The Grāma-devatās of My Town

This article is part 1 of 2 in the series The Grama-devatas of My Town

I have previously described the vaidikas[1], scholars, and connoisseurs of Mulbagal, in bits and pieces, in many series of articles. In the present essay I shall describe the typical lifestyle of Mulbagal’s people. I have not selected the topic for this article from the town of Mulbagal because the place is special in any way. Scholars and common people alike resided there in those days as they did in all other places. Since I know this town from close quarters, I have set out to describe its social milieu. The events and questions of community life I refer to here are characteristic of this part of the country.  

An example to indicate the prices prevalent in those days: fine red rice – twelve serus[2] for a rupee, coconut – six for an anna[3].

Suppose my father bought them at these prices. His uncle would reprimand him immediately: “Veṅkaṭaramaṇa, when will you learn? A rupee should fetch at least sixteen serus of rice. Coconuts should be eight an anna at the minimum. You’ve paid more than the normal cost!”  

This was the state of affairs of the time.

Agriculturists formed the largest group of people in the town. Among them were Okkaligas (Kāpavāṇḍlu in Telugu), Reḍḍis, Kurubas, and Baṇajigas.[4] All of them owned a small patch of cultivable land, along with cattle, oxen, and buffaloes. Some among them reared sheep and chicken. Every person in the town worked from morning to evening. Walking to the fields, tilling the land, removing weeds, drawing water from the well – activities such as these occupied them the whole day. They had little time for squabbles. On the whole, the life of the commonfolk was peaceful.

Vaiśyas[5] formed the next large group of people. Their population was quite sizeable. Popular families of this community included the Kajjāyas, Paccis, Balasās, Tavvas, and Nambūris. Many among them were affluent. Many, too, were devoted to dharma[6]. A person by name Kopparada Varadayya had built a big house. On the day of gṛha-praveśa[7], he hosted an elaborate meal for the brāhmaṇas[8]. I was a part of it.

Rāmasvāmi Śeṭṭi

Kāparti Rāmasvāmi Śeṭṭi lived in Kappalamaḍugu, a village located five miles away from Mulbagal. He was immensely wealthy. In the premises of the Āñjaneya temple in Mulbagal, there is a temple of Veṅkaṭaramaṇa that has a grand idol of the deity. Rāmasvāmi Śeṭṭi offered a beautiful kavaca (outer covering) to this deity. Feeling the necessity for an idol of Devī Padmāvatī to be beside that of Veṅkaṭaramaṇa, he had a stone vigraha (idol) of the Devī sculpted and performed its pratiṣṭhāpana[9]. While the kavaca was being casted, he stayed in Mulbagal and personally oversaw its production. During the period of Rāmasvāmi Śeṭṭi’s stay, discourses by scholars, music concerts, and bhajans were organized in the temple every evening.   

Three or four years later, Rāmasvāmi Śeṭṭi passed away in the house he had built at Kappalamaḍugu. On the day of vaikuṇṭha-samārādhana[10], a group of brāhmaṇas went there from Mulbagal to partake of meals and dakṣiṇā. I was a part of the group. I vividly remember receiving one doḍḍāṇè (a silver coin amounting to two annas). I also remember receiving a good thrashing after returning home. The reason for the thrashing: We are not vaidikas. It ill behoves a laukika[11] to accept what is due to a vaidika. I am a laukika.

There was a huge hall constructed by a person belonging to the Koppara family at the middle of the town. Everyone in Mulbagal was familiar with the grove and the stone-well put together by the generosity of the Tavva family. People of the Balasā family were ardent devotees of the Kodaṇḍa-rāmasvāmi temple.

Discourses on the purāṇas and harikathā programmes[12] were organized frequently in Komipeṭè, the part of the town that belonged to Vaiśyas. In this way, the entire town was happy and radiant.

To the east of Komipeṭè was a string of houses owned by Jyotinagara-vaiśyas. There were several wealthy, munificent, and religiously inclined people among them. They played an important role in the public life of Mulbagal.

Mārīpūjā

On one particular year, the utsava (festive occasion) celebrating our village deity took place with great pomp. It was organized at the city’s quadrangle. I was a young boy studying in one of the lower classes in the Anglo Vernacular School when this happened. Because I was too young, I was not allowed near the place of the utsava. Every house and every street in the town was abuzz with talks and activities related to it from fifteen days. On the day of the utsava I gathered a few boys of my age and climbed the roof of a house in the vicinity of the town’s quadrangle. I was eager to see what would happen. It was around eleven o’ clock. Roads were full of people in all four directions; there was no space for even a sesame seed. Men and women from various villages had thronged the place. People from all sects were there. Several among them were clad in bevina soppu (neem leaves). They held articles of worship such as tambiṭṭu-dīpa (flour-lamp), coconuts, fruits, turmeric, and vermillion in their hands. A few had brought along chicken and sheep. The whole place reverberated with the sound of tamaṭès[13]  and trumpets playing simultaneously. Oh, how many tamaṭès! What noise! A strange fear filled our hearts. Something incredibly terrible was about to unfold.

