There are many Hindu temples in Sri Lanka. Which are the Hindu deities to whom most shrines are dedicated? You may be surprised, the answer is not: Shiva and Vishnu, who are the most prominent gods of Hinduism. Indeed, Murugan and Pillaiyar are the male deities honoured with the most Hindu shrines on the island.
There are several different reasons for this finding.
1. In India too, the highest gods are not those with most temples. For example, there are less shrines dedicated to Visnu than to his Avatars and less for his Avatar Rama than for Rama’s helper Hanuman. The reason is: Those subordinate deities appear to be closer to local people.
2. Murugan is the most popular Tamil god in India, too. The reason is: He had been a regional Tamil god already prior to the arrival of the Brahmanic Sanskrit form of Hinduism from the northern part of India. Brahmin priests integrated him into the Hindu pantheon by declaring him to be identical with Skanda, one of the two sons of Shiva.
3. Shiva’s other son, the elephant-headed Ganesha, plays an important role in everyday-life of Hindus generally, because he is asked for help at the beginning of new activities or important exams. Indeed, Ganesha, besides Hanuman, is presumably the gods with most Hindu shrines at all, most of them smaller in size, like chapels. Ganesha’s Tamil name is is Pillai or Pillaiyar, simply meaning "child" or "noble child". But in the Tamil language, the root consonants “p-l-l” also refer to an elephant’s tusk. Pillaiyar worship may be derived from an older elephant worship later on interpreted as referring to the veneration of the elephant-headed Hindu deity, Ganesha.
4. Vishnu veneration plays only a minor role in Sri Lanka’s Tamil Hindu communities, though Vishnu’s most popular incarnation Krishna is present at many places, too, but Rama is not. Shivaism is predominant. So, not surprisingly, gods belonging to Shiva’s family play a more prominant role in Sri Lanka.
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