The Flight of Gods 5. The Lesser Gods

The Flight of Gods

by Mohan Pai
Local tribal priest at Bhumi Purush Shrine, Canacona – Photo by Mohan Pai

The Lesser Gods

Kalbhairav shrine near Pedne – Photo by Mohan Pai
The various types and sections of the inhabited and cultivated territories of the villages (Vade, Khazan, Vaigan, etc.) Were considered the domain of the spirits of ancestors (Purusha) and a specified set of divine and semi-divine beings. Central among them were and still are the Gramadevatas, or village deities who are considered as the spiritual founders and protectors of the village and have their abodes in the central village temples.

Vetal image from Loliem village – the tallest image of Vetal found so far.

– Photo by Mohan Pai

Roadside shrine to Mharu, Usgaon- Photo by Mohan Pai
Subordinate to Gramadevatas is a group of semi-divine beings whose often aniconic shrines are situated at various liminal sites, such as way crosses, dams, river banks, sea shores and above all the boundaries of village territories and referred to as “Jageveile” or “Simeveile” which refers to the Konkani words for spot/locality and border.(Alexander Henn).
A number of deities of pre-Brahminic times were absorbed by Brahminic synthesis and unabsorbed deities have been converted into cacodemons, known generally as devchar but still worshipped by the lower castes as well as the Gauddes.(D. D. Kosambi)

Ancient wood-carved Vetal image, Savorde, Sattari- Photo by Mohan Pai


The Austric tribes like Gauddes, Kunbis (Kols, Mundas and Ouraons) who settled in Goa were the worshippers of Vetal, Naga and Pishacchas. These demigods haunted battlefields and places of violent death. These tribes also worshipped the evil spirits – Mharu, Joting and Devchar who are supposed to inhabit the tamarind, banyan, pipal and wild trees. The uninhabited and uncultivated land (ran) was seen as the realm of demonic beings (bhutavali), as well as the territory to which the spirits of people were transferred who had died an inauspicious death (Khetri, Alvantin, Samand, etc.).

The Cult of Vetal

Goa is considered to be the centre of Vetal cult. The tall stark naked stone images with emaciated bellies and in some sculptures a scorpion either on his chest or abdomen have been worshipped in Goa since early times. Though Vetal images are supposed to be naked, in some temples the priests dress them with a dhoti.Vetal, Kamakshi Temple, Shiroda- Photo by Mohan Pai
Vetal is a tribal deity which was absorbed into the Hindu pantheon after 1200 AD and became a part of the Brahminical temple (as Parivar devata or Panchayatan) but his popularity as a village deity did not decrease.
The Austric tribes worshipped Vetal from early times even when they were still in the stage of building temporary shelters.
Hence the shrines of Vetal were not provided any roof. The tribes believed that roofing over Vetal would bring grave misfortune to the misguided devotees. This was the period when they had learnt cultivation and started the slash-burn method farming. According to tradition, Vetal should not have a roof over his head and for this reason there are no temples to Vetal with classical architectural traditions. But the stone sculptures of Vetal in Goa clearly indicate that though Vetal was the God of masses, the images of Vetal were chiselled out artistically and worshipped in small shrines with thatched roof.
Vetal images have a dagger and a potsherd in his hands and he wears a Rundamala (Garland of human heads). His mouth is smeared with blood and he has fearful jaws. He has robust arms and is always naked. His hair is dishevelled and he is intoxicated with blood and wine. Vetal is supposed to be the chief of the Bhutas and included in Shiva gana.

In some temples of Vetal from Sanguem and Sattari taluka, twin images of Vetal are worshipped. Though both the images have similar features, one is called Agio (Agni Jiva) Vetal and the other Gorakh Vetal.

Occasionally, devotees of Vetal offer cocks, goats and buffaloes to him. In Pernem and Sanguem talukas hunted animals are offered and later shared and eaten by the devotees.
Vetal being the Gramadevata is the guardian of the village and he is supposed to move throughout the village at night and keep vigil over the property of his devotees. And hence his sandals get worn off. The devotees take a vow and make offering of sandals to Vetal. In the Vetal temple of Poinguini village, such sandals offered by the devotees are kept in a row.

Clay horses – votary offerings to Mharu- Photo by Mohan Pai


Mharu is located on the outskirts of the villages. Like Vetal, he is the guardian of the villages and roams at night throughout the village. In Chandel and Varkhand of Pedne taluka and in Talaulim and Usgao of Ponda taluka we find Mharu worship. According to Buddhist legend Indra sent Mharu to disturb Buddha’s meditation. There is a tradition of offering terracotta horses to Mharu in some villages of Goa.

Bagil Paik, Mallikarjun Temple, Gaondongrem – Photo by Mohan Pai


Paiks are worshipped in some villages of Sanguem and Cancona talukas and is a Parivar devata in some shrines. He is shown as a horse rider. There are various types of Paiks such as Bagil Paik, Gode Paik, Razon Paik, Kanna Paik, etc.
Dadda is similar to Vetal but its stature is inferior to that of Vetal. Dadda has been given the status of Parivar devata in many shrines of Goa. (V. R. Mitragotri)

Jageshwar – Photo by Mohan Pai

Ancestor Worship
In many communities ancestor worshipwas prevalent. Vadus, Satvats, Haiyas, Bhojakas, Andhakas, Chedis and Vishnis were worshipped as ancestors. The head of the families were called Kulupa. Thease heads(Kulupa) were supposed to have divine powers and they were idolised as Kulapurush. The worship of Gramapurush, Adipurush, Pardipurush, Kanadipurush, Gavdovmsh and Sutapurush is common in Goa. These ancestors occupy the position of Parivar devata in the temples of Goa. The ancestors are chiselled in stone Plaque and worshipped.

Roadside Shrine of Jageshwar-Photo by Mohan Pai

For some of my articles visit:
For some key chapters from my book “The Western Ghats”, please log on to:http://westernghats-paimohan.blogspot.com/
For detailed blog (6 Chapters) on Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, please log on to:http://mohan-pai.blogspot.com/
For the book ‘The Elderly’ please log on to:http://oldagecare-paimohan.blogspot.com/
You can also access my blogs on Sulekha:http://mohanpai.sulekha.com/blog/posts/pageno-1.htm

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