The religious life of orthodox Hindus is mainly covered by the tradition of the caste-group to which one belongs, though even in that case the influence of caste tradition is tending to diminish appreciably with the spread of modern education. The whole of their religion may be said to be centered in caste observances; provided that a Hindu observes the rules of his caste he is at liberty to hold any religious opinion he pleases.

In respect of religious observances the several castes in the district may be divided into three caste-groups, viz., (1) Brahmans,

(2) non-Brahmans, and the so-called untouchables now known as

(3) Harijans.


In their religious and social customs the Brahmans in general are chiefly ruled by the Mayukha, the Mitaksara and the Dharma and Nirnaya Sindhu. Of the several sections of Brahmanas in the district Citpavans or Konkanasthas who are found in great number are divided into Rgvedis, Asvalayans, and Apastambas or Asvalayans or Hiranyakesis. They belong to two sakhas (branches), Sakala and Taittiriya. The sutra (ritual) of the Sakala branch is that by the seer Hiranyakesi. The Gaud Saraswats are Rgvedis of Asvalayana sutra, Sakala sakha, and so also the Karhadas. The few Deshasthas who are found mainly in the northern part are either Rgvedis or Yajurvedis. As followers of Vedic observances these Brahmans when they call themselves Rgvedis or Apastambas, it means their rites are regulated either by the text of Rgveda or by that written by the sage Apastamba. Besides the allegiance he owes to a particular Veda and dharmasutra, a Brahman may be a follower of a particular religious sect, [Regarding the religious sects among Hindus of Ratnagiri District and Sawantwadi, the following details were given in the census returns of 1872. Details by religious sects are not given in any later census returns. But, as among the Hindus sons generally follow the faith of their fathers, these details may be broadly said to reflect the relative proportion of their present distri-bution in Ratnagiri.

Ratnagiri District (1872): Of the total Hindu population of 941,049, the Vaisnavas numbered 7,549 of which 26 were Ramanujis, 660 Vallabhacaris 1 Kabirpanthi, 506 Madhvacaris, and 1 Svaminarayan. The Lingayatas numbered 6,340; the Saivas 931,509; Ascetics 517, Unsectarians 12; and Sravaks 1,417. 

Sawantwadi State (1872): Of the total population of 182,688 Hindus, 142 were Madhvacari, Vaisnavas, 13,345, Saivas, 119 Sravaks and the rest 169,002 were worshippers, of gods and spirits without belonging to any sect. ] e.g. the Citpavans are all Smartas and so also are the Karhadas. But the Gaud Sarasvats and the Desasthas have among them sections which are either Smartas or Vaisnavas or Madhvas. The Smartas are followers of Sankaracarya, the apostle of the doctrine that the soul and the universe are one, advait vedantamata, and the Vaisnavas who are mainly Bhagavatas, that is, followers of the Bhagavata Purana, hold the doctrine that the soul and the universe are distinct, dvaita vad. Besides a Veda and a sect the Brahmans worship a number of family gods and abide by some traditional beliefs, e.g. Citpavans with equal readiness worship Visnu, Siva, and other gods, have chief places of pilgrimage, Parshuram in Chiplun, Ganapatipule in Ratnagiri, Hareshvar in Janjira, and other places held sacred by all Hindus, as Benares, Allahabad, Pandharpur, Nasik, and Maha-baleshwar; like other Brahmans their chief household gods are Ganapati, Annapurna, Gopal Krsna, Shaligram, and Suryakant.


Among non-Brahmans of the district the predominating communities are Bhandaris, Kunbis, Marathas and Vanis. Of these some vatandar Maratha families claim that they are ksatriyas, and the Kudale Vanis claim that they are Vaisyas. As such they consider themselves entitled to observe Vedic rituals and have a religious status on par with Brahmans. The rest of the communities who are known as Sudras labour under certain religious disabilities laid down by the Hindu dharmasastras, e.g., a Sudra could not be initiated into Vedic study, and the only asrama out of the four that he was entitled to was that of the householder.


