In the pantheon of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, are the guardian Gods who serve as protectors. They protect villages and are called “grama devatas” or ” Kaval deivam ” in Tamil. In Tamil Nadu, the guardian god is portrayed as a mustachioed male and is called Ayyannar.
During my recent visit to interior Tamil Nadu, I passed many road side shrines of fierce male deities with idols of horses and elephants placed around. In ancient days, villagers worshipped Veerakal or hero stones which were erected in the memory of fallen soldiers. These later became cult shrines . Ayyannar is often referred to as a vira or a brave one who rides horses, brandishes a trident and fights demons and protects the villagers. His associate is Karuppusamy who rides a tiger .
As you drive down rural Tamil Nadu, you will find their shrines placed at the frontiers of villages and the deity is seen riding a horse. Sometimes, horses and elephants stand close to a tall colourful statue of the deity. The horses and elephants are the vehicles of Ayyannar when he goes on his rounds around the village.
In some villages, the deities are small and are placed below trees or near the open fields.Weapons such as swords, spears, tridents or lances are also placed at the shrine.
The Ayyanar is said to protect the village from the malevolent forest spirits and he punishes the guilty.Most officiating priests are not from the Brahmin caste and are from a local lineage that had initiated the cult generations ago. It is said that they hail from the community of potters .As in a cult practise, animal sacrifices especially chicken and goat are offered to please the Gods.