devi. Thus, like Ban Mata and Naganecha Ji, Shila Mata does not abandon her protection of the princess but rather establishes herself in the princess's sasural .

Shila Devi has been a formidable rival to Jamvai Mata. She has occupied an important place in the realms of state ritual and family worship. It would now be unlikely for her to usurp the status of Jamvai Mata. Modern records and communications being what they are, it is difficult to imagine a complete displacement of one kuldevi by another. Furthermore, because the institution of kingship has ended, it is doubtful that there could be an official (ceremonial or informal and gradual) kuldevi adoption that would be binding on a kul or kul subdivision. Nevertheless, in the minds of some individual Kachvaha women (whom other Kachvahas may think of as "misinformed"), Shila Mata has either taken over or encroached on the position of Jamvai Mata as kuldevi of the Kachvahas. In addition, the prominence of Shila Mata in the consciousness of both male Kachvahas and non-Rajput residents of Jaipur alike suggests that the general public believes she has appropriated a kuldevi -like status for herself, even though it technically or ultimately reserves for Jamvai Mata the appellation "kuldevi."

One reason that Shila Mata possesses such popularity is that she fits far better than Jamvai Mata the mold of kul goddess. Jamvai Mata, the myth goes, is a vegetarian teetotaler. One variant concludes that she is a Brahman—and this despite the fact that she was previously the kuldevi of a carnivorous tribe. Shila Mata, however, is a meat-eating, wine-drinking goddess like other Rajput kuldevis . Consumption of meat and alcohol by Rajputs is traditionally justified (even though they have high-caste status) by the notion that both foods stimulate strength and passion, which are essential for battle. A goddess who abstains from, and even disapproves of, meat and wine is an odd war goddess indeed. Moreover, because Jamvai Mata abstains, Kachvahas give to Shila Mata


the sacrificial (blood) offerings of Navratri. While they also celebrate the festival at jamvai Mata's temple, they do so without the traditional offerings. Thus although both goddesses are homologized to the bellicose Durga, whose main text, the Devimabatmya , is read in almost all goddess temples on Navratri, it is Shila Mata who accepts the actual blood offerings that Durga requires in her temples and that Rajput kuldevis receive elsewhere in theirs.[25] The Shila-Durga homology is simply more direct and explicit than the Jamvai-Durga one—Shila replaces the official kuldevi during the most important Rajput holiday.

What may give Shila Mata additional appeal to Kachvahas, and especially to Kachvaha women, is that the mythology of Shila Mata amply expresses the complexity and fluidity of kuldevi character. She is a full-fledged kul -protecting warrior goddess as well as a protector of brides as they assume their roles as pativratas . Although the myth of Jamvai Mata incorporates both martial motifs and maternal iconography, it does so without explicit reference to her entry into the zanana (fig. 20). It may be that there was such a myth in the past but it is also likely that no such version existed, not least because the tribal origins of the goddess would make a marriage scenario significantly less plausible.[26] In short, the Jamvai Mata myth seems incomplete.

A final element of the Shila Mata myth bears contemplating. The first version of the myth explicitly identifies Shila Mata with Kali. This Sanskritic homology facilitates the introduction of the alien goddess into the palace. That Shila Mata is understood as Kali as well as Kedar's kuldevi is clear when we view the two Shila myths together. Because Jamvai Mata is similarly, though less fully, homologized to the Goddess, the possibility of competition between the goddesses can be dismissed


Jamvai Mata, the Kachvaha kuldevi
(oil painting from the home of Mohan Sinh of Kanota).


as illusory on the ideological level while being actualized on the sociological level.

Thus we can at the very minimum surmise that kuldevi worship is closely tied to both the kul experience of conquering a new land and the female experience of entering a new family. It is pointless to debate the "true" origins of particular kuldevis . Whether the goddesses actually appear in conjunction with the conquest of new peoples, marriages, or combinations of both, the myths reveal an understanding of the zanana as a locus of religious change.

Hence, in sociological and mythic terms Rajput marriage entails various arbitrations between competing female roles, be they those of women or of kuldevis . Whatever the nature of the adjustment women make, we should not mistake it for something permanent. The tension in evidence at the time of marriage resurfaces during other specific instances when women encounter important social changes. We can best understand this by placing the twofold conception of kuldevi duty against the backdrop of male ideals, for when men actively pursue ultimate Rajput aims, the complementarity of female roles (both women's and kuldevis ') may quickly dissolve. Investigating the connection between traditional male and female motivations will help us understand the way in which women interpret their continually evolving pativrata duty. Moreover, it will allow us to trace the conceptual means by which the traditional understanding of kuldevi protection has adapted to the contemporary context of Rajput society.

