Preferred Citation: Harlan, Lindsey. Religion and Rajput Women: The Ethic of Protection in Contemporary Narratives. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.

Chapter 2Kuldevi Tradition Myth, Story, and Context

Chapter 2
Kuldevi Tradition
Myth, Story, and Context

The kuldevi has a crucial role in the religious lives of Rajput men and women: she is the foremost divine guardian of their fortune and honor. Many of the myths that recount the miraculous deeds she performs as guardian not only make wonderful reading—they abound in romance, intrigue, danger, and conquest—they also give access to the worldview of Rajput women.

A goddess begins her career as a kuldevi when she becomes incarnate at a critical point in time in order to rescue an endangered group of Rajputs whom she judges worthy of her protection. In most cases she reveals herself to their leader and inspires him to surmount whatever problems he and his followers face.[1] Afterward she helps him establish a kingdom, at which point he and his relatives become the founders of a kinship branch (kul or shakh ) with a discrete political identity. Later the kuldevi intermittently manifests her presence by helping the group overcome other military and political crises. These manifestations are celebrated in myths chronicling the origins and early achievements of the Rajput groups that kuldevi s protect.[2]

Rajput women perceive themselves to be less familiar with such kul-

[1] In this respect the kuldevi 's first appearance resembles the appearance in the Mahabharata of Krishna, who ultimately reveals himself as God to the troubled prince Arjuna and guides his performance of martial duty.

[2] Recently some noblemen have written family histories based on such myths and other genealogical materials; they have incorporated elements from the narratives of Carans and local histories by Tod (Annals and Antiquities ), Ojha (Rajputane ), and Kaviraj Shyamaldas (Vir Vinod , 4 vols. [Udaipur: privately published by the Mewar darbar, ca. 1884 and reissued, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1986]).


devi myths than Rajput men are. They say that these myths belong to the realm of history (itihas ), which they understand as a male domain. When asked about the "historical" myths—myths I call foundation myths to avoid the appearance of continually certifying their historicity—women typically claim that their husbands know history, but they do not: "What do I know of history? You ask my husband!" Because Rajputs no longer support Carans as bards, the traditional means of reciting Rajput genealogies and their related myths has been lost. It is perhaps for this reason that many Rajput husbands now believe that they know less than their wives about "such religious matters." In fact, women often do know more than their husbands about foundation myths, the details of which rarely find their way into modern written histories precisely because they are mythical, not strictly factual.

In addition to these foundation myths, Rajput women know stories relating to the services that the kuldevi has rendered to the particular household, often fairly recently. Generally referred to as "stories" (kahaniyam ) rather than history and understood as the proper subjects of female expertise, they constitute the primary source for women's appropriations of kuldevi tradition. They may be myths handed down through generations of women living in a zanana , or they may be accounts of events witnessed by a living narrator. In either case, the stories have never been the responsibility of Carans.

In recounting a kuldevi 's aid to individual family members, the narrators commonly use a household setting and always emphasize the sacredness of domestic pativrata duties. Because the narrators are almost exclusively women, whose sphere of responsibility is the home, the accounts are more immediately relevant to women than foundation myths, which describe the establishment of kingdoms and/or dynasties in very remote times. Unlike the foundation myths, which can be located within a scheduled sequence corresponding to a genealogical sacred history, these stories—which I call "household stories"—detail incidents that are timeless: they take place in an indefinite past or they are contemporary. In both cases they relate standard variations of recurrent scenarios. It is precisely their timeless redundancy that keeps them meaningful to all times. Moreover, their recurrence does much to explain the shared conception of women as more personally involved in "such religious matters" than their husbands, because the stories women tell always seem relevant to their pressing concerns.[3]

[3] This distinction between "itihasic" and domestic myths roughly corresponds to the South Indian distinction between puram (public) and akam (domestic) myths. A. K.

Ramanujan carefully contrasts these story genres in "Two Realms of Kannada Folklore," in Another Harmony , ed. Stuart H. Blackburn and A. K. Ramanujan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986). He notes that puram stories, which bards traditionally recited in public, are longer and more detailed than the akam stories, or "granny's tales," which women traditionally recited in their households.


This chapter explores foundation myths and household stories to uncover the ways in which the kuldevi serves women both as a protector and as a paradigm of protection. It sets forth connections between foundation myths and household stories and suggests that these connections reveal important relations between lineage and household on the one hand and caste and gender on the other.

The Foundation Myths

For the most part the narratives to be recounted are gleaned from my interviews with Rajput women.[4] A couple of narratives (Jamvai Mata variant two, and Naganecha Ji variant one), however, were recited by noblewomen's male relatives. I have chosen to include them not because women were unfamiliar with these variants—in fact, the wives knew these stories—but because the accounts given by the men in these two instances contain important elaborative detail scattered among numberous women's accounts.[5] The women who narrated the other accounts gave the most lucid and comprehensive versions of the myths that I discovered in the course of research. All accounts here are verbatim.[6]

I begin with the story of Ad Mata, the kuldevi of the Jhala kul (see fig. 10a ).[7] The Jhalas presided over two of Mewar's foremost noble es-

[4] Unlike the stories of many popular deities, these Rajput goddess stories are not sold as pamphlets outside the gates of public temples or in urban bookstalls.

[5] Although "itihasic" in substance, these accounts are so terse as to imply a stylistic "intertextuality," for such brevity is typically characteristic of zanana , or in South India, of akam tales. See Ramanujan, "Two Realms," 43, 51. The bardic versions of these tales would be filled with details and names.

[6] Because each narrator did provide his or her own variation, I present here no "right" myth. Many narrators, particularly men, cautioned me not to heed other's accounts because they would doubtless be "wrong" in certain respects. Narrators believe counts because they would doubtless be "wrong" in certain respects. Narrators believe they are relating essential truths. The idea that there are variations of a foundation narrative and that these are interesting in themselves—they reveal concerns of contemporary narrators—is one that occurs to Rajput narrators no more readily than it would to most nonacademic religious persons in other cultures. Incidentally, the idea of variations of kuldevi narrative seemed to cause much more anxiety than variations of satimata accounts. Because each family has several ancestors who became satis, a discordant variant would be about a different ancestor—such conclusions were often drawn when others commented on interviews being conducted. I have used such contextualizing accounts from these other sources where indicated.

[7] In Gujarat she is referred to as Shakti Mata (personal communication from Jayasinh Jhala, 3 Oct. 1987).


tates, Bari Sadri and Delwara (see fig. 5), as well as over Jhalawar, an independent kingdom that split off from the Cauhan-ruled kingdom of Kota.

Ad Mata

Three little boys, princes of the royal family, were playing outside the palace when a mad elephant suddenly charged. Ad Mata, their spinster auntie, had been watching them from a second-story window. Just in time, she reached out for them with her arms, which grew and grew until they extended all the way down to the children. She snatched up the children and lifted them into her embrace. In this way Ad Mata saved the princes and so the royal lineage.

Another variant adds that because Ad Mata rescued the boys, the line descending from one of the princes came to be known as Jhala , meaning "snatched" or "grabbed."[8] This etymology is well known by Jhalas, who date the origin of their kul to this kuldevi miracle (camatkar ).

Next is Jamvai Mata, the kuldevi of the Kachvaha Rajputs of Jaipur state (see fig. 20).

Jamvai Mata

The Kachvahas used to live in Navargarh in central India, the place where Nala and Damayanti used to live. They left that place in search of a kingdom and wandered toward Rajasthan. When they arrived, they met resistance from some tribals.[9] There was a big battle between the Kachvahas and the tribals where Rajgarh Dam is now [about forty minutes' drive from Jaipur].[10] The Kachvahas fared badly. They lay wounded and dying on the battlefield and there was no water for them to drink. They began to think of Parvati and she became a cow. She stood over the dying soldiers and poured out her milk, which revived them. They renewed their attack and achieved victory.

A Variant of this Myth Provides More Detail

The Kachvahas came from Navar near Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh. They fought their way to Dosa, which they won from the Gujar Rajputs. They took some lands from the Mina tribe by treachery. Finally, at . . . Rajgarh, they were defeated. Dularai, their leader, was badly injured. He lay unconscious and dying on the battlefield. Jamvai Mata appeared to him in a vision.

[8] Jhaliyodau: caught, seized (Hindi: parkada hua ); in Sitaram Lalas, Rajasthani Sabd Kos , vol. 4, pt. 3 (Jodhpur: Caupasni Siksa Samiti, 1978), s.v.

[9] Speaking English, the narrator used the term "tribal" nominally, as it often occurs in local Indian English.

[10] Henceforth, all bracketed remarks are my own.


She said, "I am the kuldevi of the Minas, but I am angry with them. I am a vegetarian but they offer me meat and wine in my temple." Jamvai Mata then turned herself into a cow and sprayed milk on Dularai's face. She revived the rest of the Kachvahas in the same way. Meanwhile the Minas were rejoicing over their victory. They were drunk. The Kachvahas successfully attacked them. Since then Jamvai Mata has been our kuldevi .

A third kuldevi is Naganecha Ji, protector of the Rathaur kul (see fig. 10b, c ). She oversees the state of Marwar as well as Ghanerao, a Solah Thikana.

