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Samduby Marco Dalmonte English translation by Gary Davies
Worshipped in: Sind, Shahjapur (Hollow World)
Ayazi/Himayeti/Aksyri (Ixion) - Preserving the balance (birth, existence, death), order
Kala (Hel) - Death, entropy, corruption, reincarnation
Samdu is a religious philosophy based on the veneration of that which is defined as the universal vital spirit, precisely the samdu (literally: “higher being” or “ultimate goal”), a primordial force present in all the things of the universe and with which every individual is called to fuse himself to in order to find the perfect balance. For the followers of Samdu (also called samdu), all the living things possess part of this vital spirit and because of this are worthy of respect. In particular, seeing that for many the samdu can be difficult to conceive without concrete reference points, the priests have used the diverse manifestations of the divinities (those who are thought to already be in harmony with the samdu) as practical references to follow and worship in order to become one with the samdu.
According to this philosophy, every mortal creature travel a long road of purification, and after death he is reincarnated in a new form based, more and less, purely on the actions completed in the preceding life. Thus, who lives in a virtuous way and follows the teachings of the Immortals can aspire to rising in caste, until even becoming the next incarnation of one of the divinities or one with the samdu, while for those that act in an evil and improper way and can expect a punishment that consists of reincarnation in a lower caste or even in impure animals. The samdu for that reason believe that every living creature can be the incarnation of a divinity, and because of this the doctrine enjoins them to act honourably and with respect in the confrontations of every living being. The principal characteristic of the cult is its belief in the possibility of continuous incarnations of each/every creature aiming for a state of complete communion with the Samdu, and the social stratification of castes allows everyone to understand at what level of perfection each individual is at*.
The achievement of the samdu can be arrived at by following two different paths (equal and co-existent), based on the interpretation of the philosophy given by the two streams of thought in which the priests are divided. The more radical samdu (philosophers) believe that the spirit is everywhere and therefore they pay homage to a disembodied universal force, transcendent and immanent at the same time. For these faithful, the way to the samdu can happen either through the communion with the Immortals who through the study of natural phenomena or of their own mind, and all have the same value. The samdu philosophers show a profound sense of fatalism that frequently brings about social inertia and indifference in the confrontations of the neighbour, concentrating their attention only on the spiritual and contemplative sphere.
In fact since for this philosophy all things are part of the samdu, every action is a form of veneration, and the only thing that can be done therefore is to live your own life normally without to try to change it. The only way of improvement that remains is that inside, and it is on this that they concentrate, working in order to enhance their soul and conscience and not the surrounding reality, already full of the samdu. Frequently the priests of this philosophy spend their life in complete asceticism, pondering the mysteries of the universe and perfecting control of their spirit and body in order to become one with creation. This type of philosophy is well rooted in Shahjapur, which shows an extremely fatalistic culture and apathetic traits, tendencies also reflected in the static indolence of the Shahjapur society.
Other samdu (pantheists) instead think that it is simpler to achieve the perfect communion with the vital force by revering and following the teachings of those that have already attained this lofty state; i.e. the Immortals. Thus, it is to them that the worshippers actually direct their worship asking for omens and portents to guide their lives towards their own improvement and communion with the universe. For the pantheist samdu, the incarnation of the divinity that interacts with the mortals in order to guide, incite and protect them is a clear sign of power both of the mortals and of the divinity of being able to modify their own destiny and the surrounding reality. Because of this, for the samdu, actions are much more important than thought, since the way to universal harmony is built through work. While the fatalist samdu preaches detachment from their desires and indifference (but not impoliteness) to the neighbour, the samdu pantheists instead urge the faithful to actively work in order to enhance the nation, earning honour within their caste and satisfy the Immortals. This form of cult is very widespread in Sind, where it took foot following the civil war that has brought about an awakening of the conscience of the faithful and to a better adherence to the veneration of the Immortals in respect to the intimist approach of the samdu.