Traditional Male and Female Motivations

The traditional goals of a Rajput man are two: conquest and death on the battlefield. The relation between these two roughly reflects that between the social and the individual. As a Rajput, a man works for the glorification of the king and the vitality of the kingdom he serves. He also strives for personal salvation, a place in warrior heaven (virgati ) guaranteed by death in battle. These goals, formulated during a bygone era but still espoused and acknowledged by Rajput nobility, mutually reinforce each other. Victory is the social goal of the hero (vir ) seeking personal salvation in death.[27]

A Rajput woman, as we have seen, aspires to preserve her husband's life. At the same time, she understands that her pativrata duty requires


her not only to preserve her husband but also to serve him and be obedient to him. She must sacrifice her personal desires to fulfill the desires of her husband. Thus, if her husband wishes to die a glorious death on the battlefield, she again experiences dissonance. As her husband's protector, she cannot logically support her husband's desire to attain death—she hopes for victory and life. Whereas in the abstract she can support the notion that Rajput soldiers should sacrifice their lives on the battlefield so that families might be protected and can understand that such sacrifice is his duty, she cannot wholeheartedly will that her husband sacrifice his life, for it is her duty to preserve him and his family. Thus the prospect of a difficult battle has always carried with it the dilemma of conflicting loyalties.

The warrior-pativrata character of kuldevis reflects this dilemma. In the foundation myths presented above, however, the bellicose aspect of the kuldevi , which is suggested by her wild animal form, is softened by domestic maternal motifs. We must not mistake the presence of these motifs for any compromise in the kuldevi 's belligerence. The martial and the marital aspects coexist in the goddess who serves as guardian. To protect, she requires both loving devotion and bloody sacrifice.[28]

This twofold demand emerges in the Bukh Mata (Hungry Mother) narrative recorded by Colonel Tod.[29] The account is a vignette from his story of the Sisodiyas' second battle against the Muslim conqueror Alaud-din, who was determined to conquer Chitor, the capital city. As the tale goes, one night the Sisodiya king was resting from a discouraging day on the battlefield when he heard a voice that came from thin air. It groaned, "I'm hungry." Just then his kuldevi appeared. The king asked her why she was not satisfied with the eight thousand Rajputs who had already sacrificed their lives to her in battle. She replied that she wanted kings: "I must have regal victims; and if twelve who wear the diadem bleed not for Cheetore, the land will pass from the line." The next night she again appeared to the king, who was then in the company of his council. She said she would remain as their protector only on the condition that the king crown each of his sons and then send them out alone to die in battle. The king carried out her orders until only one of his twelve sons remained alive. At that point he himself rode out into battle to die, so that his son would live to preserve the royal line.


This Bukh Mata story portrays the kuldevi as a devourer of her devotees.[30] That her consumption of them is understood as acceptance of human sacrifice is even clearer in the story of a human sacrifice at the later Sisodiya capital of Kumbhalgarh (see figs. 2, 3). While visiting the ruins of Kumbhalgarh, I came across a small stone shrine honoring a soldier who had volunteered to be killed as a sacrifice (balidan ) to Durga.[31] The sacrifice was necessary to ensure that the battle walls being constructed by Maharana Kumbha would be strong enough to withstand sieges. The soldier was ritually decapitated, and his head rolled down from the high ground upon which the sacrifice took place to a low spot, where the shrine was constructed. His Rajput blood gave the fortress its strength.[32]

By taking Rajput lives, the warrior kuldevi frustrates the pativrata purpose of husband-protection and so contradicts the domestic kuldevi function. Thus, the prospect of a husband's death in battle emphasizes the formal disjunction between the kuldevi 's protective purposes. Paralleling this disjunction is the dissonance of the wife who, in wishing to obey her husband and to help him perform his duty, must support him in his decision to fight yet do her best to save his life. As chapter 6 will demonstrate, Rajput lore is full of ever-popular examples of women who even made their husbands fight when the husbands were less than enthusiastic. It has always been the duty of Rajput women to help their husbands be not only as they are but as they should be, which is to say, as men bent on performing Rajput duty.

Nevertheless, should the dutiful husband die, his death would stand as an indictment of his wife's character. The wife would have failed to protect his life as a pativrata should. Traditionally, the only way she could prove her character was to sacrifice her life. By dying as a sati , she shared the fate that her husband earned. This symbolic action is a solution, not a motivation, and it is a solution that attaches only after the fact. As I learned from women during my stay, a good wife can never


vow or even intend to die a sati before her husband's death, for this would be to will his death and would contravene her foremost purpose as a pativrata . Women want to die before their husbands. Thus ultimate motivations cannot be logically harmonized while both husband and wife live. To this enigma we will return again and again in the chapters following.

In sum, battle has disrupted the traditional symbolic harmony between kuldevi functions. Because a kuldevi may allow a soldier to die, she cannot be said to protect his family always. Even though the hero's death glorifies his family, it causes misery and may also leave the family heirless. Ideally, the ethos of battle harmonizes with the welfare of the family, but in the actual circumstance of war, death becomes a threat to the household and the family line.