Naganecha Ji

Naganecha Ji came with our ancestors when they moved here [Jodhpur] from the south. When Sinha Ji [a Rathaur king] was carrying her around his neck, she demanded that he put her down at Nagana. She wanted to stay there. He slept and she became anchored in the ground, never to move. From that spot a snake slithered away.

This account, like the one that follows, yields a murky picture of the form in which Naganecha Ji arrives. The informant implies that the goddess was worn as a pendant, a pala (a form in which goddesses often travel; see fig. 18); other accounts have it that the king bore her temple icon on his shoulders or upper back. The nature of her original form does not appear to be critical. What should be noted is that this foundation myth assumes Naganecha Ji's association with the Rathaurs in their former home. In traveling from that home the goddess manifests two forms, which serve different purposes. Her first form, anchored at Nagana, establishes that as the new territory for her protégés.

Her second, which is a mobile form, shows that she is not confined to one place. As a serpent she accompanies her protégés when they engage in conquest. An alternate version of the myth makes this clear:

Naganecha Ji came with our ancestors when they journeyed from Idar [in Gujarat]. While they were fighting for Nagor, Naganecha Ji became their kuldevi . At Nagana they built a temple for her. She was called Naganecha Ji—Nagana plus ish , "deity." She appeared to Cumda Ji Rathaur, who had prayed to her because he was losing a battle. She manifested herself as a snake and from then on was always with him. Because of this the Rathaurs were able to conquer Marwar.

Fourth, there is Ashapura, protectress of the Cauhan kul , which ruled the states of Kota and Bundi as well as such Udaipur-linked thikanas as Bedla and Kothariya.



My forefathers used to wage many wars. One time my ancestor and his army had run out of rations on the battlefield. Annapurna [a Sanskritic goddess, whose name means "She Who Has (Gives) Food"] appeared to my ancestor in a dream and said, "I will become a green fly and sit on your arm while you fight. You will win many villages." [Having received food and the protection of Annapurna's avatar] he was able to conquer 1,444 villages in a single night. Since then we worship both Annapurna and Ashapura [Annapurna's avatar, "She Who Has (Grants) Wishes"].

The final kuldevi to be discussed is Ban Mata, guardian goddess of Mewar (fig. 12) and, inter alia, the Mewari thikanas of Bansi, Amet, Kurabar, Kanor, Begum, and Salumbar.[11]

Ban Mata

The kuldevi for the Sisodiyas used to be Amba Mata. Then, when the Sisodiyas were at Chitor, the kuldevi became Kalika Mata.[12] There is still a temple for her there now. Later, when the king conquered Gujarat, he demanded a Gujarati princess in marriage.[13] That princess had always wanted to marry the Sisodiya king. She had even sent him a letter telling him that. Her kuldevi , Ban Mata, had determined to help her accomplish this aim. After the conquest, the marriage occurred. When the princess left for her new home, Ban Mata came with her in the form of a pendant. That is how Ban Mata left Girnar (though there is still a temple for her there) and came here.

A second account is not so much a variation as another etymology, one that states a homology between the Sanskritic goddess Durga and the kuldevi .

The Sisodiyas used to worship Durga, Mata Ji. Banasur was a demon who fought with Mata Ji. She conquered him. From then on she was called Ban Mata.

[11] The name Ban was pronounced and written in many different ways: Ban, Baen, Bayan, Byan, and Vyana. Written sources tend to prefer Bayan, but informants usually spelled out Ban when I asked them to spell their kuldevi 's name.

[12] The antecedents of Ban Mata are vague. Amba and Kalika are Sanskritic epithets and so do not characterize these goddesses as discrete local incarnations. As we shall see, these stories refer to a kuldevi preceding the appearance of Ban Mata but give her no specific local name or identity. There is a Kalika Mandir at Chitor.

[13] Tod identifies the king as Bappa Rawal and the bride as the daughter of Esupgole, prince of the island of Bunderdhiva (Annals and Antiquities 1:197). Another narrated variant identified Ban Mata as the daughter of a Caran in the village of Khod; Hamir, the great Sisodiya leader, heard of her powers, worshiped her, and asked her blessing in his attempt to reclaim Chitor from the Moghals. She aided him and he installed her as Sisodiya deity. This variant places the adoption of Ban Mata just after the Sisodiya line of Guhils came to the throne rather than after the Guhils first won Chitor, as Tod's variant has it.



Ban Mata image, Chitor.


These myths conjointly illustrate a number of fundamental points. First, every kul explicitly associates the appearance of its kuldevi with a critical act of divine guardianship. The goddess utilizes her power (shakti ) to rescue royal heirs, revive dying soldiers, and establish Rajput kingdoms.

Second, the kuldevi 's power of protection is directed toward the king and his family. The goddess appears to the king (or prince) and either with him or through him protects the kul and hence the realm. Thus, Jamvai Mata protects Dularai, Naganecha Ji guards Cumda Ji, Ad Mata saves the little princes, and so forth.[14] Afterward the kuldevi 's primary relationship remains with the king, who tends to her needs just as his own servants tend to his. This close mythical association between king and goddess means that the kuldevi is identified with the royal family and conceptualized with reference to the protective functions it performs. Her temple is patronized by the royal family and is located in or near its palace.

Because of this close relationship between king and kuldevi , worship of the kuldevi and service of the king are intertwined. The king attends the kuldevi through personal acts of devotion and through public ceremonies, such as buffalo sacrifices, which are held in conjunction with the biannual festival of Navratri.[15] The kuldevi protects him and through him the kingdom. Historically, members of the kul have served the king, whose authority has been legitimated by kuldevi worship on the part of both king and kul members.

Another thing clear from the myths is that the kuldevi 's foremost arena of protection is the battlefield. Kings and other kul members are warriors. They guard and increase not only the territory of the realm but also its glory. From the beginning, a kingdom attempts to expand through battle, which is the caste duty of all Rajput men and the principal measure of their personal worth. Because battle is the route to glory and prosperity, the great king is a conqueror.[16] As the Rajput king and his army fight to subjugate new land, the kuldevi accompanies the

[14] This shared scenario varies markedly from others elsewhere in India. For example, one South Indian lineage deity (kulateyvam ) is venerated after being sacrificially beheaded (Hiltebeitel, Cult of Draupadi , 336, citing Reinich). It is evidently not unusual in South India for such a deity, especially a goddess, to be venerated as a kul deity after she punishes the king or threatens to kill him for inappropriate behavior (Meyer, Ankalaparmecuvari , 187, 253; and Tarabout, Sacrifier , 132).

[15] Details of this festival are given below.

[16] See, for example, Agni Puranam , trans. Manmatha Nath Dutt Shastri, 2 vols. (Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Studies Office, 1967), 778. On the expansion of South India kingdoms, see Shulman, King and Clown , 35–36.


king as a snake, sits on his shoulder as a green fly, or, in still another tale, flies above him as a kite (an eagle-like bird of prey).[17] Thus in her mobile animal form the kuldevi is identified with the growing might, resources, and renown of the kul or shakh she protects.

The last crucial point about these tales is that a kuldevi is homologous with the great Sanskritic Goddess, particularly in her warrior aspect, Durga.[18] In the myth of Jamvai Mata, the first narrator states that the warriors "began to think of Parvati and she became a cow." Thus the kuldevi is conceived of as an incarnation (avatar) of Parvati, herself one of the best known forms of the Goddess. Ashapura is understood as an emanation of the Goddess, Annapurna, whose power to provide food is the basis for the kul 's triumph. Ban Mata is understood to replace Kalika Mata, whose name is another epithet of the Goddess. She, in turn, is understood to have taken over from Amba Mata, who bears yet another Sanskrit epithet. These sequential substitutions symbolically connect the local goddess with the great Sanskritic Goddess.

The etymology of Ban Mata provided by one woman confirms the general identification of the local goddess with the great Goddess. She says that the local kuldevi is so named because, as the Goddess, she defeated the demon Banasur. The woman does not know any details of this story. I do not know whether she encountered the Sanskritic story of Banasur[19] or simply assumes that the kuldevi received her name because she defeated a demon who must have had that name.[20] Both pos-

[17] Goddesses are associated with bird and snake imagery elsewhere in India; see examples in Beck, Three Twins , 155–56; and Meyer, Ankalaparmecuvari , 194. Several men told me that in pre-British days kings often began campaigns just after Navratri-Dashara celebrations.

[18] Sanskrit literature often treats various goddesses as phenomenal manifestations of a single female goddess, the Devi, who embodies motivational power or shakti (also a name for the Devi), which is conceived as female. Through the process of Sanskritization, by which local deities are identified with Sanskritic or "Great Tradition" deities, kuldevis are sometimes generally associated with the Devi and sometimes specifically associated with individual Sanskritic goddesses (especially Parvati, the wife of Shiva [Hindi: Shiv]). See further discussion in Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 71, 82 ff.

[19] This is Asura Bana; in "Aniruddha's Hymn" from the Harivamsha , he imprisoned Aniruddha because Aniruddha was infatuated with Bana's daughter, Usha (Thomas B. Coburn, Devi Mahatmya [Columbia, Mo.: South Asia Books, 1985], 284–85). In a story of Banasur from the Kanyaksetramahatmya , Bana demands a share of Markandeya's sacrifice and is cursed by the sage to be killed by a virgin, who turns out to be Parvati (David Dean Shulman, Tamil Temple Myths [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980], 145). The name Ban Mata may also suggest an association between the kuldevi and Shiv, known by the epithet Baneshwara in some shrines in the Udaipur area. No informants made this association in their comments or used the epithet for the Mewari ishtadevta Ekling Ji.

