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Renuka or Yellamma is worshiped as the Goddess (devi) of the fallen, in the Hindu pantheon. Yellamma is a patron goddess of many down-trodden people such as the dalits, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and backward castes. Her devotees have revered her as the "Mother of the Universe" or Jagadamba.Legends say that Yellamma is the incarnation of Kali, who on one hand symbolizes the death of ego, and on the other hand is the mother who is compassionate about her children.

Yellamma is worshipped mostly in South India, including Karnatakamarker, Tamilnadumarker, Andhra Pradeshmarker and Maharastramarker, where the deity is known by many names: Mahankali, Jogamma, Somalamma, Gundamma, Pochamma, Mysamma,Jagadambika, Holiyamma, Renukamata and Renuka Devi.

In ancient ages, the Yellamma temples were cared for by women known as "devadasis" (which means the servants of gods), who dwelt in the temples and were educated as courtesans or artists. To this day, girls are being dedicated as devadasis to Yellamma, even though the practice is now illegal -- the women lead a life as sex workers.

Origin story

The legends of Renuka are contained in the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa and in the Bhagavata Purana.

Early life



Renuka raja (father of Renuka) performed an yajna — a ritual performed to maintain peace and good health. He was blessed with a daughter, who originated from the fire of this yajna. Renuka was a bright and active child and became the most beloved child of her parents.

When she was eight, Agastya, who was the guru of the Renuka Raja, advised him to have his daughter married to Jamadagni when she reached maturity. Jamadagni was the son of Ruchik Muni and Satyavathi and had obtained the blessings of the gods by performing severe penance. Renuka and Jamdagni Muni lived in the Ramshrung mountains, near the present day Savadatti area of Belgaum district. Renuka helped the Jamdagni Muni in all of his tasks of performing various rituals and puja. Gradually she became close and dear to Jamdagni.

Renuka would wake up early in the morning to bathe in the Malaprabha River with complete concentration and devotion. Her devotion was so powerful that she was able to create a pot to hold water made only of sand, one fresh pot every day. She would fill this pot, on the bank of the river and would use a snake which was nearby, turning it into a rope-like convolution and placing it on her head, so that it supported the pot. Thus, she brought the water to Jamdagni for his rituals of oblation. ("Renuka" is derived from the Sanskrit for "fine grain of sand".)Renuka temple is situated at near Zamaniamarker,Ghazipur

Later life

Renuka gave birth to five sons: Vasu, Viswa Vasu, Brihudyanu, Brutwakanwa and Rambhadra. Rambhadra was the youngest and most beloved, gaining the favour of Lord Shiva and Parvati and hence called Parashurama (the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu).

One day when Renuka went to the river, she saw Gandharva spirits playing. These were young couples carelessly frolicking in the water with abandon. For a moment, she lost her concentration and devotion and fantasized about playing in the river with her husband. She wished she and her husband had such fun sometimes too, living so close to such a beautiful place. After some time, Renuka came to her senses and cursed herself for her indiscretion. She hurriedly bathed, as she had lost precious time, and tried to create the pot, but was unable to as she had lost her concentration. She even tried to catch the snake but it disappeared. Disappointed by this, she returned to the ashram in shame. Seeing Renuka returning empty-handed, Jamadagni became furious and angrily ordered her to go away.

After being cursed by her husband, Renuka went east and sat in the forest to meditate. In her penance, she met with the saints Eknath and Joginath; she prayed to them and asked to gain the mercy of her husband. They first consoled her, then instructed her to follow their advice exactly as told. They told her to purify herself, first bathing in a nearby lake, and then to worship a Shivalinga, which they had given to her. Next, she should go to the nearby town and beg for rice from the houses (this ritual, called "Joga Bedodu", is still carried out by women during a particular month in Karnataka). After collecting the rice, she was to give half to the saints and cook the remaining half, adding jagriey, partaking of the cooked rice with full devotion. They said that if she performed this ritual for three days, she would be able to visit her husband on the fourth day.

