In ancient times, the various Alplai cultures incorporated animistic and polytheistic religious beliefs. Over time, as societies changed and came into contact with one another, new belief-systems emerged.
The ancestors of the Konarai were divided into tribal groups, often in conflict with one another. Among them, many women became itinerant healers, traveling from one village to another, healing the sick and sharing news of the outside world. Ajamara was one such healer who loved a handsome prince. When the prince became sick with a deadly illness, she traveled the land to gather one thousand parasha blossoms for making a curative. During her travels, she shared her compassion and wisdom with people in the villages she visited. By the time she had enough blossoms to cure the prince, it was too late; his malady had taken its toll, and he died in her arms. Ajamara then traveled to Agashagrapraja, the furthest eastern point of the land, and knelt at cliff’s edge to sing in mourning until her life came to and end. But her song and the strength of her love were so powerful, she inspired the spirits around her to sustain her with their energy, until she herself was transformed into the eternal spirit of love, to indwell every person.
To this day, Konarai devotion to Ajamara permeates their culture and ethos. Each village has a narrative of the time when she was said to have visited long ago, even the bajakanara far to the south, and the Konarai settlers on the planet Totrana. Prayers to Ajamara are sung constantly – welcoming a newly hatched infant or a visitor to one’s village, praising the dawn or beseeching her intervention with other spirits, and so forth. Even those Konarai who abandon their traditional agrarian life for more modern ways still revere Ajamara and strive to live in accord with her example and spirit.
The ancient Saakh religion reflected the social hierarchy of their empire, with the nobility focusing devotion on a ruling sky god (Zeiraakh), and the peasantry on a fertility earth goddess (Eshaar), along with lesser deities and spirits. This was the milieu in which Shalaran was raised, first as a peasant in childhood, then joining the imperial army in his youth, retiring after years of service with a small estate and a pension. It was during his time as a freeholder (ojadei) that he began a life of spiritual contemplation, and gathered disciples around him. As more students gathered at his home, he would send them out in groups of seven to form new monastic communities elsewhere. After his death, narratives of his life and teachings were compiled into a book, called the drokshnei, which became instrumental in spreading his ideas among ordinary people.
Shalaran taught that the various deities and spirits portrayed in the world’s religions were in fact imperfect representations of a much larger reality, which he called the strhaan – “that which is (saan), was (taan) and will become (rhaan) within you and around you.” He emphasized simplifying one’s life to avoid distractions and find a deeper connection to the strhaan, later known by the Kiitra term id’ekaaverkzonra, meaning “the Great Becoming”. While millions follow the Shalranai way as ordinary people, the monastic eshnai live communally to devote themselves to more intense study, meditation, and service; these monastic communities also welcome guests, from those in need of temporary shelter to laity in spiritual retreats for reflective contemplation and guidance. The focus on quietism and tolerance in Shalranai teachings is thought to be one of the major influences leading to the Alplai’s abandoning warfare as a means to settle differences.
The Kiitra also embraced a polytheistic system, led jointly by a god of sun and fire (Piirash), and a goddess of sea and water (Murai). At roughly the same time that Shalaran lived, Totran grew to become perhaps the greatest of Alplaa’s scientists. His observations and theories were the Alplai parallel to those of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton; his private writings would later inspire others to more advanced scientific discoveries.
Totran also developed an ethical worldview that did not depend upon belief in any form of supernatural. He professed a staunch agnosticism, stating that he found no evidence in spirits or gods, but that actions motivated by compassion and reason made the world better for everyone. His philosophy would be quietly adopted by educated people, first in his Kiitra homeland, and then among others across the planet. Totranai beliefs also posited a new theory of government, based on the idea that social rules and customs were based on mutual agreement (similar to the ideas of Epicurus, John Locke and other “social contract” theorists on Earth); these were regarded as a foundational idea to Conversionist political philosophy, leading to the establishment of democratic government and the global Concordance of Alplaa.