[20] A man from the Hara shakh of the Cauhan kul linked another kuldevi and a demon in a distinctive Ashapura narrative. He told me that Ashapura, who used to live

in an ashapala tree—from which she got her name—revived his ancestor, killed by a rakshasa (demon) who had eaten all but his bones; the ancestor was called Asthipal (asthi [bones] and pal [protector]).


sibilities point to a Sanskritic homology. Moreover, even if the story of Banasur is only a local or unique version, it employs the popular Sanskritic convention of referring to deities by the names of demons they have killed. The most famous epithet, of course, is that of the Goddess as Mahishasuramardini, "Slayer of the Buffalo Demon."[21]

This speculative homology joins an omnipresent homology between all kuldevis and the Goddess expressed during Navratri, the festival celebrating her conquest over her buffalo demon foe (see fig. 16). On this day the kuldevi is worshiped as Durga. The Devimahatmya or Durga Path , a Hindi translation, is recited in great Goddess temples and kuldevi temples alike. Moreover, kuldevis are as often referred to as Durga, Devi, Kali, Camunda, and Shakti, all Sanskritic-tradition epithets, as they are by their individual local names. The import of this equation of the local kuldevi with the Sanskritic Goddess is an implicit identification of kul , or in this case shakh , history with cosmic history. The shakh 's victories coincide with the Goddess's divine victory over the demon army led by Mahish.

The homology between Durga and kuldevi in the contexts of the Navratri ritual and the Mahishasur (Sanskrit: Mahishasura) myth brings to light some important assumptions about kingship. In Navratri buffalo sacrifice, which ritually reenacts Durga's conquest over Mahish, the king stands in the role of primary sacrificer.[22] Like the goddess Mahishasuramardini, the king is the slayer of the buffalo, who is the (demonic) enemy. Like the goddess, the king severs the buffalo's head, blood from which he then offers to the goddess. At the same time the king is identified with the victim, Mahish, who is king of the demons.[23]

[21] A similar epithet is Vritraghni, "killer of Vritra," who is Sarasvati (Alf Hiltebeitel, The Ritual of Battle [Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976], 153). There is also the example of Madhusudhana, "Slayer of Madhu," a title for Krishna used throughout the Bhagavad Gita . See, for example, J. A. B. van Buitenen's translation, The Bhagavadgita in the Mahabharata (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 71, 73.

[22] Where buffalo sacrifices are performed by Rajputs ("sons of kings") who are not in fact kings, the sacrificers stand in the position of the king relative to the sacrificial victim, the buffalo. As elsewhere in India, the Rajput does what the Brahman priests cannot, i.e., he spills blood. Priests direct the sacrifice and read from the Devimahatmya , but only the warrior can decapitate the victim.

[23] See Madeleine Biardeau and Charles Malamoud, Le sacrifice dans l'Inde ancienne (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1976), 146. Also see the discussion of Mahish as Potu Raja in ibid., 150; in Hiltebeitel, Cult of Draupadi , 37 n. 8 and passim; and in Gunther D. Sontheimer, Pastoral Deities in Western India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 56–57.


Thus the blood he offers is also his own.[24] The demon Mahish, liberated by death from his demonic buffalo form, becomes the Goddess's foremost devotee. The king, also represented as the kuldevi 's foremost devotee, offers her his death to assure her victory over the enemies of his kingdom.[25] Thus Ban Mata bears the epithet Bukh Mata, "Hungry Mother," for she needs blood from her royal protégés to protect them.[26] Such an identification of king as sacrificer and sacrificed is widely documented by scholars treating Vedic and popular sacrifice.[27]

This same double identification is seen in the traditional construction of warfare. The king, who is protected by the Goddess (as kuldevi ) and who acts as she does when he kills his enemies, also gives his life in battle. Thus again, the king is not only conqueror of Mahish but also Mahish, the king-victim. To sacrifice one's life in battle, also called balidan , is the warrior's desired destiny.[28] As foremost and quintessential warrior, the king gives his blood on the battlefield, which nourishes the kuldevi who protects the kul and kingdom.[29] At times Bukh Mata has needed the blood of many kings and soldiers to make battle successful. Hence the kuldevi helps the king protect and strengthen his kingdom but, like Durga "liberating" Mahish, she also leads him and his soldiers toward glorious death in battle.

One myth, which was told to me by the brother of an informant, makes the identification of the king as sacrificer and sacrificed particularly vivid. He said that the Muslims had killed all his ancestors in their erstwhile home at Narola. Only the pregnant queen escaped and managed to deliver the heir. When the boy, Vijay Raj, was old enough, he was married to a daughter of the Jaisalmer king. The Muslims were keen

[24] In a Madhya Pradesh estate where one noblewoman grew up, male family members cut their arms to offer their kuldevi their own blood on Navratri. On buffalo sacrifice as symbolic enactment of human sacrifice, see Biardeau and Malamoud, Le sacrifice , 148; Herrenschmidt, "Le sacrifice," 150; and Hiltebeitel, Cult of Draupadi , 63. I shall discuss animal and human sacrifice in greater detail in my study of hero worship in Rajasthan.

[25] For a more detailed sketch of this myth see David Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 96–99.

[26] See chapter 3 for details of the story by which Bukh Mata gained her epithet.

[27] On the king's roles as sacrificer and sacrificed see Jan Heesterman, The Inner Conflict of Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 110; Hiltebeitel, Cult of Draupadi , 63, 77; Filliozat, "After-Death Destiny," 4; Shulman, King and Clown , 36, 286–87; and Beck, Three Twins , 53.

[28] For exploration of this widely recognized theme, see Hiltebeitel, Ritual of Battle ; Heesterman, Inner Conflict (particularly his chapter, "The Case of the Severed Head"); and Beck, Three Twins , 51–52.

[29] On the notion that eating flesh "makes" a goddess protect her wards, see Meyer, Ankalaparmecuvari , 168.


to kill him; they pursued him wherever he went. Just after the marriage his kuldevi , Ashapura, appeared to him and said:

I am your family goddess and I want to see you settled down. Tomorrow you go to a particular lake and you'll see a herd of buffalo bathing. In the herd will be a big male much bigger than normal. He'll have a gold ring in his nose. You kill him. Inside his stomach you'll find a big sword, which will stay with the ruling head of state in times to come. You will be a ruler now. That sword should be handed down from generation to generation.

After that Vijay Raj was successful against the Muslims.

The narrator then noted that "the sword has remained with the family but the golden bracelet, which is supposed to be worn by the ruler—you remember, the bracelet that was worn by the buffalo in his nose—is not with us any more. Maybe it got worn out or lost."

This account succinctly links buffalo sacrifice with success in war. It also identifies the king who kills the buffalo both as sacrificer—from the sacrifice he performs he gets a sword for battle and for more sacrifices—and as victim—because he is to wear as a bracelet the gold ring that the buffalo (the leader of the herd) once wore in its nose. The kuldevi gives the king the implements he needs for his success and her satisfaction.

The foundation myths presented above articulate an understanding of royal and kul or shakh power as divinely legitimated. The king and his warriors are guided by a kuldevi , whose duty as a war goddess is to facilitate their performance of military duties. What, then, can be the relevance of the kuldevi to the lives of women? To answer this question we must further ponder the connection between the concepts of caste and gender. The way that men and women understand the powers of the kuldevi reflects their suppositions about the norms Rajputs espouse and the roles women have. For women, these suppositions sometimes prove troublesome.

The most important supposition shared by men and women is that caste rules or norms relate closely to the caste duties performed by men. Rajputs, we have seen, have been rulers and warriors. That these duties are construed as male duties is seen most clearly in the ideal of the Rajput as a protector of women. Rajput men are to administer and defend their realms in such a way that women need never fight in defense of personal honor and family reputation.[30]

[30] Tod attributes the Rajput protectiveness of women to the Rajput susceptibility to women: "If devotion to the fair sex be admitted as a criterion of civilization, the Rajpoot must rank high. His susceptibility is extreme, and fires at the slightest offense to female delicacy, which he never forgives" (Annals and Antiquities 1:223).


Ideally then, women do not perform these caste duties; they perform female duties, such as housekeeping and child rearing. Caste-related norms, however, apply to women as they do to men. Honor, courage, dignity, generosity, and kul loyalty are the virtues expected of a Rajput, male or female. Here trouble surfaces. For men, norms and duties are closely associated. For women, however, norms that derive from men's caste duties must be applied to duties understood as gender-affiliated. Furthermore, because gender-affiliated duties have their own normative ideals, there is always potential for friction between duty-alienated caste norms and duty-related gender norms.

The traditional norms of womanhood are subsumed within the central ideal of the pativrata , whose duties are those essential to being a good wife to her husband, a good mother to her children, and a good daughter-in-law to her husband's parents. All female duties derive from the pativrata ideal. If a woman is devoted to her husband, exemplary performance of all secondary duties will naturally follow.

Rajput women's conception of their kuldevi s clearly reflects this pativrata ideal. Like the men in their families, Rajput women understand kuldevi s as protectors but relate to them primarily as protectors of the household rather than as protectors of an extended kinship group. The kul (or shakh ) is not a group with which women identify or interact in any concrete way. It is relevant to them only insofar as it impinges upon the home. Thus women tend to tell stories in which their kuldevi s render aid to household members.

