India is as diverse in its practices and customs as it is geographically vast. Yet, in this diversity lies an underlying unity – a unity that stems from its Indic faith and culture. It is these practices that have shaped all aspects of social life in the respective regions. Whether the practices be tribal, non-tribal or of any particular sect, they all draw their customs from the umbrella known as Hindu Dharma.
Right from the remote hills of the North-East to the desert region of the west, the Western ghats and shores of the South to the mighty mountain foothills of Himalayas, Indians are bound by the Indic faith that takes several local shapes according to the dominant belief of the people.
Both West Bengal and Assam are predominantly known for Shakta Panth who are devotees of Devi Adi Shakti. The customs and rituals followed here are centuries old and bind the people together.
Kamakhya Temple in Assam is one among the 51 Shakti Peethas that finds mention in Hindu scriptures such as the Shiv Puran, Kalika Puran and Devi Bhagavatam among others. Upon Devi Sati’s death when Her corpse was destroyed by Sri Hari Vishnu’s Sudarshan Chakra, it is at Kamakhya that Her yoni (female reproductive organ or womb) fell and became one of the powerful centres of Devi worship. Kamakhya is also a centre of Tantra worship where the annual Ambubachi Mela of Tantra worshippers takes places.
Just like Shakta, Vaishnava Panth also had a great presence in Assam and was officially endorsed by Ahom rulers from the time of Jayadhvaj Singh in 1654 who came under the influence of Vaishnava Saint Niranjan Bapu. Similarly, traditionally even Buddhism found a place in Assam’s religious sphere and finds mention as one of the four oldest known Peethas that has been mentioned in the 8th Century Buddhist text Hevajra Tantra.
Today, the unbroken tradition of Shakta worship since medieval times goes on along with several indigenous tribal traditions. The Kali Puja is as famous here as in neighboring West Bengal. Much like Assam, Bengal is also home to the Shakta Panth which is the predominant faith here although there are Vaishnavites and Shaivites as well but in lesser numbers. The Shakta Panth of Bengal is largely dedicated to worship of Maa Kali and Maa Durga.
Traditionally, Bengal has been ruled by various dynasties who endorsed either Shaivism or Vaishnavism. Acharyas such as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (founder of ISKCON) popularized Vaishnavism through the Bhakti movement from the 15th century onwards which finally shaped the Hindu nationalism of Bengal that played a pivotal role in the independence struggle.
Much like Bengal, Kerala too has a dedicated Shakta Panth where Devi is worshipped as Bhagavathi and tantra has strong roots in the state. Both Vaishnavism and Shaivism share equal space with Shakta Panth in the state of Kerala. Here Bhagwan Vishnu’s Krishna avatar is widely worshipped with Guruvayur being among the most famous Vaishnavite shrine. Bhagwan Shiva is equally well-loved here as is Hariharaputra (son of Bhagwan Vishnu as Mohini and Bhagwan Shiva) Swami Ayyappa.
Kerala Hindus continue to be rooted in Vedic Hindu traditions as do majority of the Hindus in the temple state of Tamil Nadu (TN) where in addition to Shaivism and Vaishnavism both Shakta Panth and Skanda or Kartikeya (worshipped as Muruga) sects are popular. Tamil Nadu is dotted with temples all over the state. Throughout medieval times the rulers, despite personally following either Shaivism or Vaishnavism, have largely been tolerant of all Dharmic faiths including Jainism and Buddhism.
The Hindu traditions of these four states are alive but are being heavily assaulted by different forces co-opting with Abrahamics in a bid to supersede them. While Assam and Bengal face heavy Islamic infiltration from the porous borders of Bangladesh, the southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu are faced with the two-pronged attack from Islamic and Christian Evangelical conversion mafia.
The demographic changes in these states are being ably facilitated by vested political interests who are then mounting an all-out attack on the Indic faiths so as to reap electoral gains. Assam suffered for several decades from insurgency and Islamic extremists like Badruddin Ajmal have gained a foothold in the state. Both Kerala and Bengal are Communists and Islamist strongholds while TN has been over-run by Dravidianism.
Despite the demographic and political pressure which naturally spills over to the social life of common citizens, Hindu Dharma and its various branches in the form of indigenous and tribal traditions have held their own against the constant assault and attempt to over-run it.
When faith is deep-rooted it is next to impossible to uproot the traditions with it. The Hindus of Kerala rising together against the Sabarimala verdict or the Tamils vehemently protesting against the derogatory remarks passed against Skanda Sashti Kavacham dedicated to Bhagwan Muruga by a Dravidianist are ample proof that people value their traditions and would go to any lengths to protect them. The identity of the country lies in these practices and customs that makes each region unique and at the same time the underlying oneness connects one region with the other and brings all Indians on the same platform celebrating the divine as also the mundane.