Kula devas are family/clan deities of Hindus. Every Hindu family, in addition to worshipping the main gamut of Hindu Gods, also has a family deity which has been passed on from generations. For very specific family problems, Hindus turn to their kula deva.
The form of this deity can be male or female – which is why, kula deva (male) and kula devi (female).
For non-Hindus or non-Indians, the closest concept to this is the Christian concept of patron saint where a family dedicates its prayers & devotion to a particular saint and deems him the status of the saviour or guide of the welfare of the family. In addition to Jesus and God, they also keep their patron saint in their worship.
So is the concept of kula dev in Hinduism. But it’s slightly different in that in Hinduism, the significance of Kula deva closely relates to your gotra (sub-caste system) and therefore, your ancestry.
How religion and worship work in the Indian subcontinent is different for the same reason that Hinduism did not “spread” as a “revolution” like many other religions. No one can trace it back to a date of origin. Hinduism was just…there. It just evolved as practices came out of wisdom of the those times. Even the great Hindu books (the epics, Vedas and puranas) were written over a long period by different authors.
Hinduism’s really what was just…there. It was never a dogma. That’s what makes it so cool and that’s also what makes it so complicated. Nobody ever had to subscribe to it. Nobody ever had to declare themselves into it. You just were…Hindu because you obviously followed the wisest practices of the day.
It was really just that simple. And in that sense, it was also really why it’s complicated for anyone outside the region to understand this massive body called Hinduism.
Technically, it is still hard to say Hinduism is a religion because it has no one main book. It has loads of giant, heavy-ass books, none of which take upon themselves to prescribe anything. They just talk about life, existentialism and what have you – if you manage to understand their metaphor-heavy ancient Sanskrit.
But coming back to the kula deva, while it has its origins in the ancestor veneration period, the more important root of it lies in the genetic lineages.
Now, comes the real meat of this blog piece.
Like what most of the people think, the original purpose of the Indian caste system and gotra system was not to create inhuman, cruel lines between people for the sadistic fun of it.
Like most other practices that came out of this ancient civilization, we will learn the idea behind this caste and gotra system once we cut it some slack J
The Hindu culture is designed on a deep understanding of the way the universe and earth’s ecology function. When it was not this modern diverse cosmopolitan that it is today, the genetic lines within the society were very carefully protected and the Hindu caste and gotra system was designed precisely to preserve these genetic systems given to us by nature and transmit them from generation to generation.
How did that transform into upper and lower castes, Brahmins and untouchables, I don’t know. Yet.
Ancient Hindus had a very good understanding of genes. Forbidding of cousin marriage or marrying within the same family genetic line (within the same surname) were also based on this understanding of how genetics function.
People from the same gotras and families carried the same DNA structure and to protect it and allow it to function in its purest form, were the caste system, gotra system and thus, the local deity system (the kula deva system) evolved.
These forces drove life in the Indus Valley region – modern day India. From this system thus, also come the kula devta system to whom you turned when you had specific family problems, because your genetics were involved in your family matters and your kula deva was the one to be consulted.
Even today, although it is now a bit difficult because of diversity in India as a result of invasions, you do see similarities between people from the same gotra and clans. It is because of the genetic lines.