In India, every house has something called Kula Devata or Family Deity. What is the historical reason for having such Family deity, and on what basis are family deities assigned to families? Is there any historical, ancestral or political connection between the Deity and the family that worships it? Does it have any relation to the region in which the Deity resides? As I see, there is no strict caste specific restriction on having a particular Deity as your Kula Devata. Can anyone here shed light on this, or mention similar practices being followed elsewhere in the world/other religions?
Kula Devata or Family Deity can come from about four sources as far as I know. I shall state the sources below.
- One of your ancestors, who sometimes might have had mythical powers
- A god that every one in the family agreed upon to be assigened as their Kula Devata long time ago
- A deity belonging to a specific region that your ancestors moved to later on and started worshiping as they settled down over there
- Sometimes, in extremely rare cases someone who helped your ancestor in times of need, such as during war (like helped your ancestors win a war) or difficulty may be assigned as your Kula Devata or equal to your Kula devata in honours.
I have my own examples that I would like to state to give examples. I am from a Kshatriya kula who actually lived and ruled a region in Rajasthan about 1000 years ago and they moved further south to Karnataka and finally settled near the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu and have stayed there for about 500 years.
Only a group of five brothers came to the village that I am from and established a settlement there and one of them was a Brahmachari and was very well versed in the Vedas and also possessed mystic powers as he was a practitioner of the Siddha tradition. Thus we in our native village regard him as our Kula Devata.
These 5 brothers also had members of the same Kula staying outside of my village in other villages so our Kula had Goddess Kali as our Kula devata. This was not because she is our original Kula devata but since we moved to that region and she was being worshiped by the local people, members of our kula bought the temple complex by giving gold to the people.
The original worshipers of Goddess Kali then left the region and moved toward Kerala, toward the west. Few years later, they heard that my Kula was flourishing with prosperity and so they wanted Goddess Kali back. They decided to wage a war during the month of Phalguni on Amavasya. We successfully won the war but with the help of a local chieftain of another kula. So we respect as much as we respect our Kula devata, Goddess Kali.
Gaud Saraswat and Saraswat Brahmins who originated from Saraswathi River banks in Kashmir region, and then migrated south due to seismic upheavals to Gaud ( Pataliputra), Dwaraka and later to Goa and Konkan region of Maharashtra, maintained their tradition of Kuladevatha worship. Later during Portuguese invation, torture and inquisitions, they moved to Karnataka and Cochin, along with their dieties. Many moved their dieties to the Hills of Goa (Ponda) which at that time was ruled by the Hindu kings of Maharashtra . Even to this day, this community makes frequent pilgrimages to their own family Kula Devatha temples in North Canara and beautifuly rebuilt temples of Goa. So the tradition goes on for over two thousand years.