RENUKA (YELLAMMA)

            Renuka (rENukA) (ರೇಣುಕಾ) and Yellamma (Yellamma) (ಯಲ್ಲಮ್ಮ) are the variants used to denote a folk Goddess who presides over the temple in Savadatti and Chandragutti temples. She is pan Indian Goddess because her temples are found in different parts of South India and Maharashtra. She is known by different names such as mahankaLi, jOgamma, sOmalamma, gunDamma, myAsamma, rENukAmAtA, reNukAdEvi etc. An important temple of Renuka located in Karnataka is the yellamma guDDa temple at Saundatti in Every year, there is a gathering of as many as 200,000 of her devotees at the Yellamma Gudda temple in Saundatti town in Belgaum district and the Renukambe [Yellamma] atop a hill in Chandragutti, Soraba Taluk in Shimoga. It is sixteen kilometers away from Sorab and it sprawls on the banks of Varada river. There is cave temple where according to folk belief, Renuka hides when persued by Parashurama. Another temple, probably built during the the regime of Vijayanagara kings is in front of this cave. This temple is an example of ancient architecture and dates back to the Kadamba period.

            Renuka is originally supposed to be a Jaina Goddess even though all evidences linking her to that religion are now extinct and she is essentially a Hindu Goddess. It is said that Seetha and Draupadi belonging to earlier eras have found in Yellamma, their counter part of Kaliyuga. Another tradition links her to Renuka the mother of Parashurama and wife of Jamadagni. According to the Veerashaiva tradition Renuka is a daughter of a rich Veerashaiva landlord of UgurukoLLa village.  She was cured of Lukoderma by two saints named ekkayya and jOgayya. She adopts the religion and stays on the hill. She is also known as satayakka and ELu guDDada yellamma. The story of Renuka is an interesting combination of history and mythology.

           Howeevr she is now worshipped mainly by a number of devotees belonging to the ‘socially out cast and oppressed’ communities. She is also asociated with the jOgiti samprdAya which again is linked with the dEvadAsi tradition.

            The Yellamma temple at Savadatti is situated at a distance of about eight kilometers from the town on the top of Ramalinga hill. An inscription dated 1514 A.D. found here mentions the temple. Architectural eveidences sugest that this could belong to the seventh or eighth century. Lakhs of people visit this place on the occasion of banada huNNime and BArati huNNime.   

            Yellamma is inevitably associated with the jOgiti tradition. There are families and communities that have deep religious ties with this Goddess. Occasionally, families take an oath to devote the entire life of a girl or a boy belonging to their clan in the service of Yellamma. Such people called jOgamma and jOgappa respectively. jOgappa dons the dress of a woman with anklets and other paraphernalia and adopts a mendicant life. He travels with a decorated ‘jaga’ (bindige, a vessel) on his head  and asks for alms. jOgamma puts on an yellow gown, These devotee are allowed to marry. Sometimes jOgappa is converted in to a eunuch. This pracitice is widely prevalent in backward and oppressed communities. The nude worship in Chandragutti is another customary practice that has drawn a lot of attention. It is now prohihbited by the Govenment of Karnataka. There are many ritualistic practices such as konDa(walikng on cinders) and siDi (slitting one’s back with a hook and going round in circle atop a pole) 

            There is an oral epic that documents the story of Yellamma. This is sung by professional singier communities such as gondaliga, jOgiyaru, nIlagAra, chaVDike meLa etc. Songs and legends about this Godess are being collected.  

Further Reading and links:

1.    Renuka

2.    www.shimogaonline.com/soraba.htm

3.    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renuka  

4. ‘YELLAMMA (RENUKADEVI) WORSHIP IN SAUNDATTI; A STUDY’ by A Sundara - Archaeological Studies - Dept. of Post-Graduate   Studies and Research in Ancient History, Karnatak University, Dharawar.

5.  JOGATIS OF GODDESS YELLAMMA: A COMMUNITY OF   MENDICANTS’ by N.K. Kadetotad - … Anthropological and Archaeological Perspectives: Society and …, 1986 - Inter-India

 

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