Mahars and Chambhars are the two big Harijan communities in the district. Of these the Chambhars profess Hinduism and follow the Hindu law of inheritance. Generally speaking the caste employs Brahmans for religious and ceremonial purposes, and belongs both to the Saiva and Bhagavat sects. The deities of their special devotion are Bahiroba, Janai, Jobhai and Jokhai. They install a cocoanut among the house gods in the name of the deceased ancestors. The cocoanut is renewed every year, the old one being broken and the kernel distributed as prasad. Some may have a bava or spiritual teacher belonging to their caste, whom they hold in great reverence. Mahars, though socially much degraded are a religiously minded class professing Hinduism. They are both Saivas and Vaisnavas. In the times of Namdeo and Tukaram they were admitted to the Varkari cult of the Bhakti Marg and had among them a great saint Chokhamela. Those who are followers of the saint (Varkaris) wear sweet basil or tulasi bead necklaces and make periodical pilgrimages to Alandi and Pandharpur, passing their nights in praying or singing sacred songs or abhangas. Mahars have religious teachers and priests belonging to their caste whom they call guru, Gosavis or Mendhe Joshis. Besides the usual Hindu gods and goddesses, the Mahars may worship Musalman saints, and some have taks (embossed images) of deceased ancestors. The Mahars of Sawantwadi do not worship their ancestors, but have deities in the shape of cocoanuts or betelnuts, called Brahmans and Purvas, whom they worship on every Monday, applying sandal wood paste, burning incense, and offering flowers. In some villages, close to the chief temples, there is a Mahar shrine where they worship a stone idol or Talakhba. At other places their family deities are Bahiroba, Bhawani, Bapdeo, Chokhoba, Chedoba, Giroba, Gauri, Jokhai, Jarai, Khandoda, Mhaskoba, Somjai, etc. The objects of their special worship are the cobra or Nagoba, the smallpox goddess Satvai and the cholera-goddess Mariai, whose shrines may be found in Mahar quarters at some places.


In the religious practices of Hindus, worship—acts of adoration and appeasement directed towards the ' Supernatural '—plays a prominent part. Among Brahmanic Hindus of modern times Vedic ritual has mostly gone out of use. Even long ago it was replaced more or less by temple ritual. Except for some of the minor homas, the yagas and yajnas are not now usually performed. Devayajya has been replaced by devapuja, and the most significant event in the orthodox Hindu household is the daily ceremonial worship of the family deity. There may be a central place in the house known as devaghar (shrine-room) or a specially assigned niche in the house in which is kept a devhara (handy shrine). At least once in a day the deity is worshipped in the form of an image according to rule. There may be many images in a household. Usually five are placed on the pedestal of worship referred to as the pancayatana. The image of the principal deity, say Visnu or Siva occupies the centre, with the Other four arranged on the sides. They may include objects such as Bana-linga (representing Mahadeo), Saligram (representing Visnu), Sankha (conch) and Cakra (discus), metallic stone (representing Durga) and padukas (foot-prints) of Datta the Preceptor. Taks (small embossed images representing the dead ancestors) are often grouped with other god images in the devhard by backward communities.

In the worship of Brahmanic images a highly systematised ritual of devapuja is followed which includes sixteen upacaras (ways of service). The worshipper first invokes the presence of the deity in the image, and then treats the god he has invited as he would an honoured guest. The images are bathed, dressed, and decorated; food, water and flower offerings are made; ceremonial lamps are waved in front of the images, incense and camphor are burnt and finally the gods are requested to retire. Each act of worship is accompanied by a set formula or prayer. Worship performed by non-Brahman communities is comparatively much simple. The worship in temple follows the model of domestic worship, but on a much larger and more elaborate scale. Apart from the worship of the principal and auxiliary deities in a temple several times a day, there are festivals connected with each temple which are occasions for huge congregations from far and near.

Among the gods popularly worshipped in temples the principal ones are Visnu under various names and in various avataras (incarna-tions). Siva in his various forms, Durga, Ganesa and Sun. Worship of Datta (the Hindu trinity) and reading of gurucaritra (biography of Datta the Preceptor) is sometimes followed as a cult and Datta temples are often believed to have special spirit scaring or exorcising attributes. [Hindu temples (registered under the Bombay Public Trusts Act, 1950), dedicated to the following deities are found in Ratnagiri District.

Siva Temples: Amnayesvara, Anjanesvara, Atmesvara, Bendesvara, Bhaves-vara, Dhutapapesvara, Gaurisankara, Gaudesvara, Govardhanesvara, Harihares-vara; Kalesvara, Karnesvara, Kasivisvesvara, Kedarlinga, Khadgesvara, Kolesvara, Kumbhesvara, Krsnesvara, Lingadeo, Nagalesvara, Nagaresvara, Natesvara, Ramesvara, Ratnesvara, Sagaresvara, Satyesvara, Siddhesvara, Sivarajesvara, Somalinga, Somesvara, Sthanesvara, Swayamesvara, Trinabindukesvara, Uddalakesvara, Velesvara, Visvesvara, Vyadesvara.