The Household Stories

The following story, related by a prominent Udaipur noblewoman about her conjugal family's kuldevi , illustrates the type of aid kuldevi s give within the context of the family.

Kuldevi [Ban Mata] appeared to me once. She had a lota (vessel) of water, which she gave to me. It was during the war (1965)[31] and my husband was in the army. He had been shot. The doctors operated on him. I was there. Kuldevi came to me in order to give me the lota of water for my husband to drink. She also gave me a rose and told me to put one of its petals in my husband's mouth. At first I thought that Kuldevi was just my sister, but then I realized who she was.

I knew that the doctor had said that my husband should not drink water, so I was afraid to give him any. Then the nurse—she was a Catholic sister—

[31] The 1965 war involved India and Pakistan.


saw Kuldevi (just as I saw her). Kuldevi was wearing a beautiful red Rajput dress with find gold beadwork. After a time Kuldevi walked away. I asked the nurse where she had gone. The nurse said, "Maybe she's in the waiting room." I went to look for Kuldevi but she had disappeared. I went downstairs and asked the sentry if he had seen a woman leave. He said, "It's 1:00 A.M. and visiting hours ended at 11:00 P.M. Of course nobody came out the door." She had vanished.

As I said, I was afraid to give my husband the water. I thought the doctor would be angry because he had said that my husband should not drink or eat anything. So I didn't give my husband the water and the rose. Instead, I fell asleep. Kuldevi came to me in a dream—this time she came in a dream and not before my eyes—and she said, "You must give him the water and rose petals." So I awoke and gave them to him.

The next morning the doctor came to me and said, "Congratulations, your husband will recover." He recuperated right away.

Women say that kuldevi s appear in dreams and visions in order to help women avert family misfortune. Many examples of this could be cited. The most common cases of catastrophe aversion involve ailing husbands or, less frequently, children. Women also say that often a kuldevi appears not to avert misfortune but to help a protégée prepare for misfortune by warning her of its approach. One women states:

Whenever trouble is going to happen she comes to help us by warning us. She has more than one form (rup ) but she is always very beautiful. She looks like a suhagin [an auspicious married woman]. Our Kuldevi came to my mother to tell her my grandfather was going to die. Two days later he passed away.

This account specifically names the form in which kuldevi s inevitably appear in the household stories. Whereas the foundation myths generally depict her in an animal form (a snake, a kite, etc.), the household stories describe a particularly lovely suhagin (pativrata) . In another such account a woman reports that her family's kuldevi , who appeared to her in a dream, looked like a suhagin . The suhagin then became a flame that grew into a large fire. Not long after this dream, its recipient suffered the loss of a relative. The woman said that the dream fire foreshadowed the lighting of her relative's funeral pyre. She understood the dream not as a bad omen, even though it predicted the death of a family member, but as a helpful summons that enabled her to ready herself and her household for an approaching crisis.

Thus the two basic services kuldevi s perform are rendering aid in times of desperation and giving warnings when trouble is imminent. The goddesses use the media of dreams and visions. Interestingly enough,


not a single woman I interviewed, or for that matter any Rajput woman or man I met during my stay in Rajasthan, mentioned possession in discussing kuldevi s and their deeds. Because this seems unusual—village and lineage deities in many communities throughout India do possess their devotees—I asked a few women about kuldevi possession. They responded that kuldevi s, and satimata s for that matter, do not possess Rajput women. To find out whether their answers were representative, I undertook a separate survey of fifty women (nobles and villagers) with explicit questions about possession. Over and over I heard the same response: such possession does not occur.[32] Moreover, women tended to treat this whole line of questioning about possession as silly and irrelevant.[33] Some found it insulting, either to Rajput women or to kuldevi s.

As everyone made perfectly clear, possession is not a dignified sort of thing. Rajput women, being very protective of their composure (what we might call "self-possession"), do not like the idea of rolling about on the floor, letting their hair fly loose, neglecting their head coverings, and so forth. Not only is such behavior immodest, it has sexual overtones. As one woman explained about possession, "We don't like the idea of something coming into our bodies . . . that's why we keep parda ."

Although it might at first seem surprising that a goddess's possession of a woman would have such overtones, it is less so when one learns that the primary deity of which women think when they think of "possession" (bhav ana ) is Bheru Ji (Sanskrit: Bhairava).[34] Bheru Ji is an attendant of various goddesses (including kuldevi s) as well as a deity in his own right. An insatiably lusty bachelor, Bheru Ji delights in seducing women, especially young virgins. In Rajasthan as elsewhere, Bheru Ji's

[32] Although thorough speculation on why possession does not occur would be a digression, I address possession because one might expect to find it associated with goddess tradition. It is hard to discover why people lack a certain belief. To ask them why they lack the belief—i.e., to ask them why they do not think as outsiders expect—is, of course, to invite artificial responses. Answers to such questions can be gleaned only through inference, except perhaps in instances where a belief was previously held and then consciously abandoned.

[33] The questions treated both kuldevi and sati possession. The responses were identical: it does not happen. Of fifty women interviewed, forty-nine said they knew of no kuldevi possession (one was unsure); all said they knew of no sati possession. The one informant who mentioned an incidence of kuldevi possession—involving a female relative who was possibly possessed while my informant was a little girl—was not sure whether the possessing deity was a kuldevi or another goddess or whether the relative was sober or tipsy as she was at least occasionally known to be. A number of witnesses drew the latter conclusion.

[34] As one woman explained to me, "I have never heard of a kuldevi who possesses people. They just don't do that. Kuldevi s are not like Bherus!"


possession is associated with sexual penetration.[35] Thus while acknowledging that Bheru Ji can possess (Rajput women and women of other castes venerate Bheru just before marriage so that he will not violate their virginity as they prepare to become sexually active), Rajput women deny that he possesses them .[36] Rather he possesses low-caste people, both men and women. In particular, he possesses bhopa s, mediums, who become possessed while performing Bheru Ji veneration. In trance, the bhopa s are clairvoyant and will answer questions put to them. Although bhopa s are good at helping people identify and interpret dreams sent by kuldevi s and satimata s, they are not primarily associated with these family guardians.[37] In the village in which I worked, Bheru possession occurs not at the kuldevi temples or any other goddess temples but in the Bheru Ji temple, which is situated on the village boundary and far from other temples and shrines.[38]

Thus the low-caste associations of Bheru possession seem to combine with the sexual associations to make possession unappealing to Rajput women. Perhaps the low-caste associations also help explain the absence of possession among Rajput males.[39] Neither Rajput women I interviewed formally nor Rajput men I interviewed informally knew of any kuldevi or satimata possession of Rajput men. Being less concerned with chastity than women are, Rajput men might be less daunted by the sexual aspects of possession (or at least possibly, possession by women) but equally uneasy about its associations with status.[40]

There is a notable exception to this discomfort with possession. Rajput men and women say that sometimes ancestors (purvaj s) do possess family members. Purvaj possession may manage to escape the low-caste and sexual connotations of Bheru possession because ancestors share the same caste and blood as their possessed descendants and because familial closeness tends not to be construed as sexual. Even cross-gender possession seems to raise no concern about incest, for there are instances

[35] Gold, Fruitful Journeys , 257–58.

[36] See ibid., 95, 197 n. 8.

[37] They also grant various blessings, such as fertility.

[38] The primary bhopa at this temple is a Raika, a member of a caste of goat and sheep herders.

[39] In the 1950s G. Morris Carstairs noted a tendency among high castes to perceive possession as generally associated with low castes in his village (less than a half-hour's drive from the village where I worked) (The Twice-Born [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967], 26, 92–93).

[40] Rajputs and others tend to understand Rajput men in general as rather virile, lusty sorts. Thus there are many stories about the size of ancestors' extensive harems and the lasciviousness of their dancing girls.


of women being possessed by deceased brothers and sons. One commonly mentioned instance of ancestral possession among women, however, was the possession of a bride by the deceased wife of her husband.[41] Either envious of the living or feeling neglected by the living, ancestral spirits must be venerated to keep them from making mischief in the household.[42]

In brief, kuldevi s and satimata s like to keep their distance even from those whom they protect. Rather than possess, they prefer to send instructive visions and give warnings. The kuldevi stories often combine these two services. They tell of times in which a kuldevi appears in order to warn but also to help avert an impending crisis. These stories invariably involve a situation where a kuldevi becomes manifest because her worship has been neglected in some essential way. She warns that unless her worship is performed properly, various undesirable consequences will ensue. A warning appearance is typically accompanied by bad omens: cows' udders wither, children come down with fever, money problems arise or intensify.

Despite the unpleasant or even frightening character of these appearances and omens, the warnings kuldevi s provide are considered blessings. The kuldevi is not understood as malevolent toward her protégés. Some say she only warns of bad consequences; she does not cause them. Those who believe that she does cause harm say that she is right to do so because she has been insulted by ritual neglect. One woman explained that a kuldevi must be respected because she is like one's mother. If she causes harm in the short run, it is for the best in the long run. As another woman put it: "How will our kuldevi cause us harm?