Raṇabali         

At around twelve o’ clock, a buffalo was to be slaughtered as part of the ritual. A temporary structure was set up at the quadrangle. It was adorned with fresh leaves and festoons. Beneath it was a yūpa-stambha[14] made of wood. The villagers brought the animal to this spot in a procession. Garlands and streaks of turmeric and vermillion imparted a unique glow to it. The sound of the drums was unceasing. We could not see what happened after the animal was brought to this spot. We only heard and inferred. Perched atop the terrace, we heard the sound of bells and some indecipherable hollering. Suddenly, a loud shriek filled our ears – ‘Ho Killallallallo!’ When the devotees raised this sound, the slayer lifted his sword and lopped off the animal’s head placed on the altar of the yūpa-stambha. So we heard from our elders. Many other animals were slaughtered as part of the ritual. The deity Mārī was pleased and there was peace in the town.      

In the next few days, none of us dared to go near that spot. Scared to bits, we remained at home. After a while curiosity got the better of us and drew us to the quadrangle. We saw stains of blood in thick patches. That was perhaps the last time this ritual was conducted.

Let us pay heed to Purandaradāsa[15] as he sings: ūra devara māḍabekaṇṇa – “Don’t give up rituals celebrating village deities, O Brother!”   

Callamudda

There were four or five Mārī temples in our town. One of them was close to my house; it was on the way to the river. Whenever children caught smallpox or a member of the house fell ill, we used to prepare Callamudda and offer it to Māramma.

Callamudda is a Telugu word meaning a cold dish. Here is how it is prepared: A plantain leaf decorated with raṅgavallī[16] is placed on a spot wiped clean. Rice is prepared in a big vessel and is spread in the form of a dam on the leaf. A jug of curd set aside for the ritual is then poured into the rice cavity. Later, wearing ritual-garments, a member of the house lights a pair of lamps before the leaf and worships it by offering turmeric, vermillion, akṣata (ritual rice), and flowers. He then prostrates before the deity and offers the dish. After a while, the dish is taken to the temple and placed before the vigraha. Mārikādevī is pleased by this. People of those days believed that this ritual wards off evils, clears impediments, and fosters good health.

Reṇūru Veṅkaṭarāmaśāstri     

Veṅkaṭarāmaśāstri’s birthplace was a village by name Reṇūru in Srinivasapura taluk, Kolar district. He was older than me by about five years. He gave the Lower Secondary Examination with me in 1897–98. Kolar town was the central location for the Lower Secondary Examination in our province. A group of people from Mulbagal comprising me, seven to eight of my classmates, and perhaps my teacher Subbarao travelled to Kolar and settled in my grandfather’s spacious house. My grandfather was a lawyer. Hudukalu Dāsambhaṭṭa, a person of immaculate character, was our cook. All our needs were taken care of very well.

Reṇūru Veṅkaṭarāmaśāstri came there on the next day of our arrival. It was around eight in the night. We had huddled around a lamp and were busy exchanging questions and answers as preparation for the exam. An elderly person walked in at the same time. It was Celūru Rāmasvāmi Iyengar, my grandfather’s client.

The Greatness of Rudrākṣa    

Rāmasvāmi Iyengar was a man given to mild mischief.  I was a fan of his amusing conversation skill from quite some time. He sat by our side and turned towards Veṅkaṭarāmaśāstri, who was wearing a rudrākṣa[17] bigger than a marble around his neck. Setting his eyes on the rudrākṣa, Rāmasvāmi Iyengar said:

Rāmasvāmi: “What is this? Will this help you in the exam tomorrow?”

Veṅkaṭarāmaśāstri: (Immediately) “Of course! Nothing happens without it.”

Rāmasvāmi: “What does it actually do?”

Veṅkaṭarāmaśāstri: “It rids me of fear. Protected by it, I can do absolutely anything.”

Rāmasvāmi: “In that case, can you do whatever I say?”

Veṅkaṭarāmaśāstri: “Why not? Anything at all!”

Rāmasvāmi: “Can you go to Antaragaṅgè[18] and fetch a pail of water?”

Veṅkaṭarāmaśāstri: “Certainly! I can leave this moment. Will you join me? I will fetch you water. But what if you don’t believe it is from Antaragaṅgè? What if you ask for proof? I’m ready in case you don’t require any proof.”

