The Origins of Yellamma
The Local History of Yellamma
The goddess Yellamma, is most commonly worshipped in the southern states of India: Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. Within these states, the goddess Yellamma is honored as the “Mother of the Universe.”
Marriage and Devotion
While there are many histories regarding the origin of Yellamma traditions, the version locally prevalent within India’s southern states says that Renuka Devi was married to sage Jamadhagni. Within this marriage, Renuka gave birth to four sons.
Every morning, Renuka walked to the Malaprabha River, to bathe and gather water for Jamadhagni. However, Renuka never needed to bring a pot for the water.
Utilizing a power rooted in her complete purity and powerful devotion, Renuka Devi brought water back to her husband in pots she created solely from dry sand. After forming the pots, she then balanced them on her head with a snake and returned home.
However, one day, while performing her daily rituals at the river, Renuka realized she was not alone. Distracted by other people in the river, Renuka lost her concentration and, with it, her power to collect water in unbaked pots.
Some stories state that the people Renuka watched at the river were being intimate. Other stories claim that she merely saw carefree people frolicking about, which caused her to intimately think about her husband.
Ultimately, however, Renuka Devi was unable to assemble a pot and returned home empty-handed. Jamadhagni, after seeing Renuka return empty-handed, knew what happened at the river, due to his own power of “wisdom sight.”
He ordered Renuka away and cursed her. Roaming through the forest, without access to food or water because of the curse, Renuka Devi eventually reached a house. Here lived Mathangi, who openly received Renuka with love and kindness. Mathangi treated Renuka’s skin, which had become awash in disease from Jamadhagni’s curse.
Renuka’s Journey of Penance
One day, while on her way to the forest, Renuka came across two saints.
The saints recognized her and proposed that Renuka perform a ritual to be free of her sins. They told her the only one who could ameliorate her sins, was Lord Shiva.
Following their advice, Renuka sought to serve her penance. Eventually, Lord Shiva visited Renuka Devi. Shiva told Renuka to beg nearby villages for rice, and to then cook holy rice without a fire.
Renuka did as she was told, and collected the rice. After, she met Lord Shiva again, who was accompanied by Ganga. Ganga showed Renuka how to cook the rice by placing a pot on her stomach and lying out in the sun.
When this worked, Renuka’s surprise was met with an affirmation that all of her sins had been washed away. This affirmation, however, was accompanied by a warning that the true test would begin once she returned to her husband, Jamadhagni. Should she accept her the test, her fate was to become immortal.
Reincarnation and Immortality
Renuka, accepting the test, returned home, accompanied by Mathangi. Upon her arrival, Renuka explained what had happened. Jamadhagni was happy to see her but still hesitant as Renuka still possessed a mortal body, which he believed capable of sinning again.
Siding with his anger, Jamadhagni ordered Renuka to be decapitated. He demanded his sons complete the punishment, but the eldest sons refused. It was his final son, Parashurama, who eventually fulfilled Jamadhagni’s request.
But, while trying to quickly follow Jamadhagni’s orders, he beheaded both his mother and Mathangi, who was standing directly behind her.
Not noticing that Mathangi too had been beheaded, Jamadhagni offered his son a boon for his efforts. For his boon, Parashurama requested only that his mother is brought back to life.
Honoring his request, Jamadhagni instructed Parashurama to reassemble her body and pour holy water over it.
While working hastily to bring his mother back, it was only then that Parashurama realized there were two bodies instead of one. Yearning for his mother, he continued quickly and accidentally assembled the bodies incorrectly: placing Renuka’s head on Mathangi’s body.
Yet, the process was to be completed. Parashurama could not correct his mistake, and, thus, two women, very different from before, were brought back to life.
Yellamma: The Goddess of the People
Once Jamadhagni saw the women, he accepted the body with Renuka’s head as his wife and named the body with Mathangi’s head Yellamma.
Yellamma then moved to the forests, where she began blessing people.
Since Mathagni was of a lower caste, she became a symbol of honor and worship for those who shared this status with her.
Thus, the goddess Yellamma was born.
Click here to read about the Western bias in reporting the goddess Yellamma and the Devadasi tradition.
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