[41] A detailed account of a Jaipur noblewoman's possession by a female ancestor (pitrani ) several generations ago occurs in the "Amar Sinh Diary" (its abridged version will be published by Mohan Sinh of Kanota and Susanne Rudolph and Lloyd I. Rudolph). Ann Gold describes the possession of village brides by their husbands' deceased wives in Fruitful Journeys , 67–68. I have wondered whether Rajputs who have been exposed to western education might not have gradually come to perceive kuldevi and satimata possession as superstitious (see Brij Raj Chauhan, A Rajasthani Village [Delhi: Vir Publishing House, 1967], 206–7) but then also wondered why in that case, they continue to believe in ancestor possession and Bheru Ji possession now. Interestingly, although all village women did not believe in kuldevi and satimata possession, a few did believe that on rare occasions local Rajput women and men have been possessed by a village goddess. Perhaps villagers have absorbed the nobility's opinions about Rajput traditions but kept other local ones. I hope to investigate such matters in my work on hero worship.

[42] Rajputs' ancestor worship is similar to that of other castes in Rajasthan. Ancestors are installed in small shrines, often in pleasant places away from the household such as shady patches under trees and along the edges of wells. Sometimes the ancestors prefer a more intimate location in pendants (putli s), which people have made by local metalsmiths (Sonis) and which they hand around their necks. For more on ancestor veneration, see Gold, Fruitful Journeys .


She sits on our shoulders." Here referring to the kite (cil ) form (rup ) of her kuldevi , this woman expresses the sentiment that whatever the kuldevi does, she intends to protect the line that belongs to her. If neglected, she instructs devotees so that they will mend their ways and once again deserve her protection.

When the kuldevi decides to teach her devotees a lesson, that is, to punish them for their own good, she often does so by withdrawing a bodily fluid, as the omens listed above indicate. She evaporates the milk of cows, which is associated with the nurture of children in two senses: it is given by mothers to children for their nourishment and it is homologous with mother's milk, the cow being the quintessential symbol of motherhood. Furthermore, she causes fever: she dries up the water in the body. The victims here are generally children, but sometimes husbands.

Another way she tends to punish, destroying financial security, is not literally a mode of dehydration. Nevertheless, in describing situations in which kuldevi s have hurt family resources, two women resorted to the same hyperbolic expression, "There wasn't even enough money to buy milk for the children!" The ease with which these women associated impoverishment with fluid deprivation strikes me as suggesting that women do perceive a connection between the two.

The dehydration type of warning, so appropriate to the Rajputs' desert environment, correlates with the way a kuldevi renders direct aid. When the soldier is dying in the hospital, his kuldevi delivers to his wife life-saving water. When the Rathaurs are critically wounded on the battlefield, she appears as a cow to splash life-renewing milk on their faces and into their mouths. Hence when rescuing and reviving her male protégés and their children, the kuldevi functions in her domestic aspect. Even though in the household she makes her will known by afflicting children and husbands with various kinds of dehydration, she is not to be blamed or resented for these afflictions.[43] She withdraws by implication; she gives outright. Thus when women restore their proper ritual practices, the kuldevi resumes her active role as the giver of fluids.

Here it is clear that while the kuldevi appears wholly in her pativrata aspect in the context of her role as family protector, she also demonstrates pativrata behavior in serving her role as kul protector. Thus there

[43] In allowing or even in causing dehydration, the kuldevi seems to deny her children her maternal breast rather than protect them. But this act does not transform her conceptually into a hostile goddess as described, for example, by O'Flaherty, Women, Androgynes , 90–91.


is an undeniable crossover of imagery between the domains of women's and men's worship. Before I can discuss this crossover with greater specificity, I must say something more about the household-linked contrasts between the kuldevi 's relationships with women on the one hand and with men and children on the other.

Whereas the kuldevi serves as the dispenser of fluids to men and children, she does not serve in this capacity relative to women. Rather, she coerces women (sometimes gently, sometimes not so gently) to better serve an analogous role. She nurtures and protects men and children as every pativrata should. Moreover, her purpose of afflicting the family in the first place is to ensure that the woman whose task as a pativrata is to protect her husband and his family will perform the ritual duties that guarantee family welfare and prosperity.

The giving of fluids is to be understood as the quintessential mode of protection rendered by kuldevi s and pativrata s alike. The fluids revive and strengthen blood, the loss of which means death. Just as the kuldevi conserves and invigorates the blood of the kul , a woman, through her rituals, by her daily household duties, and with her chastity, protects the blood of her family. The pativrata 's rituals promote the longevity of family members. Her dutiful performance of household responsibilities increases her reservoir of virtue (sat ), which rituals fortify and conserve. Finally, her chastity preserves her sexuality for the purposes of procreation within the family. It protects the purity and strength of the family's bloodline. By these means, the pativrata serves her household as the agent of the kuldevi she venerates.

In short, although as kul protector the kuldevi has intervened in events on the battlefield, it is as a household protector that she has most actively regulated her protégés' lives. Wars are occasional occurrences; family mishaps are endless recurrences. Hence, although the kuldevi is a warrior goddess, she has always been busiest as the day-to-day guarantor and delegator of protective pativrata responsibility.

If we consider this often overlooked domestic dimension of kuldevi tradition, we can see that the limited conception of the kuldevi as a warrior goddess is insufficient. True, men and women share this mardana -derived conception. As the core of kuldevi worship, it provides the foundation myth that serves as a basis for the kul 's subsequent sacred genealogy. As we have seen, however, women utilize far more than this common core. Accounts such as the hospital story and the dream stories show that women accept the common tradition but enrich it by impos-


ing on it their domestic (zanana -linked) goddess. The iconography of the goddess metamorphoses in the process. The snake or kite becomes a richly adorned pativrata .

This expansion engenders a formal paradox: the kuldevi is a virgin and a pativrata . As a warrior goddess, she is not the mere consort of a male deity; she appears unattached and unconstrained. In temples her icon stands alone or surrounded by attendant goddesses. Many myths refer specifically to her virginity. The story of Ad Mata, for example, presents the kuldevi as a spinster. Karni Mata, a Caran kuldevi who is claimed by some Rajputs as well,[44] also remains a maiden. She changes herself into a lion to frighten away her groom for his own good and then, having thus revealed her divine nature, arranges for the betrothal of the amazed young man to her younger sister, who is a more suitable bride. Other kuldevi myths simply imply a kuldevi's unmarried status by making no mention of a consort. Finally, as noted, the kuldevi is directly identified with Durga, whose very power derives from her status as a virgin unrestrained by male control.

Yet as the household stories illustrate, through the female appropriation of the kuldevi the goddess is transformed into a lovely bride whose guardianship and implicit instruction help her protégées to be virtuous and dutiful wives. Thus although based on the image of the warrior goddess, the unmarried and fierce virgin who protects the kul , the female conception of the kuldevi entails a predominant notion of the goddess as wife and mother. It is this suhagin image that shapes the foremost experience and expectations of the women who perform domestic kuldevi rituals. The images, then, are fluid: although an ordinary woman cannot be virginal and married according to context, a goddess can be.[45]

Although the domestic or zanana -linked conception of the kuldevi has more impact on the lives of Rajput women, the warrior conception that underlies it is never wholly absent. For one thing, Rajput women are aware of their female ancestors who were forced by disaster to fight in battle. Those ancestors are heroines of whom Rajput women speak readily and exuberantly. Highly revered, such women are few because parda prohibited public appearances under all but the most desperate

[44] Some Rathaur women claim Karni Mata as their kuldevi . As we shall see, Rajput women have sometimes adopted alien kuldevis , who attend or eventually supplant their kul or shakh kuldevis . Like Naganecha Ji, Karni is often depicted as a kite on the battlefield, which makes the association between them especially easy.

[45] On paradox and divinity, see O'Flaherty, Siva , 4 ff.


circumstances: a proper woman would not leave the domain of the household unless faced with the death or the imminent death of her husband. Thus female performance of caste military duty has been permissible only when the female duties of pativratas are terminated or severely threatened.

Even today Rajput women maintain that instilling the discipline required to meet a military emergency remains essential to the proper raising of daughters, though their expectation that women will ever have to participate in battle is minimal. A number of women made this point about the socialization of their daughters. One young thakurani (noble-woman), who is from one of the foremost Mewari households, went into this matter in great detail. She explained that even though these days a Rajput woman might never face the prospect of battle, the socialization that prepares a Rajput woman for battle is essential as it reinforces the vow of self-sacrifice that all women must make as pativratas .[46]

Moreover, the lore of the militant Rajputni (female Rajput) comes down to children as part of their Rajput heritage.[47] The image of the Rajput woman with sword in one hand and shield in the other remains an important element of the mythic consciousness of Rajputs—especially of Rajput women—today (figs. 13, 14). It is painted on palace entryways and printed on the covers of children's story books.[48] Iconographically, it is an image of Rajput woman in the role of kuldevi : it is the lone protectress who fights among men on the battlefield (fig. 15).

That the warrior aspect of the goddess underlies the domestic aspect and is contextualized as a contingency does not mean, once again, that these aspects are perceived as opposed. Often secondary literature on the Sanskritic Goddess draws a rather rigid dichotomy between the

[46] In the same vein, another woman said, "I want to bring up my children to know tradition—discipline is necessary for them, otherwise there can be no strength (bala ) in one's life." The ethos of sacrifice and the stern tone that women often adopted when explaining the necessity for its preservation often brought to my mind television recruitment commercials for the Marine Corps. The women's serious tone no doubt reflected both conviction and fear of impending lapse given the changing social climate.