The samdu acknowledge the existence of no fewer than 33,333 Immortals, as can also be understood by the profusion of temples, altars and grottos consecrated to various heroes and divinities that frequently stun up in different forms and in different epochs in the histories and legends of Sind and Shahjapur, nations where this religion is widespread. However, if you more closely examine the pantheons of these two nations, it is possible to understand that the thousands of divinities worshipped in reality lead back to a few true Immortals, each of which are honoured by various names and identities based on the different ways in which its manifestations and teachings have been passed down. Some of these gods don’t absolutely have any real correspondence with the Immortals, but are simply incarnations of ideals like love and hate, peace and war, law and chaos. For the samdu mythos however, it isn't important if an incarnation really corresponds to a divinity or simply to an abstract idea: it however involves a way that leads to perfection and harmony with the creation. The faithful separately honour each incarnation of the divinity with pilgrimages to the sacred places and celebrations that includes fasts, prayers and festivities, and are the priests, those that with more energy are preoccupied with mastering the mysteries of the universe and perfecting his spirit, to dictate the times and ways for the correct veneration of the Immortals.
The most widespread creation myth among the samdu tells that the universe was created by the Prince of the Sun (Ixion), which is embodied in the Trimurti made up of Ayazi (Creator), Himayeti (Protector) and Aksyri (Destroyer), the three souls of the divinities. Ayazi is linked to everything to do with birth, creation and fertility. The legends relates her most famous incarnations as Valda (the mother of the first Sindhi raja) and Eta, the priest who taught the farmers how to irrigate their fields, saving the Sindhi from the scarcity. Himayeti is instead the protector of life and is embodied in mortal form in order to defend his followers each time that they are threatened by a grave danger. There are numerous stories about the apparitions of Himayeti in order to guide valiant heroes to victory against the enemies of Sind or help the afflicted by plagues and drought, in the form of an animal (her famous incarnations are tortoise, horse and elephant, the three sacred animals of the Sindhi), human and even dwarf. Aksyiri instead represents death, destruction and the final judgement that precedes a rebirth, and therefore becomes important when the life of every living creature approaches its end. Aksyri occupies himself with gathering the souls of the dead, evaluating their purity and reincarnating them to a new life until they are sufficiently pure to be able to contemplate the creation together with the Prince of the Sun. Aksyri appears only in dreams or in the brief moment in which the flame of life is going out in a dying person but has never appeared in this land. The legend tells that only if the world is destroyed will Aksyri appear in order to reincarnate Mystara together with all its inhabitants. This legend in now the true history for the people of Shahjapur, from the moment in which it awoke under the red sun of the Hollow World, since they are the living witnesses of the actions and of the salvation brought by the Prince of the Sun.
While all the aspects of Ixion are linked to life and rebirth, Kala (Hel) embodies death and chaos for the samdu, and is the divinity opposed to the Prince of the Sun. She occupies herself by gathering the souls of the dead and reincarnating them, but unlike Aksyri, she does so with the only aim of increasing chaos in the universe. Kala is preoccupied with finding the most evil creatures and at their death she captures the soul and reincarnates them in babies that could grow into positions of power (rulers or priests), thus subverting the natural order of things (advancing them in the social scale rather than pulling them back for the serious deficiencies that tarnish them) in order to bring chaos, pain and suffering everywhere.
Kala is worshipped under many forms, based on the incarnations attributed to her relating to the exceptionally evil characters of Sindhi legend. Many of those that worship her do so in the hope that in this way she saves them and their families. Others instead totally embrace her philosophy and attempt to spread hate and destruction in the world, in the hope of later getting recompensated with positions of command once reincarnated. In Sind the sect of the Buraiya (a cult of pitiless assassins and thieves) has worked for centuries in its service, despite the efforts made over the years by several Rajadhiraja in order to root them out and destroy them.
The cult of Samdu is spread by the caste of the spiritual heads, which are honoured and respected by all the faithful as real saints. The members of the priestly caste act as intermediaries between faithful and the Immortals, bringers of the teachings and warnings of the divinities to the mortals. When a faithful wants to ask a favour of the Immortals, he brings his petition to a priest, who advises him which incarnation of the divinity to ask aid of and what is the best way to do so. The follower then can select if he wants to celebrate the ceremony alone in order to gain favour with the gods or give something to the monk and leave it all up to him; naturally the majority of the faithful leave these tasks in the hands of the priests, seeing that they are more expert in understanding which methods of veneration must be employed in order to obtain the favour of the gods.
