Ayyannar – The Guardian God of South India

In the pantheon of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, are the guardian Gods who serve as protectors. They protect villages and are called “grama devatas” or ” Kaval deivam ” in Tamil. In Tamil Nadu, the guardian god is portrayed as a mustachioed male and is called Ayyannar.

During my recent visit to interior Tamil Nadu, I passed many road side shrines of fierce male deities with idols of horses and elephants placed around. In ancient days, villagers worshipped Veerakal or hero stones which were erected in the memory of fallen soldiers. These later became cult shrines . Ayyannar is often referred to as a vira or a brave one who rides horses, brandishes a trident and fights demons and protects the villagers. His associate is Karuppusamy who rides a tiger .

As you drive down rural Tamil Nadu, you will find their shrines placed at the frontiers of villages and the deity is seen riding a horse. Sometimes, horses and elephants stand close to a tall colourful statue of the deity. The horses and elephants are the vehicles of Ayyannar when he goes on his rounds around the village.

In some villages, the deities are small and are placed below trees or near the open fields.Weapons such as swords, spears, tridents or lances are also placed at the shrine.

The Ayyanar is said to protect the village from the malevolent forest spirits and he punishes the guilty.Most officiating priests are not from the Brahmin caste and are from a local lineage that had initiated the cult generations ago. It is said that they hail from the community of potters .As in a cult practise, animal sacrifices especially chicken and goat are offered to please the Gods.


  1. vishesh 2 August, 2008 at 16:22 Reply

    i have always wanted to take a snap of ’em…but well no one stops the car for me to…..i badly need a good cam…*sigh

    i am with a 3.2 mega pixle,which is almost 4 years old…with selective shooting,well it shoots stuff whenever it feels like…

  2. Aaarti 2 August, 2008 at 16:34 Reply

    oh, yes… have always been fascinated by these ayyanars… love the vibrant colours and the diff styles across towns/villages!!! πŸ™‚

  3. flyingstars 3 August, 2008 at 06:55 Reply

    I have heard about this God a lot, but for the first time am seeing them in details…in this part of the world the protecting Goddesses are mostly female deities….nice photos & the collection!

  4. Compassion Unlimitted 3 August, 2008 at 19:14 Reply

    lovely..the pics & explanation made me nostalgic..
    We used to churut ( Cigar ) smoking muneeswaran too( Churut was one of the offerings too to the deity ).
    Nights when we used to walk down the village road,my uncle used to say,muneeswaran would escort us to the border.Sometimes we could smell the cigar too,but never had the gutz to turn back and look around !!

  5. Gargling Garbage 4 August, 2008 at 00:25 Reply

    I am sooooo terrified of Ayyanars! As if swords and moustache were not enough, all these Tamil flicks show a low-angle shot of the deity πŸ™

    Btw, great pics and a wonderful write-up! πŸ™‚

  6. AJEYA RAO 5 August, 2008 at 11:04 Reply

    Isnt it so interesting to observe how talented these villagers are to create such wonderful piece of art?…Probbaly thier devotion blends well with the talent too.

  7. Lakshmi 6 August, 2008 at 16:50 Reply

    Vishesh – I was lucky as my uncle and my mother started pointing out these to I was able to take some good pictures ..Im changing my camera as well

    aaarti – Interesting to know about the various legends around them..they are cult figures themselves

    SK – Chola trail may take a true:)

    Hobo – Have a great trip

    Sameera – The art and architecture though a bit loud definitely captures the spirit

    Indrani -Looking forward to your post

    Mitr- I know..we have seen more of them in films and TV

    Ceedy – πŸ™‚

    Akira – No secret..just pack my bags and travel

    kalyan – In many states,it is the Goddess ..even in TN, there are deities who are gramadevathi as they are called

    CU – Thanks for sharing these interesting experiences..the lores and legends are very fascinating

    Ropi- Which is the Greek word ?

    Matt – All Indian Gods and colorful and the legends are even more..good to know that you like Shiva . Most devotees of Shiva are known as Saivites..

    Lalitha – These Gods were a great fodder for film scripts to write fantastic stories and spin emotions..I find them fascinating though

    Gopal – There were so many..some of them were massive ..wanted to capture all of them πŸ™‚

    Lakshman – Maybe..there are different legends around them

    kamini – We all learn new things everyday…even i didnt know much before this and there is so much i dont know abt our own culture

    Vishnu – Kids are brought up with fear of this deity..He punishes the guilty fear of doing anythg wrong is instilled at a very age..

    Ajeya – Some of the local village art is outstanding

    Abhijit – welcome to backpakker and thanks for the comment..yes, some people believe so

    I am – Let me know when you are planning to come πŸ™‚

    Pallavi – Thanks..yes, they are virtually everywhere

  8. Merisi 6 August, 2008 at 20:29 Reply

    Fascinating statues and background history! Never heard about them before, and the group of deities in the field is like out of this world! Do you know anything about the small figure to the right of the picture?

  9. Lakshmi 7 August, 2008 at 11:37 Reply


    Its quite interesting as each state and community has different deities to protect them and the legends are very not sure which picture you are referring to exactly

  10. Anonymous 13 March, 2009 at 02:37 Reply

    Great images! I would love to use one or two for an Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism I am writing. Any chance of that; will give credit and can offer modest fee.

  11. Lakshmi 13 March, 2009 at 08:24 Reply

    Priyank – My sense is that its just an artistic interpretation..but will find out more

    PNS – Pls do so whenever you have the time

    Anon – It would have been better if you had left your name and contact details for me to revert..nevertheless pls mail me the details and thanks for the comment

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