Sadroshai religious teachings
Ancient Baija religious beliefs and practices centered on divination from a large number of spirits, usually through women who served as oracles for clan chiefs. The devastating wars between the Bashra and Baalti moieties, and the eventual conquest and occupation by the Saakh and Kiitra, disrupted Baija culture and spirituality, with many embracing the religions of their conquerors. As Shalranai and Totranai beliefs began to displace these systems, the desire for Baija independence was coupled with a collective spiritual crisis.
Into this setting emerged Sadarosh, who preached a message which appealed to both religious and nationalistic sentiments. He taught that the universe was created by four elemental gods – earth/land (Isri), water/sea (Moluu), fire/sun (Belje), air/sky (Shava). While these gods were sometimes in conflict with one another, those who showed proper devotion to them would gain their favor. Since the Saakh had worshipped the earth/land and air/sky gods, and the Kiitra those of fire/sun and water/sea, they were allowed to share dominion over the world. Now that they had abandoned those gods, if the Baija showed proper devotion to all four, they would not only gain their freedom, but global dominion. Sadarosh would develop a sophisticated ritual and moral code, and gather a large following as he traveled across the Baija lands. Eventually the Sadroshai religion would become predominant among the Baija, adapting over time to the pluralism of the modern Alplaa.
Sadroshai temples are square, with the corners oriented at the four major compass points, and an entrance on each side; the Great Temples of Paalshera and Paaltulra are the largest and most elaborately decorated, and serve as the respective starting and end points for a pilgrimage rite whereby believers walk the path taken by the prophet. Each temple corner is a miniature shrine to one of the gods, separated by a curtain, and each entrance is for a different purpose:
- Southwest door is the “gathering way” – regular believers enter and exit for worship.
- West corner is the shrine to Shava – separated by a light-blue curtain, with a bowl containing a feather.
- Northwest door is the “learning way” – adolescents and non-initiated adults enter to first learn of the Sadroshai faith; prospective beshoke (recognized teachers) also enter through here at the start of their confirmation rite.
- North corner is the shrine to Belje – separated by an orange curtain with a bowl containing a large burning candle.
- Northeast door is the “penitent way” – transgressors must leave the temple from here after being disciplined, and may only re-enter through here once they have repented and made amends.
- East corner is the shrine to Isri – separated by a dark gray curtain with a bowl containing stones.
- Southeast door is the “teaching way” – reserved for beshoke who lead temple services; in the rite of confirming a new beshoke, the candidate enters through the northwest “learning way” and exits through the teaching way.
- South corner is the shrine to Moluu – separated by a light-green curtain with a bowl containing water.
As the Aplai began to colonize their Great Sea and vast oceans on floating cities, many settlers did not feel that the existing religious and philosophical systems met their needs or answered their questions. From this spiritual hunger grew a revived devotion to the Kiitra sea goddess Murai, who was now seen as the “Mother of All Life,” and from local gatherings of Murai devotees emerged a widespread movement. This new religion, while initially viewed with suspicion and hostility by some, grew rapidly and soon became an accepted part of life in these new aquatic settlements.
Murai devotees are organized in local congregations, led by lay elders. Members are often identified by their wearing the siledraavshna – a pendant resembling the dolphinlike sileduur, revered as living symbols of Murai. Their ethic upholds compassion and respect for diversity, rooted in the understanding that all life has a common origin in the seas. Many devotees of Murai, mindful of their history as a persecuted minority, are active in defending equality and freedom for others, including the Terai newcomers to their solar system.
While religious fundamentalists remained behind on their homeworld, convinced the asteroid collisions were some long-awaited apocalypse, those Terai who left to settle in the Alplai solar system represented many traditions and philosophies. Some would face a spiritual crisis in their new home, even embracing Alplai religions. Whether they would develop new systems of religious belief, ritual, and community – either alone or in consort with their Alplai neighbors – would take the passing of years, if not generations.