No true hierarchical organisation exists among the samdu, but all acknowledge the authority of the Purohita, the supreme spiritual head, who is always the oldest priest (and therefore is thought to be the wisest), still alive within the kingdom. He doesn’t have any acknowledged institutional task, it is a purely spiritual and honorific office. All the samdu pay him great respect and his word is always attentively listened to, even if ultimately it has no value in law (and nor does the word of any other priest, unless he belongs to the ruling caste). However quite often the faithful find themselves following the indications of the more dedicated (in respect to the conduct imposed by the laws of the country) priests. The priests moreover have the ritual task of blessing the fields for the harvest, purifying the irrigation waters, celebrate the principal festivals and advise the faithful so that they purify their soul and be rewarded in the new incarnation (because of this many priests act as particular advisers to the more important governors). Because of their role as spiritual guide of the faithful, the members of the priestly caste are the only ones who can easily have contact with members of all the castes in which the people are divided, infringing even the taboo of not breaking bread with members of castes different to his own, even if afterwards he must purify himself with ablutions and ritual prayers.
Not all the members of the priestly cast are however divine spellcasters: the majority (70%) are clerics, but also some monks (about 10%) and druids (5%) exist, the majority of these live as ascetic nomads, wandering from one place to another and offer their services to the people in exchange for food. The remaining individuals (about 15%) perform the role of sages and teachers (Specialised NPC according to Classic D&D, Experts according to the Third Edition D&D). Among the clerics, there can be found polytheists (majority) as well as philosophers and specialists, devoted in particular to an incarnation also honouring the entire samdu pantheon.
The priests wear a dhoti (a typical garment of male Sindhi), that is a long robe of cotton (the richer) or linen (the poorer or the ascetics) neatly wound around the waist and at the ankles in a way to resemble a pair of pantaloons gathered at the extremities, and a short sleeved light shirt of the same colour in the warm periods, adding a camel-hair cape during the colder periods. Moreover they are distinguished by the headgear that they always wear, a white turban, and a few wear a necklace (the richer the priest the more precious are the materials from which it is made) with the holy symbol of the worshipped Immortal incarnation (in the case of the specialist clerics) etched on it.
Finally, because of the particular doctrine about reincarnation, the priests use with great care the spells that return the dead to life. In fact, even if it isn’t forbidden by their religion, they rarely revive a person judged straight, since this could prevent them from the possibility of being reincarnated in a better and higher form (a member of a higher caste or even the mortal incarnation of an Immortal). On the other hand it is much more probable that a priest raises from death a known criminal, if there is a good chance of redeeming and purifying his own soul, avoiding swelling the ranks of the souls of Kala.
*The caste system present in Shahjapur is similar but not identical to that of Sind, since the latter has been modified following the internecine fighting and the events that have brought about the same creation of Shahjapur in the Hollow World. Both however are agreed in accepting the castes as a divide imposed by the divinities (even if in reality it was a measure introduced by the chambahara in order to layer the Sindhi society) and in the censuring and forbidding of any type of intimate relationship (from marriage to the sharing of a meal at the same table) between members of different castes.
In Shahjapur, at the top of the social scale there is the caste of the Brahmats (the spiritual leaders), and immediately under it is that of the Shaktiri, or the nobles that occupy the positions of command in the army and in the governmental bureaucracy. In third position are found the Vasiri, which comprises craftsmen, merchants and landed classes, followed by the Sudyars (non-specialist workers, labourers and servants). Outside of this caste system are the Gajanta, the so-called untouchables or impure, which generally live in isolated quarters, don’t participate in the social life or to the governing of the nation and have limited contact with members of the other castes (usually for reasons of labour, given that they do the jobs considered by all impure like collecting the litter and handle the cadavers).
In Sind instead, the dominant caste following the civil war has become that of the nobles, called Himaya, which has even renamed the other castes in order to impose the new social order. Under them are the Rishiya (the spiritual heads), considered by the faithful of a higher moral level even to the himaya. In effect even the Rajadhiraja, the King of Kings of Sind, must bow before the Purohita, the head of all the rishiya (the oldest and wisest among the rishiya of the country), an overt legacy of the order preceding the reform. In third position appears a new caste created by those that are able to claim great power, the Jadugerya (arcane spellcasters). Craftsmen, merchants and farmers belong instead to the lower caste of the Prajaya, and closing the scale the caste of the Kuliya formed from servants, labourers and workers.
Only those that by right of birth belong to the caste of the priests or of the nobles could become clerics, and normally the priests are dedicated to this profession (in Shahjapur there are nevertheless other mages in the priestly caste) while the nobles become warriors. The druids and the mystics/monks instead usually come from the families of craftsmen and farmers. Note that many orders of mystics/monks accept members of any caste without any discrimination, such that it often allows views that members of different castes have the same importance within of a Sindhi or Shahjapur monastery.