Citizens of a kingdom and forest dwellers formed two classes of occupants of South Asia in ancient times. Education was one of the main distinctions between the two classes of citizens. Tribal folk lived on the fringes of a civilized society, generally in forested areas of a kingdom. Kings allowed an independent ruler to lead a tribe as much as they allowed a village to have a local Panchayat system of self rule. The friendly and cordial relationship among tribal folk and civilized society is highlighted in such stories as that of Guha meeting Prince Rama in the Ramayana. Symbiotic culture and spirituality flourished among towns folk, villager and the tribal folk.

Meticulous fieldwork by anthropologists and ethnographers even during the colonial period pointed out the existence of incessant exchange among the three strata of South Asian society. Despite this the colonial scholars choose to paint the picture of tribal population as primitive social groups outside the mainstream Indian society. Despite the objections from Indian leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi the mischievous classification continues to be held as orthodox in mainstream academia. One of the living proofs of symbiotic nature of the spiritual heritage among the civilized and tribal sections of the society is the system of Gram Devata worship that is seen in the villages in every state of India.

Ishta Devata- a personally chosen form,  Kula Devata – the form associated with an ancestral continuity and Gram Devata – the form common for everyone in a village are observed to be the three distinct approaches for worship among the Hindus. Gram Devata worship is distinct from brahmanical worship as it includes tribal customs honoring popular tribal deities such as Bhairava and Shaki. Despite its tribal orientation all sections of a village population join the celebration. City dwellers even today will visit their respective Gram Devata to offer their homage before a family wedding.

Sri Sri Ravishankar has been a proponent of maintaining the Gram Devata tradition as a step to unity among village populations. 1008 gram devatas arriving from all over the state of Karnataka to his Ashram in Bangalore on May 12th will be a fitting gift on his 57th birthday.

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