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Myths, Legends and Rituals in Bhyrappa’s Novels – Part 8

This article is part 8 of 12 in the series Myths, Legends and Rituals in Bhyrappa’s Novels


The modern myth of progress and prosperity that is depicted in the life style of Kanthi and Sheetal, is contrasted with the lifestyle of Ravindra’s grandmother. Anoop is contrasted with Raveendra.

Right at the outset, the gargantuan novel ‘Tantu’, evokes the myth concerning the temple of Basavanapura. According to the local myth and historical legends, the temple was built by the great sculptor Jakkanachari himself. Many towns and villages in South India, especially in Karnataka, claim that their temples have been built by Jakkanna. But the specialty of Basavanapura is that the temple here was built by Jakkanna and his disciples and not with the help of grants from any King, with their own labour and for their own satisfaction, and they earn the blessings of  God. This myth unveils the pious, spiritual attitude of the sculptors of those times. The theft of the idol of Saraswathi, the deity of knowledge, reveals the callousness and sinking of moral and ethical values in our present age.

The myths of Satyavan-Savitri and Markandeya, are used very effectively in Bhyrappa’s short story ‘Sattilla’ (Not dead), to drive home the truth to the child Chandri that his father is really dead. In these mythological stories, Satyavan returns from Yamaloka through the power of Savitri’s chastity and spirituality. In the story of Markandeya, the boy embraces Śivaliṅga, and Śiva drives away the deadly Yama, and makes Markandeya a ‘cirañjīvi’, who lives for ever. But in the present context, Chandri’s mother cannot bring back her husband from the clutches of Yamadharma. Chandri’s father did not embrace Śivaliṅga at the time of his death and could not escape from death. The use of these myths very poignantly presents the difference between the past and the present.

The structure of ‘Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane’ is based on the mythological belief in the holiness and eminence of the cow, which is called ‘kāma-dhenu’ i.e., a being that gives you whatever you wish for. ‘Kāma-dhenu’ is the celestial cow and all the cows on this earth embody the original qualities of that heavenly cow. Another strand in the novel is the folklore-legend, popular in Karnataka, called “The Song of Puṇyakoṭi”. Using this mythological concept of a cow, and the Puṇyakoṭi legend, Bhyrappa delineates the pattern of life of people in general, and a cowherd Kaliṅga in particular, and evokes the cultural ethos, traditions and social norms, that existed once but have now vanished. It is believed in Hindu mythology that thirty-three crore gods dwell in the body of a cow, and hence the status of supreme holiness is attributed to the cow. Along with these, Bhyrappa has also used a modern poem about the usefulness and mild nature of cows. The song ‘Dharaṇi-maṇḍala madhyadoḻage’ narrates the story of a cow named Puṇyakoṭi, and the cowherd Kaliṅga; his routine, his love, devotion and care for cows. Besides, the song also talks about the truthfulness of Punyakoti, who, true to her promise to the tiger, returns in order to be eaten by the tiger. Even the urine of the cow is considered sacred in Indian tradition, and is used in religious occasions, in ‘pañca-gavya’, as a purifier. Today, the curative power of cow urine has been proven scientifically and medically. All these myths and beliefs expounded in the novel are confronted by modern hostile forces.

The novel begins with the poem ‘Dharaṇi-maṇḍala madhyadoḻage,  mereyutiha karnāṭa deśadi’, the legend of Puṇyakoṭi(In the country of Karnataka, shining in the centre of the globe, …). Thus,  the geographical frame of the story is also provided along with the legend of the cow. The poem narrates the legend of Puṇyakoṭi and the cowherd Kaliṅga, who took excellent care of his cows,  bestowing his love and devotion on them. The name ‘Puṇyakoṭi’ is pregnant with meaning, it means one has accumulated the merit of crores of meritorious, virtuous deeds. One day, while Puṇyakoṭi was returning home, she was attacked by a hungry tiger called Arbutha. Puṇyakoṭi promised the tiger that she would return after feeding her hungry calf. The tiger agreed. When however the cow actually returns after feeding her calf and asks the tiger to devour her, the tiger was stunned by her truthfulness. The story goes that the tiger was transformed by the truthfulness of the cow, and calls her  his sister. The tiger does not kill the cow, but jumps into the abyss and dies, but Śiva grants salvation to the tiger.