[47] There are various stories of Rajput heroines. The most popular of these among Rajput women are recounted in chapters 5 and 6.

[48] A militant Rajput woman is strikingly depicted on a second-story balcony wall in the Udaipur City Palace Museum. This figure is typical of the painting style found, particularly on entryway walls, throughout Rajasthan. Crude life-sized paintings of Rajput women also appear as "doorkeepers" at the entryway to the Kota City Palace Museum. Other good examples illustrate the covers of children's pamphlets like Rajput Nariyam by Acarya Catursen (Delhi: Prabhat Prakashan, 1984) and Rajasthan ke Durg by Rajkumar Anil (Delhi: Sahitya Prakashan, 1984) (see figs. 14, 15).



Relief image of a Rajput woman bearing a shield
(by permission of the Udaipur City Palace Museum).



Rajput woman gives her son a sword to encourage him to be a brave soldier
(from a local pamphlet entitled Rajput Women ).



Rajput woman leading a charge
(from a local pamphlet entitled Forts of Rajasthan ).


militant aspect of the Goddess—the dark, furious, awful, and uncontrolled side of her nature—and the wifely aspect. It conceives the Goddess in her dark aspect as threatening and understands the Goddess in her light aspect as nurturing.[49] Left uncontextualized, however, this stark characterization may be inadequate, not least of all because it ignores the question of focus. It fails to ask, threatening to whom? Protective of whom?[50] To be sure, in Sanskrit literature a militant goddess is potentially dangerous to all: wrath once engendered is hard to repress, even when it has achieved vengeance. This is the message conveyed by the Puranic myth of Kali in which she defeats a demon army to preserve cosmic order and then herself poses a threat to the cosmos. Still, the message of Kali's overflow of energy is arguably not of malevolence toward her allies but of power; she does not have to stop destroying when she has finished destroying enemies (she can be maleficent) if she is intoxicated by demon blood. On the more immediate, mundane level—and in terms of this study a more important level—the Goddess's anger, however destructive, is triggered by and directed toward her enemies, which means the enemies of those she protects (gods), enemies whose defeat finally reestablishes order in the world.[51]

In a similar way the Rajput kuldevi is understood as originally and ultimately protective. Even in her warrior mode, when she demands the blood of kul members, she is thought vicious not to the kul but to the forces opposing it. Moreover in Rajput mythology, the question of nonspecific or spillover aggression does not even arise. The blood of protégés is necessary to defeat enemies (all wars have casualties), but the goddess is satisfied with triumph. She does not run amok and violate her role as guardian.

[49] For superb discussions of these aspects in various contexts, see O'Flaherty, Women, Androgynes , 91–92; and Kakar, Inner World , 79–112.

[50] Because a virgin goddess is unrestrained, she is sometimes characterized as sexually aggressive and therefore dangerous, desiring to consume her victim literally or sexually, the two being identified with each other and with death. Classed as malevolent, she is contrasted with the sexually controlled goddess, the married one, who is deemed creative. Some studies on goddesses artifically separate and polarize these aspects. As the stories in this chapter show, aggression is not necessarily or logically antithetical to the function of protection. The stories do not always consider an aggressive goddess as malevolent even to enemies: she may kill enemies (demons) for benevolent purposes (to preserve world order or liberate bhakts from demonic existences. Nor do they necessarily perceive the sexuality of the goddess (tied either to virginal or conjugal lust) as dangerous—it is essential to procreation. In no mythology does a kuldevi jeopardize her virginity on the battlefield or elsewhere. For an exemplary discussion of the fluidity of aspects generally polarized, see Ann Grodzins Gold, "Cow Worship, Goat Talk" (paper presented at the American Anthropological Association Meeting, Denver, November 1984).

[51] Having praised her kuldevi , one woman remarked, "She gives trouble to others, but she only does good for us [Sisodiyas]."


Hence the difference between kul goddess and family goddess cannot be easily formulated in terms of hostility and control.[52] No general contradiction is perceived between the role of warrior guardian and pativrata guardian. Rather, the relation between the goddess's two aspects remains fluid. The form of the goddess changes: on the battlefield she is the fierce virgin, and in the household she is the prototypical pativrata . Nevertheless, the nature of her protective purpose does not change. She is a kul guardian who also protects the family. Her modes of protection may clash in actual situations, for the interests of the kul and family are not always synonymous. This fact does not, however, alter the ideal conceptualization of her protective roles as complementary.

To recapitulate, the kuldevi as kul guardian is for women the basis of the kuldevi mythology they know and the potential source of inspiration in the unlikely event that they should ever have to participate in warfare. This means that the kuldevi as warrior goddess constitutes a relatively diminished presence in the religious lives of most women. On a regular basis Rajput women worship the kuldevi as a pativrata and hope through their worship to perfect their roles as pativratas . The consciousness of the kuldevi as a domestic being is not, however, a correspondingly diminished presence in the minds of Rajput men. At times it seems to overwhelm the conception of the kuldevi as a warrior goddess.

This is the case with Jamvai Mata, who appears on the battlefield not as a wild belligerent animal but as a cow, a domestic animal and India's ultimate symbol of motherhood. Shortly we will see that this reversal tends to undermine her status. Here it provides the sharpest image of the transfer of the maternal conception of the goddess to the male domain. Other examples are not wanting.

One involves a goddess not always explicitly identified as Ban Mata but who appears to Bappa Rawal, the illustrious forefather of the Sisodiyas, in order to instruct him in the use of weapons. In so doing she performs what is assuredly a kuldevi function. Mounted on a lion at a site consecrated to Shiv, she is clearly homologous with the Sanskritic warrior Goddess (see fig. 16). She appears to Bappa Rawal during the final stage of a tripartite scenario in which he learns of his destiny. The first stage is defined by an episode in which Bappa discovers that one of

[52] My persistent questions on the malevolence of kuldevis seemed to provoke only disagreement or ridicule. The goddess's violence does, of course, provide cause for ample psychoanalytic interpretation, but here I am attending to the narrative level and conscious motivation, which analyses of goddess texts often treat lightly (presumably because abundant exegetical commentary is unavailable). Such analyses often assume a radical conceptual polarization of the goddess's characteristics.


the cows he is tending is not producing milk and determines to resolve this mystery. He follows her as she wanders off across some fields, then discovers her discharging all her milk on a stone ling (literally the "mark" or "sign" of Shiv—an erect phallus) hidden by some grass in the midst of a grove.[53] Here the cow suggests Bappa's destiny, for Bappa will become the first among devotees to Ekling Ji (One Ling ), a form of Shiv, as well as the ruler of Mewar (fig. 17).[54]

During the second stage Bappa receives instruction from the sage Harit, who has been performing tapasya (ascetic penances) at this spot to venerate Shiv. Harit initiates Bappa into the mysteries of devotion to Shiv and, before departing for heaven in his chariot, informs Bappa that Shiv intends him to be the founder of a ruling dynasty. Finally, during the third stage Mata Ji appears in order to give Bappa practical advice along with some of the weapons he will need to establish his kingdom.

This story relating the three stages of Bappa Rawal's supernatural instruction directly corresponds to the three stages of learning that any male child undergoes. In the beginning Bappa's guide is a cow, a maternal figure. She directs him to the point where he is ready to undergo religious education. At this time, he leaves his "mother" to receive instruction from a guru. This period effectively constitutes his upanayan , his initiatory rebirth, which the male who is his spiritual teacher must supervise and during which Bappa Rawal progresses from boy to man and from cowherd to king. In the third stage the Rajput, now aware of his caste duty and destiny, accepts his relationship with his protectress.

This scenario also clearly demonstrates a transformation of the strictly maternal into a predominantly military type of female guardianship. The cow represents Bappa's mother, who is not included directly in this mythical journey to Bappa's destiny.[55] The guru is a spiritual father figure.[56] It is during the initiatory period spent with Harit that the transformation of guardianship from maternal to martial occurs. After a spiritual introduction to manhood and cultus, Bappa takes on this new

[53] The ling form of Shiv represents the coincidence of Shiv's antithetical traits, asceticism and eroticism. His phallus is erect because he is an ascetic (he stores his semen rather than spilling it) and because, associated with fertility, he is also a woman-chaser. On Shiv as celibate and seducer, see O'Flaherty, Siva .

[54] Because Bappa is the first among devotees, each of his ruling descendants has borne the title of divan (chief minister) of the Ekling Ji temple. These descendants have had an important ritual role in the life of the temple.

[55] On the cow as a conventional mother substitute in Indian stories, see Shulman, Tamil Temple Myths ; O'Flaherty, Women, Androgynes .

[56] See Robert Goldman, "Fathers, Sons, and Gurus," Journal of Indian Philosophy 6 (1978): 325–92; and Carstairs, Twice-Born , 71–72.


relationship with the feminine, which is essential to the performance of caste duty. His prior relationship with the maternal, be it mother or cow, does not disappear. It becomes imposed on the relationship with the goddess who will from then on be his primary guide, his kul guardian.

Another example is that of Ad Mata, who, we recall, rescues three little princes from a charging elephant. She extends her arms, which are at once symbols of military might and maternal affection. The boys (it is significant that they are boys, not men) are delivered from danger into the loving embrace of their aunt. That she is an aunt is also important as it underscores the ambiguity of her nature. She is a maternal figure—she is a beautiful woman and she performs a maternal act of protection by clutching the two boys to her breast. In addition, she is a warrior kuldevi —she is unmarried and she rescues the royal heir from certain death. Her maternal embrace represents her acceptance of the royal heirs as protégés in the kul .