Visnu Temples: Adinarayana, Adityanarayana, Bharagavram, Kopari-Narayana, Laxmikanta, Laxmikesava, Laxmi-Narayana, Laxmi-Narasirnha, Laxmi-Palinath, Mahn-Visnu, Muralidhara, Nrayana, Pandurangadeo, Radha-Laxmi-Palinath, Maha-Visnu, Muralidhara, Narayana, Pandurangadeo, Radha-Krsna, Raghunatha, Rama, Ramachandradeo, Trivikrama-Narayana, Vasudeo, Vithobadeo, Vitthala-Rakhumai, Visnu.

Devi Temples: Bahiri, Bahiri-Manai, Bhadra-Kali, Bhagavati, Bhairi, Bhavani, Candika, Durga, Gangabai, Grama-devi, Grama-Durga, Inguli-devi, Jakha-mata, Jambhai, Jugabai, Jugai, Kalakai, Kalesvari, Khadjai, Kumbhajai, Maha-Laxmi, Mahakali, Mauli, Navalai, Pavanai, Ramajai, Santeri, Savitribai, Sukai, Varadambika, Vithalai, Vagajai.

Other deities: Bahiravideo, Bhumaka-deo, Bhutanath-deo, Brahman-deo, Datta, Ekanath-deo, Gajanana-Ganapati, Ganesa-Ganoba, Gram-deo, Hanuman Kalanath-deo, Ravalanath, Sombadeo, Vetala-deo.]


The deities of the Hindus can be divided into five classes, viz.: (1) The Gramadevatas (village deities), (2) The Sthanadevatas (local deities), (3) Kuladevatas (family deities), (4) The Ista-devatas (chosen deities) and (5) The Vastudevatas or Grhadevatas (house deities established at Vastu-house warming-ceremony).


Whenever a village is founded, it is customary to establish a village deity as the guardian of the village. Certain ceremonies are performed for consecrating the place to the deity, and sometimes the deity is called after the village. The principal gramadevatas in Ratnagiri district are Bahiroba or Bhairav, Bhairi Devi, Bhavani, Bhutanath, Candika, Durga, Ganesa, Hanuman or Maruti, Jakhmata, Kalkai, Kshetrapal, Khemraj, Mahalaxmi, Mahakali, Mauli, Pandhar, Ravalnath, Vaghjai and many others.


In most villages the chief village god is Maruti or Hanuman, whose temple is situated at the entrance of the village which he is supposed to guard against evils of all kinds. Maruti is the son of Anjani and Marut (the wind) and is known for his loyalty to his master Rama and for his bravery. He is considered as an avatar (incarnation) of Siva, is a bramhacari (bachelor) and one of the seven heroes who are believed to be ciranjivis (immortals). He is supposed to be the originator of mantra-sastra, by the study and repetition of which one obtains strength and superhuman power. Since he is the god of strength gymnasts tie his image to their wrists, and also consecrate one in their gymnasiums. Women desirous of getting children go to the temple of Maruti and burn there before the image, lamps made of wheat flour and filled with ghee. Persons who are under the evil influence of the planets, especially of Saturn, worship the god on Saturdays in order to propitiate the planets. They offer him oil and sendur (red lead), place garlands of leaves and flowers of Rui plant round his neck, and also offer him udid (phaseolus radiatus) and salt. The pujaris (ministrants) in most of the temples of Maruti are Guravs, Ghadis, Marathas or Gosavis.


In many villages of the Ratnagiri district the goddess Pandhar is considered to be the ganv-devi or the chief goddess of the village. The pujari is generally a Gurav or Maratha Kunbi. On every full moon day cocoanuts are offered, and on the occasion of sowing and reaping, goats and fowls are sacrified to the deity.


The deities Ravalnath, Mauli, Vetal, Ramesvar and Hanuman are usually wor- shipped everywhere. The following legend is told about the deity Vetal in the temple at Ajgaon in Vengurla taluka:—As part of his worship it is considered necessary to offer to this deity a pair of shoes every month, The people believe that after a few days the shoes become worn out. The inference they draw is that at night the god Vetal goes out walking in the new shoes.


The local deities are generally found in special localities or sacred places called ksetras or punya sthanas, Thus the god Rama at Nasik, Vithoba at Pandharpur, Ambabai at Kolhapur, Khandoba at Jejuri, Datta at Ganagapur are famous local deities. Apart from these a village may have its local deity, in which the villagers may have great faith. Before undertaking any important business they obtain the consent or take the omen of the deity. This ceremony is known as kaul ghene and it is performed as follows:—Two betel nuts or flowers are taken and one of them is placed on the right side of the deity and the other on the left side. The worshipper then bows before the deity and requests her to let the nut on the right side fall first if the deity is pleased to consent, if not, to let the nut on the left side fall first. Naturally one of the two nuts falls first, and they interpret this as either consent or dissent as the case may be. They have so much faith in this kaul that they make use of this method of divination to ascertain whether a sick or diseased person will recover or die. Special sacrifices are offered to these local deities whenever an epidemic like cholera occurs.