The words of Puṇyakoṭi to her little calf represent the gist of virtue and the greatness of truth. ‘Truth is our mother and father, Truth is our family. If we go back on our words of truth, God will not approve of it.’ These and other stanzas of the poem are still taught in schools. The story of Puṇyakoṭi is still enacted on stage. In this poem, myth and legend are fused together and uphold the cultural ethos, traditions of our country and the beliefs of both common man and erudite people.

It is said that after the death of the tiger,  milk pongal is prepared on the day of saṅkrānti every year, and the festival is celebrated to commemorate the incident. This is how myth, legend, and rituals interface with each another. The character of this novel Kalinga Gowda of Kalenahalli is believed to be a direct descendant of the Kalinga, the legendary cowherd, and even to this day the species of the original Puṇyakoṭi is preserved in his cow pen.

Forests exist even today, and cows still go there to graze. Tigers attack the cows and devour not only the cows, but also wound and kill the cowherds. We cannot witness a Puṇyakoṭi or a tiger of the type described in the myth. Yet, we do come across cows like Puṇyakoṭi ,  and people like Kalinga. But  the times have changed and we see amidst us Hildas and butchers. Kalinga Gowda’s young son Kṛṣṇappa, in his effort to save the Puṇyakoṭi species from the jaws of the tiger, is fatally wounded and dies. This Kṛṣṇappa was nurtured by the milk of a Puṇyakoṭi cow. To console Kaliṅga Gowda, Narasimha Jois praises the valiant act of Kṛṣṇappa. He says that by saving the cow, he has saved his father from hell. Narasimha Jois narrates  stories from mythology about the supreme value and greatness of cows.

Ages ago, a great seer called Chyavana was observing a strict penance. When the floods came, he was completely drowned in the waters, but his penance was not disturbed. When the fishermen cast their net for fish, this ṛṣi was caught in the net. The fishermen grew afraid. But the ṛṣi told them to sell him, as they had caught him thinking him to be a fish, and it was not their mistake anyway. But who could buy a ṛṣi? The king knew this and requested the ṛṣi to come to his palace. The king had to pay the fishermen for his purchase. But how to set a price on a ṛṣi? The king was even ready to offer his treasury and kingdom. But the ṛṣi asked “Is that all that I am worth?’ Then the ṛṣi told the king to give a cow to the fishermen as his equivalent price, and said ‘One cow is equal to the cosmos itself. I am only a little being in that cosmos. Even crores and crores of ṛṣis cannot equal the worth of one cow’.

Then Jois narrates another incident from mythology to explain the holiness and greatness of the cow, and the punishment that would await a person after death, who happens to inflict even the slightest hurt on a cow: Janaka the noble king and scholar of Mithila was considered a rajarṣi. He had not committed any sin in his life. After he became old, he discarded his body at his will, using his yogic powers, and went straight to heaven. His soul was taken to the doors of hell. There Janaka Maharshi asked: ‘I have not done any sinful deed in my life. Why have you brought me here?’ Then the servants of Yamadharma told that once, in the past, Janaka had beaten a cow while it was grazing. Because of this he had to see the door of hell’. (page 26-27, “Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane”). These myths stress the honourable position and the importance given to the cow in Hindu culture. These myths would function as a strong backdrop to the incidents that follow in the story, and to the hostile situations that arise, and enhance the heartless attitude of Hilda on the one hand, and they throw light on the benevolent, trusting and mild nature of cows on the other. It is revealed in the novel that Putta-kalinga and later on, Hilda and Kalinga’s child were fed by milk of the Puṇyakoṭi breed.

In India, even today, people observe the tradition of donating a milk yielding cow along with the calf to a brāhmaṇa when a member of the family dies. But there are certain rules that govern this tradition. A brāhmaṇa should not accept a young bull as donation. As Narasimha Jois quotes from the śāstras, a bull is the general of an army of cows, a bull can donate his semen to hundreds and hundreds  of cows. A young male calf is like the king of the cows. An ordinary brāhmaṇa cannot digest this ‘dāna’. This is explained to Kaliṅga Gowda, when he asks the Jois to take the young bull also, as the bull was pining for its mother. This precise thought pattern, and the forethought in the śāstras are astonishing (page 31). It is enlightening to know the prominance given to cows, their protection, food etc. in the śāstras. Narasimha Jois, when goes with Kalinga Gowda to plead against the acquisition of the village pasture lands by the government, quotes from the ‘Mahabharatha’ and other texts, that a certain percentage of land around a village should be left as grazing ground for the cattle (four hundred cubits, or the distance between the elbow and the tip of the middle finger of a man). Three times this area should be left free around any town. The owner of the cattle  should not be punished, if the cattle grazes the  crop that has been cultivated in that land. (page-41 ‘Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane’). This again throws light on the well organised thought pattern of the ancients.