Rather than cite further instances of the insinuation of maternal into warrior imagery, it seems more productive to investigate the important characteristics of insinuation shared by all kuldevis . First, all kuldevis , like all goddesses, are called Mata Ji (mother). The importance of this epithet can be overstressed; the Mata Ji epithet is doubtless conventional. But no epithet of the Goddess can simply be dismissed.[57] The name (used perhaps more than any other to refer to the Goddess or to a kuldevi ) underscores the point that all warrior goddesses, unmarried though they be, are potential wives and mothers and brings to light the assumption that all goddesses, married or not, are mothers to their protégés.[58] The kuldevi is perceived as a loving mother to all kul members, whose personal health she nourishes in the household and whose social welfare she supports on the battlefield.

Second, kul members inevitably understand their kuldevis as belonging to a group of seven goddesses. They conceive each kuldevi as the central figure in the heptad.[59] The identity of the other goddesses changes from kul to kul , but the convention of a group of seven remains constant. The idea of a goddess heptad is by no means a Rajasthani convention. The notion of seven related goddesses is found in myriad

[57] Coburn, Devi Mahatmya , 75–78.

[58] Thus, in the Teviparakkiramam 9 (quoted in Shulman, Tamil Temple Myths , 310), Shakti (the Goddess) is Bhavani (the great genetrix) and also Durga (the female warrior).

[59] This centrality is also demonstrated in one family's kuldevi image, which, family members say, is made of seven metals.



The warrior goddess Durga slays Mahish, the buffalo demon
(image from an icon shop near the Ekling Ji temple).



Ekling Ji, Mewari incarnation of Shiv
(devotional image from an icon shop by the gates of the Ekling Ji temple).


Indian traditions, both Sanskritic and regional.[60] In fact in Rajasthan as elsewhere the seven local goddesses are often equated with the Saptamatrikas, the "Seven Mothers" who are found in Sanskritic tradition from Vedic through Puranic times.[61] Sculpted images of the Saptamatrikas are found throughout Rajasthan.[62] As in Sanskritic literature, many of these goddesses are portrayed as shakti s (consorts, embodiments of female force) of various pan-Indian deities. They are joined by a male figure, one of various Shaiva deities.[63]

In Mewar, many married Rajput women wear gold pendants engraved with the seven kuldevi-matrika s, who are rendered as small stick figures accompanied by their even smaller companion Bheru Ji, the Shaiva guardian figure associated with the Goddess in local mythology (figs. 18, 19).[64] Whereas the sculptures in most cases make clear iconographic associations between the goddesses and the gods for whom they are shakti s, the stick figures are devoid of iconographic detail and appear to be autonomous.[65] These associations facilitate the assigning of various identities to the goddesses. Thus when listing the seven mothers, a woman typically includes the name of her kuldevi and other kuldevi s with whom she is familiar but then fills out her list with epithets of the Sanskritic Goddess. These are not the names found in traditional Sanskritic lists of the Saptamatrikas. The Sanskritic lists name such goddesses as Aindri, Brahmani, and Vaishnavi (whose names reveal their husbands' identities); Rajput women invoke such random epithets as Kali, Kalika, Camunda, and Candi, who are all ultimately and often vaguely associated with Shiv but who are also independent of him in

[60] A good example of a regional hepated is mentioned by Meyer, who says Ankalamman and Mariyamman are often thought to be two of seven goddesses, the other five of which are identified variously by different informants (Ankalaparmecuvari , 52; also Shulman, Tamil Temple Myths , 153).

[61] Coburn, Devi Mahatmya , 313–30; Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses , 151–60; and Michael Meister, "Regional Variations in Matrka Conventions," Artibus Asia 47, nos. 3–4 (1986): 233–46.

[62] Examples are the Saptamatrika sculptures in Mandor (near the railway station) and in the Jhalawar Museum; the Varahi from Kejda in the Udaipur Museum; and the Maheshvari from Mandarra in the Mt. Abu Museum (personal communication to author from Cynthia Packart; see Cynthia Packart Stangroom, "The Development of the Medieval Style in Rajasthan" [Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1988]). For detailed analysis of Saptamatrika sculpture see Meister, "Regional Variations."

[63] For sculptural variations on the identity of this male figure. see Meister, "Regional Variations."

[64] Women wear these along with a tiny pendant of Chink Mata (Sneeze Mother), who nullifies the inauspicious effects of sneezes.

[65] The sculpted Aindri has an elephant, Varahi has a boar's face, etc.



Pala (putli) : embossed pendant with images of the seven
kuldevi s and Bheru Ji.

action and have full-fledged mythical personalities and cult followings of their own.[66] Thus the Rajput kuldevi s included in such a list clearly have Shaiva associations (through the names that fill out the list and the presence of Bheru) but in local mythology are not really represented as married to Shiv.[67]

Rajput women think of their kuldevi-matrika s as largely independent of male association on the battlefield. Yet within the household context the kuldevi s are clearly understood as domestic. Worshiped by women as pativrata s, they nurture the family in various ways, not least by pro-

[66] Camunda appears with the other goddesses more closely tied to their consorts in post-Gupta sculpture, which Meister takes to be an index of Shaiva dominance. Eventually Saptamatrika tradition breaks from Shaiva dominance (Meister, "Regional Variations," 240–43).

[67] Logically and formally, the kuldevi is married to Shiv when she is homologized to his Sanskritic companion, but Rajput women do not expressly draw this conclusion.



Local wall painting of Devi attended by light and dark Bheru Jis.

moting female fertility.[68] Kuldevi s facilitate the production of sons who will continue the lineage.[69]

Although the kuldevi 's function as a promoter of female fertility is a crucial one, I have delayed its treatment until now for two reasons. In the first place, I consider it particularly appropriate to a summary discussion of the complementarity between kuldevi aspects. In promoting fertility, the kuldevi protects both the family and the kul to which it belongs. By their birth, sons extend the kul ; as soldiers they protect it. In the second, I think the association of kuldevi with fertility should not receive undue emphasis. Certainly, the kuldevi helps women to conceive sons, who will expand the family and hence strengthen the kul . But she should not be reduced and squeezed under the rubric of "fertility god-

[68] The dual nature of these kuldevi s compares to the dual nature of Shiv as an erotic ascetic (O'Flaherty, Siva ). Shulman discusses the virgin and married characteristics of goddesses in a Tamil heptad (Tamil Temple Myths , 153).

[69] Sanskritic Saptamatrika tradition also identifies the kuldevi s as independent warriors and as mothers. Even where the Matrikas bear their consorts' names, they fight independently on the battlefield; in the Devimahatmya , male wrath produces the goddesses, who are thus aspects of their partners but fight alone against marauding demons (Coburn, Devi Mahatmya , 314–16). Some mythic traditions associate these goddesses with the Krittikas, the mothers of Skanda (ibid., 317 ff.; Meister, "Regional Variations," 242 ff.). My informants never referred to the Krittikas (Pleiades), but note that the martial-maternal role fusion revealed in kuldevi veneration is exhibited also in Matrika-Krittika mythic tradition.


dess." In the kuldevi stories, the goddess's promotion of fertility appears less as a primary, and more as a support, function. It goes almost without saying that in protecting the family and kul a kuldevi must ensure offspring, upon whom the survival of both depends. Thus in many households women wishing to have children worship their female ancestors' kuldevi pendants, which are kept in a special basket in the zanana shrine.

A good illustration of the kuldevi 's role in fostering fertility is provided by the following story:

My grandmother was a great devotee of Camunda. When she had just given birth and was in a state of impurity, Devi [Kuldevi] appeared to her. Devi was wearing orange and was accompanied by a man in a white dhoti. People say this man was Bheru Ji, though others say maybe it was Shiv. If it was Bheru, then it was Gora Bheru Ji [Bheru in his light, benign aspect]. In this vision Devi gave my grandmother seven gold madaliyaus [upper-arm bracelets consisting of linked rings] and promised her that the family would prosper for seven generations. Before leaving, Devi told her not to reveal this to anyone.

The next morning my grandmother thought that this had all been a dream, but later she found the madaliyaus under her pillow. Then my grandmother's elder sister-in-law arrived at the doorstep. While she stood at the threshold [not coming inside because of the ritual impurity associated with birth], my grandmother told her what had happened despite Mata Ji's warning. Her bhabhi sa (elder sister-in-law) then said, "You are mistaken. I gave these to you last night. Now you must give them back." You see, she wanted the madaliyaus for herself.

The next night my grandmother had the same vision, but this time Mata Ji said, "I'll give you one more chance. I'll give you only three madaliyaus and this time just silver ones, not gold ones. Because of this the family will not be as prosperous as it would have been and the duration of the boon will be only three generations." This time my grandmother kept the secret of the madaliyaus and after that did regular puja to Mata Ji.

In this story told by a distinguished Mewari thakurani , the kuldevi 's domestic associations are unmistakable. The goddess arrives on the occasion of childbirth. Moreover, the token of good fortune she delivers is the bracelets worn by married women in that family. Finally, the boon that she gives is prosperity for the family line: for seven, then three, generations the family will succeed. Generations mean progeny, the sine qua non of prosperity.