Kuladevatas are sacred to particular families or castes. They may be the sthanadevatas of a particular locality to which the family or the caste originally belonged and from whence it may have migrated. The deities become the object of special ceremonies known as kuladharma observed by the family or caste, e.g. the Gaud Saraswat Brahmins who are said to have migrated from Goa, have the shrines of their chief family gods such as Mahalaksmi, Mangesa or Mangirisa, Mhalsa, Nagesa, Ramnath, Santadurga, and Saptakotisvar situated in Goa. They hold themselves bound to visit the shrines every four or five years and hold special worship and pay their devotion to these family deities. Some families of Deshastha Brahmans and Marathas have god Khandoba of Jejuri as their family deity in respect of whom they perform a family rite called tali bharne on every paurnima or full moon day. The rite is as follows:—

A tali (ulate) is filled with cocoanuts, fruits, betel nuts, saffron, turmeric or bel-bhandar, etc. Then a pot is filled with water, and on its mouth a cocoanut is placed. This cocoanut, with the pot, is then worshipped with flowers, sandal paste, etc., a lighted lamp filled with ghee is put in the same plate, and the tali is waved thrice round the pot, which is supposed to contain the god Khandoba. Five persons then lift up the cocoanut with the tali and place it three times on the pot repeating each time the words ' Elkot' or ' Khande rayaca Elkot'. The cocoanut is then broken into pieces, mixed with sugar or jaggery; and is distributed among friends and relations as prasad. On this occasion as well as on the occasions of all kuladharmas, that is, the days fixed for performing the special worship of the family goddess or family god of each family, the ceremony called gondhal dance is performed. On similar occasions among Citpavans who have Mahalaksmi as their family goddess a ceremony called bodan is performed. It is as follows:—An image of the family deity is placed in a receptacle called tamhan, and is then bathed in pancamrt (five holy things). Sandal paste is offered to it as well as flowers, lighted lamps and some sweets and incense. Five women whose husbands are alive then prepare five lamps called kuravandi from wheat flour and wave them thrice round the face of the deity. All the lamps are then placed in the tamhan in which the deity is kept, and the pancamrta and other materials of worship and food and sweet cakes are mixed together. Occasionally one of the five women becomes possessed with the spirit of the kuladevi, and confers blessings on the members of the family for their devotion. It is believed that those families which fail to perform periodically the bodan, tali, and gondhal ceremonies in honour of their tutelary deity are sure to suffer from some misfortune or calamity during the year.

Istadevatas are chosen deities in the sense that a person because of experience in his life thinks himself under their special favour and prays and worships them as house-gods or pays occasional visits to their temples.

Disease deities.

Disease both in its endemic or epidemic form is believed to be due to spirit influence. The unfriendly influence of some planet or of some god or goddess or of some spirit is believed to be the cause of endemic diseases, and the anger of some goddess the cause of epidemics.

Epidemic diseases like cholera, small-pox, plague, etc., are supposed to come from disease deities, and in order to avoid the danger of such diseases the people of the village worship the village deity in a special form asking for kaul, i.e. favour from the deity, and praying for protection. The paradi (disease-scaring basket) ceremony may also be performed. A basket containing boiled rice, red powder, red flowers, lemons, betelnuts, betel leaves, etc., is prepared, and on that rice is kept a burning cotton wick dipped in oil. The basket is then carried beyond the village boundary along with a goat having a red flower garland round its neck. The goat is set free at the outskirts of the village. In cases of small-pox, the diseased child and the person into whose body the small-pox deities called Bayas enter, are worshipped with abir (black scented powder), flower garlands, etc. The small-pox deity is sometimes specially worshipped for a number of days. It is represented by a brass or copper lota with a cocoanut placed over it. This process is called mand bharne, i.e., arranging the materials of worship. The girls in the house sing songs in praise of the deity with the belief that thereby the severity of the disease is reduced.

Epidemic diseasies are attributed to witchcraft by low caste people and with the belief that the power averting such diseases lies in the hands of village deities they try to propitiate them with the sacrifices of cocks, goats and cocoanuts.