Building a temple to the dead cow Puṇyakoṭi, installing in it the sculpture of the cow, a bull, and erecting a shining tower, making arrangements for daily worship, all reveal myths and legends that are being perpetuated in various forms in all ages. As myths are the outcome of certain beliefs, rites and rituals that were prevalent in a certain generation, and were consciously or unconsciously inculcated into its subconscious level, they remain as collective consciousness or collective unconsiousness. Whereas the myths, legends, folk-lores from mythologies and tradition bring to light the value system of the country in the past, the myth of progress in the name of industry, scientific reformations sans the positive values, the discord due to the clash of cultures show the erosion of certain positive values (time honoured values). The author is not nostalgic about bringing back the old rites and rituals, but he notices the decline of enduring, positive human values that are sinking to an abyss.

In ‘Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane’, the author uses the myth of the Goddess Māramma of Marikere, and her benign and malignant powers. In all small towns and villages in India, car festivals of Gods and Goddesses are held. These are usually accompanied by fairs, and animals like bulls, sheep, goat, etc. are also sacrificed on these occasions. Though the government has banned animal sacrifice, the practice continues. In the novel, it is said that this would be the last year where such a sacrifice will be performed. All the rites and rituals performed here are seen through Hilda’s eyes, from the point of view of a foreign woman. The rituals described here seem terrible, but they are real and are observed even to this day  (167-180). These ceremonies of sacrifice are followed by the ritual of walking on burning charcoal. Hilda thinks of it as nothing but torturing oneself. But even the police inspector says that the charcoal does not hurt or burn the walker. All this is beyond comprehension to Hilda.

Thayavva, the dumb mother of Kalinga, desires to give away all the cows belonging to the Punyakoti species as ‘dāna’, to save them from her foreign daughter-in-law Hilda. In this context, the rituals related to the ceremony of donating the cows to Venkataramana Jois by the dying person Thayavva are described in detail along with the relevant hymns that are mentioned in the texts. (Pages 227-230, ‘Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane’) The donor should imagine that she or he is the cow, there is no difference between the cow and himself or herself. As such, by giving away the cow, he or she has given away herself or himself in donation. In the same way, the receiver of this ‘dāna’ should say that the owner of the cow has lost his or her ties with it, the cow has become the possession of the receiver, and pray that the cow should bring blessings to both of them.

The myth that Puṇyakoṭi breed of cows is very kind, friendly and mild, and even allow  babies to drink directly from their udders, was once established in the beginning of the novel, where little Kaliṅga was saved by being allowed to drink directly from the udder of the cow. In the end of the novel, when Hilda is unable to breastfeed her child and the child refuses to drink any other milk, it reaches the brink of death. Then, with disbelief, indifference  and disgust she allows the child to suck the udder of the cow belonging to the Punyakoti breed. The child is saved. The myth rejuvenates itself in an altered situation.

 

To be continued

Series Navigation << Myths, Legends and Rituals in Bhyrappa’s Novels – Part 7The Myth of the deity Maramma in SL Bhyrappa’s novel ‘Daatu’ >>
Prof. L V Shantakumari bhyrappa Myths, Legends and Rituals in Bhyrappa’s Novels – Part 8 lvs

Prof. L V Shantakumari

Prof. Shantakumari is a teacher, writer, translator and literary critic. Her seminal work ‘Yugasaakshi’ is a critical and definitive study of S. L. Bhyrappa’s Kannada novels. ‘Chaitanyada Chilume’ and ‘Nenapu gari bicchidaaga’ are her autobiographical works. ‘Satyapathika-Socrates’ and ‘Kaggada-Kaanike’ are some of her major works. She has co-translated many of Bhyrappa's novels into English and parts of Will Durant's 'Story of Civilization' into Kannada.
Prof. L V Shantakumari bhyrappa Myths, Legends and Rituals in Bhyrappa’s Novels – Part 8 lvs