Given this traditional conflict between kuldevi functions in the context of actual or impending battle, we might wonder how the kuldevi functions in contemporary Rajput society. Nowadays Rajputs no longer have kings and armies. Thus battle is not the regular occupation of most Rajputs. Even when it is, which is to say for men who have joined the Indian army, the protection a kuldevi provides is to an individual who is a member of a kul but not to the kul and its sociopolitical subdivisions. Members of kuls and sub-kuls no longer fight together in battle. Moreover, death in battle is not what it was, a sacrifice for the kuldevi protecting the kul or a kul -unit as an entity.

As a result, the erstwhile military relationship between kuldevi and kul member has changed. It has become largely metaphorical: it applies the imagery of battle to economic and social endeavors aimed at benefiting the household.[33] In so doing, it has come to mirror the relationship between individuals and domestic kuldevis . Hence, as we observed, men now concede that their wives know more than they about "such religious matters." The end of the Rajput states has meant the ascendancy of domestic kuldevi motifs, although, as the foundation myths demonstrate, the domestic and maternal aspects of the kuldevi have undoubtedly been an integral part of kuldevi tradition since its inception.

May we assume that this ascendance of household motifs means that the kuldevi has begun to lose her duality of character? Yes and no. The assertion by Rajput women that the kuldevi is benevolent—she does


what she does for the good of the group she guards—combined with the household iconography of the kuldevi as a pativrata , lend support to the idea that as the kuldevi becomes less tied to the context of kul and kul history and more fully located within the home, the domestic associations of the goddess will become increasingly dominant. Germane here is the apparent escalation among women of the practice of religious vows. This is undoubtedly associated with the increasing circulation of vernacular vrat pamphlets, which contain stories connected to the vows (vrat kathas ) as well as instructions for their performance.[34] Many of the vrat kathas present characters who are paradigmatic pativratas ; others provide no such succinct instruction. Most, however, relate to rituals intended to strengthen a woman's power to preserve her husband's life through dutiful wifely behavior and ritual devotion. Thus in one way or another women's rituals reflect an increasing reinforcement of the pativrata motif. In its light we must interpret the evolution of women's kuldevi worship.

And yet we must acknowledge that the military imagery of the kul goddess is unlikely to vanish altogether. Diminution of the kul context of kuldevi activity has reduced the potential antagonism between kul goals and female aspirations and individualized the kuldevi 's care. The kuldevi does not protect the kul as much as she does kul members. Nevertheless, the fluid duality of the kuldevi 's character, we recall, transcends its purely parochial expression. The kul goddess retains a strong Sanskritic valence. She has both her belligerent (dark, Kali-type) and the gentle (light, Gauri-type) associations. Thus amidst the host of vrat celebrations populating Hindu calendars, Navratri remains by far the most important celebration for Rajputs, male and female. Here the identification of the kuldevi with the Goddess preserves the complex character presented in the puranas . The performance of Navratri rituals gives full expression to conceptualization of the Goddess as warrior and renews the protection that the kuldevi extends to individuals as they fight the battles of everyday life. Just as domestic kuldevi imagery colored kul foundation myths, so now military kuldevi imagery colors the household-affiliated functions that the goddess performs for kul members.

In sum, the kuldevi retains her status as the chief divine protector of Rajputs in present-day Rajasthan. Moreover, she remains a symbol of


the traditional Rajput way of life. As kul -protector, she belongs to the domain of history, the record of military achievements by Rajput males. As family protector, she is associated with the continuing welfare of individual family members. She reflects the dislocation experienced by women who marry from one kul into another and the dissonance shared by women who wish to support their husbands' careers while preserving their husbands' well-being. She is a complex deity, whose wisdom is assumed to transcend that of her devotees.

At the same time, the kuldevi continues to function as a paradigm. She is a home protector, as women should be home protectors, and she is a husband defender, as women should be husband defenders. Even when she harms family members to punish them for oversights, she serves as an exemplar, for women must also make decisions that disturb yet benefit the household. Paradoxically, the first such disturbance a woman causes may well be her importation of her natal kuldevi .

In worshiping the kuldevi , then, Rajput women seek to maximize their performance of the pativrata role that she embodies as a pativrata goddess and yet transcends both as household and as martial protectress alike. Nevertheless, the worship women render is not a passive response to the kuldevi but a continually transformative interpretation of kuldevi will and kuldevi tradition. Because for women the kuldevi is predominantly a household deity, she is interpreted and evaluated, reinterpreted and reevaluated, according to the changing perceptions women hold of domestic space, household duties, and pativrata devotion.

The next chapter addresses the question of how women interpret and emulate another sort of protectress—the sati . Unlike the dual-natured kuldevi , the sati has only one form, the form of the pativrata , and only one purpose, the protection of the household. Today as in the past, the sati unequivocally unifies the aspects of identity that, as we have seen, are not always compatible: being a good Rajput and being a good woman.


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