The Hindus generally make various kinds of vows (navas) in order to procure offspring or with some such object, and fulfil them when they succeed in getting their desire. The vows are of various kinds. They offer cocoanuts, sugar, plantains and other fruits, costly new dresses and ornaments to the deities, and give feasts to Briihmans. Special ceremonies called Laghurudra and Maharudra in honour of Siva are also performed. Sweetmeats such as pedhas etc. are offered to the gods in fulfilment of vows. Some people make vows to observe fasts, perform the worship of Sri Satya Narayan, distribute coins and clothes to the poor. Some have torana (wreaths and flowers and mango leaves) tied on the entrance of the temple and hoist flags over it, while rich people erect new temples to different Hindu deities or hang bells, construct pavements or steps leading to the temple of the special deity. Acts of benevolence such as buildings dharmashalas (guest houses), digging out new wells and distributing clothes and food to the poor are performed in fulfilment of vows. Women make it a vow to walk round the Audumbara or Pimpal tree, and to distribute cocoanuts, sugar, jaggery, copper or silver equal to the weight of their children to avert general illness or family calamity. People who have no children or whose children die shortly after birth make a vow generally to Satvai deity to bring the child to the darsana (sight) of the deity and feed some (married) Brahman pairs.

Ghosts and Spirits.

The belief that there exist bhuts (ghosts or evil spirits) is found among many. Ghosts are of two kinds malignant and friendly. Malignant bhuts are of a ferocious appearance; the friendly ones possess bodies like human beings, but their feet are turned backwards. The character of ghosts is ordinarily to trouble people but when satisfied they are said to prove friendly. They reside in jungles, burial or cremation grounds, old trees, sacred groves, and deserted houses. They assume all sorts of shapes and forms. Sometimes they appear very tall, and they can instantly assume the shape of a dog, a cat, a tiger, or any other animal.

The following are the principal malignant spirits of the Konkan. (1) Vetal, (2) Brahmagraha, (3) Samandha, (4) Devacar, (5) Munja, (6) Khavis, (7) Girha, (8) Cetaka, (9) Zoting, (10) Vir, (11) Ceda, (12) Mhasoba, (13) Jakhin, or Alavat, (14) Lavsat, and (15) Hadal.

(1) Vetal who is believed to be the King of Spirits is considered a deity and not an evil spirit. He enters into the body of an exorcist and helps him to drive away other evil spirits. (2) Brahmagraha is the ghost of a Brahman well versed in the Vedas, but who was overproud of his learning. (3) Samandha is the spirit of a person who died without heir, and whose funeral rites were not performed by any member of his family. It troubles the members of the family, but when invoked through a bhagat (exorcist) it becomes harmless and even favourable to the family. A covetous person who dies with his desires unfulfilled is believed to become a samandha and would not allow anybody to enjoy his wealth. (4) Devacar is the spirit of a Sudra who met his death shortly after his marriage. These spirits are said to reside on the four sides of a village and to gain their favour must be offered cocoanuts, sugar, cocks, etc. annually. (5) Munja is the spirit of a Brahman boy who died immediately after his thread ceremony and before completion of the final ceremony of sod-munj. It resides in a Pimpal tree or in a well, and does not torture but only frightens its victim and gets out only when the patient makes a pilgrimage to a holy shrine. (6) Khavis is the spirit of a Muslim or a non-Hindu. (7) Girha is a ghost of a person who met his last by drowning, or was murdered. It lives by the water side and only frightens and troubles people. At night it deceives persons by calling them by their names and leading them into false paths, or to places where the water is very deep when they happen to cross rivers or creeks. It is said that the spirit Girha becomes the regular slave of a person who could capture the hair of its head, but all sorts of misfortune befalls the man if the Girhd's guiles to regain its hair succeed. (8) Cetak which is also known as Dav is a ghost of a person of the Kunbi or Sudra caste. (9) Zoting which is generally a ghost of a man belonging to the Kharvi or Koli caste may also be that of a Musalman. (10) Vir is the ghost of an unmarried person belonging to the Ksatriya community; the ghost may also be of a Rajput or a Purabhaya. (11) Ceda is the ghost of an unmarried Mahar. It resides in hills and jungles and the outskirts of the village, haunts fields and farms, and attacks domestic animals. To avoid being troubled by it, people offer annual sacrifices of fowls. (12) Mhasoba is the lord of ghosts and is equal in might to Vetal. Jakhin, Alavat, Lavasat, and Hadal are different kinds of female spirits who to some extent differ in origin and character, (13) Jakhin is the ghost of a woman who has a husband alive, and Alavat is believed to be the spirit of a woman who died at childbirth or during her menses. (14) Lavsat or Avagat is the ghost of a widow. (15) Hadal or Hadali is the ghost of a woman who died within ten days of a childbirth. Of these female spirits Jakhin and Alavat cease troubling their victims on the patient being taken to Narsoba's Vadi or Gangapur.