The Folk Beliefs : Local Dieties
The prosperity of a Punjabi’s life depends by and large upon his agricultural output. That is why most of the local deities that are propitiated in villages are humanised forms of those natural phenomena which prove beneficial or harmful in agriculture. The people’s maximum interest is in the soil, because it gives them their livelihood. That is why everywhere in the villages of the Punjab, earth is worshipped as Mother Earth. She is the bearer of all animate and vegetable life which rests on her surface. But no shrine or image is erected to Mother Earth, because she is believed to be present everywhere in the form of ground. Here and there in the villages one can see a heap of stones, pottery and pebbles collected under a sacred tree. This is a place where Mother Earth is believed to dwell. People go there and place before it offerings-milk, fruits and grains. When a cow or buffalo is milched, the first five or seven streams of her milk are offered to Earth. Similarly at harvest time some plants are left in the field as an offering to Mother Earth, and a prayer is made to her to send plenty of rain the following year, so that there is a bumper crop. At the construction of a new house when the first stone is laid after the digging of the foundation, a coconut, a few silver coins, a coral and a pearl are tied in mauli (a multi-coloured thread), and offered to Mother Earth.
The Punjabis believe that every month Mother Earth sleeps for seven days. During these days no activity such as digging, ploughing or sowing, is ever performed, and the earth is left in quiet repose. There is a belief that a person who dies on the lap of Mother Earth attains peace. That is why when a person is about to die, he or she is removed from the cot and laid on the earth. All mourners who come to condole with a bereaved relative, sleep on the ground for eleven days after the death.
Villages which exist in the vicinity of rivers and streams stand in danger of floods. Their inhabitants worship and give offerings to the Darya Pir (river god) or Khizar Pir (water god). Khwaja Khizar is the commonly accepted river god and both Hindus and Muslims propitiate him. They collect some stones and bricks near a river and raise a small shrine to him. In the months of Sawan and Bhadon when there is fear of inundation to cattle and crops, incantations are sent up to the river god. Before launching a boat, sailors invoke Khwaja Pir to grant it a safe journey.
Sometimes when a flood is feared, offerings in the form of an animal sacrifice are made to the river god. When a river is in flood, a coconut, some dried grass and a golden ring are tied together and offered to it, along with a buffalo which is pushed into the flood. If the buffalo is drowned it means that the god has accepted the offering and there is no fear of the flood. If it swims across to the other bank, even that is an auspicious sign, but if it turns and comes back to -the side from where it was pushed in, a flood is supposed to be imminent. Whenever in the rainy season there was a flood in the Ghaggar stream, the Maharaja of Patiala used to perform the customary ceremony of offering a golden ring, a coconut and grass to the river deity, and it is claimed that the flood water always receded.
In the Punjab when a new well is dug up a clod of earth is kept aside undug to propitiate Khwaja Kbizar. When water level is reached this left over clod is also dug up. This particular piece of earth is treated as Khwaja Khizar’s shrine for the time that the digging goes on.
Before laying the foundation of a well, a coconut smeared in sandhur (vermilion) and tied in mauli (multi coloured thread) is offered to the water god.
In summer when there are cyclonic whirlwinds, Bhai Pheru is propitiated. Bhai Pheru, according to legend, was a Brahmin, a disciple of Sakhi Sarwar. His main shrine is in Miyanki, in Lahore district.
A, popular deity of the Punjab is Khetarpal, the field spirit and the guardian of farms. His image can be seen in many villages in the Punjab. Farmers fix a cross bamboo in the middle of the field and put an inverted earthen pot over it, marked with white and black stripes and propitiate it with the offering of the first ears of corn, so that it may protect the crop from ants, rats and evil spirits.
Another godling closely allied to Khetarpal is Bboomia.He protects the land over which the village is located. Whenever a new village is raised, a shrine is made for Bhoomia. According to a belief among the Jats, when the first man of the newly set up village dies, and is cremated or buried, he is deified. A shrine for Bhoomia is erected at that place and propitiations for the protection of the village are sent up to him. If a son is born in a family, or if there is a wedding, Bhoomia is the deity to be invoked with offerings and in his name. Brahmins of the village are fed. At harvest time again, Bhoomia is propitiated in the first milk of a cow or buffalo is offered to him. Every Sunday women pay obeisance to him. The fourth day of the lunar fortnight is considered a special day for his invocation. By nature this godling is benefic, but reacts violently if offended or dishonoured. It is said that if someone brushes his teeth near his shrine, he is gripped by illness; if he happens to sleep near his shrine he feels a heavy weight on his chest.
Another deity similar to Bhoomia is Jathera (the elder). Whenever a founder of a village dies, a monument resembling a shrine is raised to him on the outskirts of the village and a Jandi tree is planted there. There may be many such shrines in a village. On a certain day all the descendants of the ‘elder’ go to a pond and dig earth and put it on the mound of their Jathera and offer ghee and flowers to him. The village-folk generally believe that illness, epidemic, and other calamities are actually punishment which a malignant spirit inflicts, if and when it is offended, It is consequently felt that an illness or a disease can be cured only by propitiating such spirits. That is why there are some deities connected with diseases. The most dreaded among these is Masan who is the personification of the cremation-ground. Villagers are scared of him because he causes wasting diseases and makes his victim die a slow and painful death. Women who perform witchcraft propitiate and invoke him for fulfillment of their desires.
Seetla Mata is believed to be the goddess of smallpox. She is also known as Mata and Jagrani. Whenever anyone in the village suffers from smallpox, his family members propitiate Seetla Mata. During an attack of smallpox it is believed that the patient is possessed by the Mata and no such activity is allowed in the house as might offend her. The use of soap, oil and toothbrush is given up. Consumption of garlic, onions, eggs and meat is also forbidden. The Mata is supposed to reside on a keekar tree, so the members of the infected person’s family water this tree. Propitiatory offerings dedicated to the Mata are given to the ass, especially the guigula.