Knowing the anger of Jamadagni, they warned her that she may not be fully pardoned by him, and that she would have to experience the most difficult time of her life for a few minutes. "After that," they said, “you will be eternally revered and will be blessed with your husband. You will be worshiped by all the people henceforth." After blessing her this way, they disappeared. Renuka followed their instructions with devotion and worshipped the Shivalinga with full care and reverence. On the fourth day, she went to see her husband.

Punishment and resurrection

Jamadagni was still furiously angry with Renuka and ordered his sons to punish their mother. One by one, four of them refused flatly. Jamadagni, who possessed the power to burn anyone to ashes with his one look, was so angry that he went berserk and turned four of his sons into four piles of ashes. Parashurama, who was not there when this happened, found his mother weeping by the piles of ashes when he arrived and his father was still raging mad. Jamadagni told him what happened and ordered him to behead his mother for her infidelity. Parushurama had to think quickly. Knowing his father's powers and the extent of his anger, Parashurama immediately obeyed his father, using his axe.



His father then offered a boon to Parushurama, who asked for his mother and brothers to be brought back to life. To everybody's astonishment, Renuka's spirit multiplied and moved to different regions. Renuka was back as a whole too. This miracle inspired her sons and others to become her followers, and worship her.

Renuka vs. Yellamma

In many traditions, Renuka and Yellamma are taken to be two names for the same goddess. However there is also an oral tradition that distinguishes between the two. According to these tales, Renuka fled to a low-caste community when her son Parushurama was coming to kill her. He found and beheaded her, along with a low-caste woman who had tried to protect her. When he later brought them back to life, he mistakenly attached the woman's head to Renuka's body, and vice versa. Jamadagni accepted the former as his wife Renuka, while the latter remained to be worshipped by the lower castes as Yellamma, the mother of all.

Temples and related places

Every year, there is a gathering of as many as 200,000 of her devotees at the Yellamma Gudda temple in Saundattimarker. Another temple Renukambe [Yellamma] is atop a hill in Chandragutti, Soraba Taluk in Shimogamarker. This temple is an example of ancient architecture and dates back to the Kadamba period. Another temple is in Mahur, Maharashtramarker, the supposed birth place of the goddess, which finds mention in Devi Gita, the final chapter of Devi Bhagawatam as, "Matripura in the Sahyadri mountain; here the Devi Renuka dwells..."

Renuka Lake
Renuka Lakemarker in the Renuka Sanctuary in Himachal Pradeshmarker is named after the goddess. According to one legend, king Sahasarjuna (Kartavirya Arjuna) was in love with the beautiful Renuka, and once when Parashurama was away, the king killed Jamadagni and his four sons to marry Renuka. To escape the king's clutches, she jumped into the lake and vanished. The gods restored her to life, and the lake, shaped like a sleeping lady, marks her immortality.

In Sri Lanka

In ancient Sri Lankamarker, "Renuka" was the name of a minor goddess of wanton death and destruction, although at certain times was also a symbol of creativity and vibrancy.

Further reading

  • The Village Gods of South India (London, 1921) by H. Whitehead
  • Yellamma: A Goddess of South India (1995) by Channappa Uttangi


References

  1. Yellamma Temple, Karnataka, Indianetzone.com. Retrieved 14 September 2008.
  2. Serving the Goddess, The dangerous life of a sacred sex worker by William Dalrymple. The New Yorker, 4 August 2008
  3. Devi Gita; Chapter XXXVIII: The Vow and the Sacred Places of the Devi The Devi Gita (Song of the Goddess), Excerpt from the Srimad Devi Bhagawatam, translated by Swami Vijnanananda (Hari Prasanna Chatterji), 1921."O King of Mountains! Still I am now telling something out of My affection to My Bhaktas. Hear. There is a great place of pilgrimage named Kolhapura in the southern country. Here the Devi Laksmi always dwells. The second place is Matripura in the Sahyadrî mountain; here the Devî Renuka dwells." Verses: 3-10.



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