Hence the kuldevi protects and increases the blood of warriors on the battlefield, as symbolized for example by Jamvai Mata's mass revival of fallen soldiers. She also protects and increases the blood of the families


constituting the kul both by rescuing individual men, as in the case of the nobleman wounded in the war, and, more commonly but less dramatically, by promoting fertility upon which family and kul depend. Men and women alike worship her as the kul military goddess, but women give primary importance to her pativrata aspect. And so the dominating aspect of the kuldevi 's character correlates with caste duty in the case of men and with gender norms in the case of women. Nevertheless, the male and female orientations toward the kuldevi are in the first instance complementary. Ideally, kul protection and family protection are compatible, just as in principle kul and family are mutually reinforcing social units.

Kuldevi Veneration: Mardana and Zanana

Because the kuldevi 's aspects ordinarily relate as complements it is possible to delineate their separate devotional contexts: mardana and zanana . Although the specifics of kuldevi worship vary from household to household, it is striking how kuldevi veneration within each household differs in its two contexts. Despite the recent deterioration of physical mardana-zanana segregation, the principle of segregation continues to have a significant impact on the interpretation and performance of kuldevi tradition.

For example, in many of the thikana s I visited the kuldevi temple is located either inside the mardana or completely outside the household. Both the mardana and the outdoors were, and in some cases still are, out-of-bounds to women. Past practice varied as to whether women were allowed to visit these temples under circumstances assuring their modesty. In one thikana where parda still remains in effect the kuldevi temple, which is located in the mardana , has a back entrance. Women use this entrance at times appointed for their worship. Clearly, however, this temple and other temples similarly situated have been chiefly identified with and attended to by male family members and Brahman officiants. Today many women still do not know much about what goes on in exterior temples. One woman told me that she had never even visited the main kuldevi temple of the thikana into which she was married. It is located just outside the main entrance to the household. Another said that she had been inside her in-laws' main temple once, when she gave dhok before entering her new home as a bride; she did not know much about the temple because while visiting it she observed ghunghat (she covered her face) and could see almost nothing at all. Since then parda has prevented her from returning.


At least partly because of the location of kuldevi temples within male quarters or outside the home, women's worship of the kuldevi has evolved along its own lines. Physical segregation has emphasized the distinctions between the roles that kuldevi s have in the lives of men and women. Even where kuldevi temples were found in the zanana (my preliminary evidence suggests that this was fairly rare) or where temples were found in both zanana and mardana (also atypical as a kuldevi is generally understood to have one central presence within a thikana or a state), distinct liturgical traditions would have tended to evolve. In the former instance, the times for men's and women's worship would be different. This temporal separation would reinforce the thematic or role-related segregation in the same way as the location-related segregation would.

Furthermore, men's worship of the kuldevi would inevitably be understood in terms of state: ritual would emphasize the unique relationship between the king or thakur and the kuldevi . Women's worship, however, would stress not the relationship of women as queens with kuldevi s but that of women as wives with kuldevi s. The domestic motifs that interested pativratas would predominate.

Where two temples have existed, one temple—most probably the zanana temple—would have been derivative of and subordinate to the other. The elaborate Brahmanical ritual (puja ) would have been performed in the dominant temple, which held the household's finest icons and received the household's richest offerings. Thus worship in the two temples would have differed qualitatively as well as thematically.

Now as in the past, in most zanana s what is to be found in women's quarters is not properly speaking a temple (mandir ) at all but a crudely designated "place," thapana (Hindi: sthapana ), where the goddess has been located. This place may simply be an area of a courtyard wall. Or it may be a spot in a room specially set aside for this purpose. A goddess's place is designated by drawing a trident (trishul ) in vermilion (sindur ) and perhaps decorating it with strips of shiny colored foil called malipanau . Worship is simple, ranging from the occasional giving of respect (dhok ) to daily or special puja s. A Brahman priest or priestess may perform the rituals, help perform the rituals, or have nothing at all to do with a particular thapana .

The difference between the relatively formal worship of the kuldevi in the mardana and informal worship of the kuldevi in the zanana is seen most vividly during the celebration of Navratri. Although celebrations of Navratri in kuldevi temples are no longer the grand affairs they were until quite recently, where the traditional rituals are performed


even in attenuated fashion, they are performed in kuldevi temples by men. The buffalo sacrifice is directed by a Brahman officiant and performed by a male Rajput family member. In days past, the killing of a buffalo or goat (a buffalo substitute) with one slash of the sword was incorporated into the ceremony as a ritual test of young warriors' mettle. It was considered an initiation into manhood.

Women have had no direct role in the blood sacrifice.[70] Rather, they have participated in the Navratri observance by fasting. For the nine days of the festival some women abstain from consuming wine and meat because these are sacred to the kuldevi . Others eat one meal a day but make a point of consuming wine and meat for the exact same reason. The most zealous maintain a complete fast throughout.

Because the purpose of the Navratri vrat (vow to fast) performed by women is to preserve their husbands' welfare, its focus is predominantly domestic. Nevertheless, a few men fast along with their wives; presumably their motives are linked to the aspirations of Rajput men. Although nowadays these motives may relate to earning a living unrelated to warfare, their expression through this traditional martial means may well reflect a man's concern to conduct his affairs in a way commensurate with Rajput dignity, privilege, and, above all, duty. If so, his vrat , performed on the quintessentially Rajput festival, is tied thematically to the formal ritual and blood sacrifice performed at the temple, activities in which he, unlike his wife, participates directly.[71]

One nobleman whose family I came to know well during my stay spoke of Navratri and the fast he observed during it as a revification of the past. He credited his ritual observances with linking him to his ruling forefathers who had upheld Navratri and other Rajput traditions. Clearly, his participation was permeated with nostalgia about the vanished past in which Rajputs were kings and warriors and was geared toward preserving that martial legacy. The protection sought by men and women appears to remain oriented toward, though not encompassed by, concerns of caste duty on the one hand and gender norms on the other.

In general, during Navratri and at other times, the conceptualization of women as family-protectors has resulted in a reliance on women to organize and supervise household rituals, even those in which they do

[70] Traditional households performed the balidan in the kuldevi temple compound—typically outside the women's quarters and often out of view from zanana windows.

[71] This analysis comes from a Rajput nobleman from a large Mewar thikana ; he keeps a Navratri vrat .


not participate directly. While women engage in types of veneration in various ways distinct from those of men, responsibility for the proper performance of ritual cuts across this distinction. This fact is nowhere so evident as in the appearances by kuldevi s in the dreams of women to motivate them to rectify all sorts of ritual mistakes.[72] As one woman commented, "It's a good thing when Kuldevi comes in our dreams. She comes when she is happy with us but she also comes when there is a mistake in the puja . Then she gives us trouble (taqlif ) until the mistake is cleared up." Even where the kuldevi gives trouble in conjunction with a dream warning and the one who suffers directly is a husband—indeed, he may well be the ritual offender—the problem is considered to belong to the woman in whose dream the kuldevi appears. It is her responsibility to right the situation that offends the kuldevi .

In sum, the separation of women's quarters from men's quarters has allowed distinctively domestic religious traditions to develop. The impact of these traditions has not, however, remained in seclusion along with the women who have promulgated and practiced them. Wives have been responsible for the fortunes of the mardana , as kuldevi dreams and visitations clearly illustrate. This responsibility has accorded women an authority in religious matters that extends past parda . As will soon become more vividly apparent, the responsibility of pativrata s to protect men has made women's worship of kuldevi s a source of influence over the religious life of men.

I have delineated a theoretical complementarity between the mardana -linked conception of the kuldevi as kul protector and the zanana -linked conception of the kuldevi as family protector. Symbolically, the kuldevi brings together these functions, which may be opposed logically.[73] In certain contexts, however, a kuldevi represents not unity but conflict.[74] During times of adjustment and change, the kuldevi may symbolize not the coalescence but the disharmony of the duties she performs. This is indeed the case when women devotees experience disso-

[72] I did not formally interview men about kuldevi dreams but did meet many husbands, brothers, and sons of noble and royal women; a good number listened in on part of the interviews. Only once did I hear of a kuldevi appearing in a man's dreams, but even in that case the man was unsure whether he saw his kuldevi or another superhuman being. No dream or vision stories told by women involve men's dreams. It seems that like fasts and other domestic rituals, dreams and visions are phenomena primarily associated with women, perhaps increasingly so because men have been involved in fewer public religious performances since 1947.

[73] See O'Flaherty's discussion of Shiv as the "erotic ascetic" in Siva .

[74] On symbol and conflict see Suzanne Hanchett, "Ritual Symbols—Unifying or Divisive," in Religion in Modern India , ed. Giri Raj Gupta (Delhi: Vikas, 1983), 134.


nance with regard to their own competing norms of caste and family protection.

The next chapter focuses on dissonance in order to address the intentional or motivational dimension of kuldevi veneration and discern presuppositions about the caste-linked and gender-derived aspects of religious socialization. Moreover, it argues that examining the role of personal choice in religious socialization reveals the substantial impact the zanana has had in shaping and revising the kuldevi traditions of both families and kuls .


Chapter 2Kuldevi Tradition Myth, Story, and Context

Preferred Citation: Harlan, Lindsey. Religion and Rajput Women: The Ethic of Protection in Contemporary Narratives. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.