Rāmasvāmi: “Now then, you’ve pushed me into an uncomfortable corner! Didn’t what I said mean you have to go alone?”

Veṅkaṭarāmaśāstri: “I can do that. I’m ready to go by myself. Will you believe me when I say the water I’ve fetched is indeed from Antaragaṅgè? That’s my concern!”

All of us burst into peals of laughter hearing them speak. We were impressed by Veṅkaṭarāmaśāstri’s cool boldness. Similarly impressed, Rāmasvāmi gave him a coin of four annas.

Veṅkaṭarāmaśāstri was a person of learning. He had studied Sanskrit literature. He used to teach at a high school in Bengaluru. His house was in third cross, Shankarapuram.

Ṭarrāvu

Veṅkaṭarāmaśāstri liked his humour. In around 1923, there was a huge assembly at Bengaluru’s Śaṅkaramaṭha. Karpura Srinivasa Rao was the chairman. It was convened by people of eminence such as Bellave Venkatanaranappa.  The purpose of the conclave was to deliberate upon reforms required in the administration of our maṭhas[19]. People spoke. Decisions were made. While suggesting reforms and approving them, the members used a word repeatedly: ṭharāvu. It means a conclusive decision. Towards the end of the programme, Veṅkaṭarāmaśāstri stood up and said:

“Sirs, about your ṭarrāvu ... You’ve come up with fantastic ṭarrāvus! But what will these ṭarrāvus achieve?”  

We could not control our laughter seeing him wear a mock-serious expression, flail his hands frantically, and pronounce the word ṭarrāvu in an intentionally funny manner. Karpura Srinivasa Rao and others laughed heartily, covering their mouths with a piece of cloth.

Veṅkaṭarāmaśāstri’s conduct was pure and character, noble. He was deeply interested in elevating activities. A society that has such people is indeed fortunate; it glows with a rare light.



[1] People who adhere to the Vedas; Vedic scholars; traditionalists.  

[2] A unit of capacity, slightly more than the metric unit of litre.

[3] An old denomination of currency, amounting to the sixteenth part of a rupee.

[4] Okkaliga – a farmer; Reḍḍi – a surname popular among the Telugu-speaking people; Kuruba – a shepherd; Baṇajiga – a community typically comprising traders.

[5] The community of merchants.

[6] One among the four goals of human life; that which bears and nourishes; the principle of sustenance.

[7] A ritual performed while moving into a new house; housewarming ritual.

[8] A community of people dedicated to six duties: adhyayana (studying), adhyāpana (teaching), yajana (performing Vedic rituals); yājana (conducting Vedic rituals for others), dāna (sharing one’s resources), pratigraha (receiving resources in accordance with dharma).  

[9] Installing an idol by invoking the Supreme in it.

[10] Rites performed on the thirteenth day after a person’s death, which marks his / her entry into Vaikunṭha, the abode of Viṣṇu.

[11] A person engaged in worldly affairs, not necessarily adhering to the activities prescribed for them by the Vedas.

[12] Purāṇas – Popular repositories of ancient Indian knowledge comprising aspects of creation, dissolution, dynasties of deities, the fourteen Manus and their periods, and genealogies of kings. Harikathā – a musical performance based on an interesting, touching, and morally uplifting episode from our epics, purāṇas, and lives of saints.

[13] A round and flat percussion instrument.

[14] A post to which an animal to be immolated in a yajña is tied. It is usually made of wood sourced from Palāśa, Khadira, Bilva, or Rauhitaka trees.

[15] An exemplar of the Bhakti Movement in Karnataka. His most valuable contribution is in the field of devotional classical music. His method of imparting lessons in Carnatic music is followed till date.

[16] Charming patterns drawn using coloured rice, coloured sand, or flower petals.

[17] Rudrākṣa – Literally, Rudra’s eye. It is the berry of the tree Elaeocarpus ganitrus, used to prepare rosaries.

[18] A hill in Kolar, Karnataka, well known for its underground water. 

[19] Monastic centres; traditional seats of spiritual authority.

This is the thirteenth essay in the seventh volume of DVG’s Jñāpaka-citra-śālè, titled Namma Ūrina Grāma-devatègaḻu.

To be continued.

 

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Author(s)

About:

Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.

Translator(s)

About:

Shashi Kiran B N holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master's degree in Sanskrit. His interests include Indian aesthetics, Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit and Kannada literature, and philosophy. A literary aficionado, Shashi enjoys composing poetry set to classical meters in Sanskrit. He co-wrote a translation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh’s Kannada work Kavitegondu Kathe.

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