The Goddess Yellama

According folklore based on mythology one of the stories of Goddess Yellama is that of the curse of Jamadagni on Renuka, his spouse, who had been charged by him of adultery and behaded by her son Parashuram at his father’s bidding. Parashuram was given three boons for having accomplished this task. He asked for his mother’s life.

But in a hurry, the head of Matangi woman was fixed on her body and vice-versa, and she was resurrected as Yellama or Matangi and Renuka. Jamadagni also gave her the boon of being worshipped by women. These women would see Parashuram in all males and agree to satisfy their sexual needs whenever they asked without asking for anything in return.
The tradition of worshipping Goddess Yellama began thus, and the women who dedicated themselves to the goddesses became Devadasis. Temples dedicated to Renuka are many, the famous ones being Yellama Temple (Yellama Gudi, Saundatti, North Karnataka 13th century),
Renukamba (Chandragutti hills, Shimoga, Karnataka, 14th Century) or Yellama-Renuka Temple(Bidarahalli, Gadag, Karnataka), Yellama Temple (Mahar, Maharashtra and Nalgonda, Telangana); Renuka Yellama Temple (Bhongir, Bhuvanagari, Telengana), Yellama Temple (Balkampet, Hyderabad), Renugambal Amman Temple (Padavedu, Thiruvannamalai District, Tamil Nadu) and it is one of the most important Sakthi Sthalas or Pithas. Another powerful temple of Renuka Parameshwari is located in Tiruchampalli near Sembanarkoil in Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu.
Temples of similar local goddesses Huligamma (Hulligi village, beside Tungabhadra, Karnataka), Khandoba of Jejuri (Pune, Maharashtra) were also constructed. The ‘Devadasis’ and the ceremonies related to their initiation The term Devadasi is a Sanskrit word; Deva+Dasi meaning female slave of a diety. Devadasis have different names in different parts of the country. They are called ‘Maharis’ in Kerala, ‘Natis’ in Assam, ‘Basavis’ or ‘Jogatis’ in Karnataka, ‘Bhavanis’ in Goa, ‘Bhogam-Vandhis’ or ‘Jogins’ in the state of Andhra Pradesh, ‘Thevardiyars’ in Tamil Nadu, ’Muralis’ or ‘Aradhinis’ in Maharashtra. There is a slight difference between the traditional Devadasi and the Jogati-the Jogati performed even outside the temple premises but the early Devadasis were confined to temple dances. But it is evident that whatever may be the historical background of this tradition, today Devadasi has become a
euphemism for a prostitute who works under the patronage of certain temples and priests.
When a girl is given in offering to or married a deity or to a temple instead of to a man, the girl on attaining puberty has to undergo a kind of initiation ceremony. This dedication ceremony is more or less similar to the marriage ceremony. It is called as Muttu kattuvadu (tying the beads) or “Devarige Bidavadu” (dedicating to the deity). Auspicious days for dedication ceremony were full moon days of the months of March-April, November-December, because goddess Yellama was resurrected and got back her slain husband on two full moon nights. Nowadays, to escape the clutches of the district authorities who are bound by law, the ceremony is performed at smaller temple or houses of some priests instead of the big temples.
The initiation ritual follows after the offering ceremony, in which the girl is formally dedicated to the Mother Goddess. It is said to include a “deflowering ceremony”, known as “uditambuvadu” in some parts, whereby the priests would have first intercourse with every girl enrolled at their temple. Once given as an offering, the girl cannot marry any man, and has to sustain herself by some kind of ceremonial begging, called "jogava" in Marathi, on Tuesdays and Fridays. She wears a "chal" (a string of small bells) in her feet and carries the "jag" (a metal mask of god) in a "pardi" (a basket) on her head and begs all through her life, or finally ends up as a commercial prostitute working in a brothel.(terms mostly used in North Karnataka and Maharashtra) The initiation ceremony involves a Priest making the girl take several vows: “
Hereafter you cannot claim a right of wife with any man, you have to fast on Tuesdays and Fridays and beg on those days holding a Joga (mask) in your hand. If you happen to see a calf; sucking its mother you should not forcibly withdraw the calf. If a cow grazes the crop before you, you shall not drive it away. You shall not speak untruth. If you are feeling hungry don’t tell others and ask for food; offer shelter to shelter-less and strangers. Provide food to those who are hungry and water to the thirsty. Help the helpless people. If anybody abuses you and beats you, never retaliate. If you come across with an event of death, you have bath, visit the temple of Yellamma; only after worshiping the deity you are supposed to take meals. You should not eat “Yenjalu (left out food) of somebody you shall chant “Udho Yellamma”(arise, Yellama) all the time.” (Jogan Shankar 1994, P-101). In another simplified and economical initiation ceremony, the girl is taken to a natural spring pond at Yellamma Gudda.
Here the girl bathes and wears a new white dress along with a few jogatis and relatives, she goes to Yellamma temple with naivedya to offer at to the deity. In the plate, which contains naivedya of fruits, sugarcane, curd and sugar, a necklace made of beads is kept covered by piece of cloth. The plate is handed over to the priest and he offers the naivedya to the main deity of the temple, picks up the bead necklace, touches it on the feet of the idol, and puts it back in the plate covering it with the cloth. Then jogatis and parents of the girl come out of the temple. A senior jogati ties the bead necklace to the girl’s neck and all jogatis who accompanied her to the temple are given a meal and offered some “dakshina”. The girl after this ritual comes back to village and goes for joga (begging).

As she goes for joga all members of the village realize that she has been dedicated to Goddess Yellamma. In Telangana, the girls offered are married to the god ‘Potharaju’, brother of the mother goddess. In the Shimoga District of Karnataka, the girls are handed over to the goddess Renuka Devi, and in Hospet, to the goddess Hulganga Devi. In the Vijapur district of Karnataka, girls are offered to Hanuman. But mostly girls in Karnataka are dedicated to the goddess Yellamma, who is the lower caste version of Rukmini. All these girls become exclusive concubines of the feudal gentry of the village and all know that the servants of the Gods and Goddesses are actually consorts of the wealthy upper caste men of the village or town.

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