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In Kerala (and many families which trace their ancestry to Kerala), every family identified itself with a 'Kaavu' (not exactly translated as temple) that may or may not be in their ancestral village. But they use a term call "adimai kaavu" (Temple to which they are bonded). The curious thing is even brahmanas, smarthas in specific, also seem to have picked up the concept and applied it to their familial lines. They have very specific practices associated with such a type of worship.

But the real question I am more interested in is what is the origin for such a practice, of bonding themselves to a kaavu? Does it have vedic origins and if not, how do the systems reconcile?

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    How is this 'adimai kaavu' concept different from 'Kula devata' concept which I think Hindus everywhere have? – Aks Feb 1 '19 at 19:39
  • ADIMAI KAVU (Also called KULATHEIVAM) is basically same as Kula Devtaa. – Just_Do_It Feb 1 '19 at 22:01
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I am a Malayali, and I believe I can speak for this from my own experience.

Malayalis in the past, especially those from higher castes, had a sacred grove in the southwestern corner of their traditionally huge plots of real estate (often 2-3 acres in size). They were called kaavukal (singular: kaavu). These were left unvisited at most times of day and treated akin to temples. The members of the household may visit the grove in the morning after a bath, pray silently, and wear prasadam [1]. They were always left in silence, and it was considered unbecoming of one to make noises here.

Kaavukal were always dedicated to snake-gods, and were called sarpankaavukal [2] too, for this reason. The legend goes that when Parashurama created the Malayaladesham by throwing his axe across the ocean, the land that rose up was inhabited by snakes. The Brahmins who had concurred to settle there were advised to worship these snakes and live amongst them. Snakes and Malayalis are thus bonded. Even the moorthi of Lord Vishnu at the Padmanabhaswamy Kshetram in Thiruvananthapuram is that of his anantashayanam [3].

As landholdings in Kerala shrunk, the kaavukal came to be cleared off. A special puja was usually conducted to lift the serpents off the kaavu. Following this, the members of the household visit a temple, usually the historic Ameda Sarpa Kshetram in Kochi and permanently place the serpents there. This ritual is called sarpamiruthal [4].

Footnotes

  1. In Malayalam, prasadam refers to both the food blessed at temples, and the tilakam or chandanam that Hindus wear on their forehead.
  2. Sarpankaavu = sarpam + kaavu, a sandhi that literally means "grove of serpents".
  3. The anantashayanam is Vishnu's shayanam (rest, sleeping) on Ananta, King of Serpents.
  4. Sarpamiruthal = "seating the serpent".
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'Sarpa Kaavu' is not the same as 'Kula Devata' and is totally different but many people confuse this. 'Sarpa' worship started in Kerala according to the legend that Kerala was made by Lord Parashurama by throwing his divine axe to the sea whereby sea moves back showing up the land Kerala. When the sea withdrawn the land was salty and not worthy of living because nothing will grow there. So the Lord asked the divine Serpents (Sarpa) to spill their venom on the land and they did thus making the land very fertile and became lush green quickly. The legend says Keralites worship 'Sarpa' in honour of their blessing and making the land impeccably fertile.

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