Urban Folk Project as a Youth Collective is trying to revive Kannada Folk Art, stories which have been transferred orally from generations to generations and has been confirmed as ‘classic’ but what Shilpa and Aditya Kothakota are sure about is that it is everything but classic. Folk is very much a contemporary art, once written, may lose its lustre but it has always been transferred by the communities putting their own piece of art in it.
There is a temple in Belgaum in the mountains with all its green spectre, this space is owned by Jogammas and Transwomen, people who identify themselves as queer. They perform Yellamamanatta, it is an eight hour long play featuring story of Renuka Yellamma. The story is fascinating and depending on the individual and the strength of intoxication that the duration of the play alters. The story starts with the king Renukaraja and his beloved wife Bhogawatidevi, they live the life of a childless couple and then after years of waiting, Shiva blesses them with a beautiful baby girl who is to be named as Renuka. Renu meaning fine grain particle of sand, she was the most beautiful of all, she had all the qualities of an ideal daughter and then one day a Rishi visited their palace. The Rishi demanded a pot of water from a river deep in the forest to which Renuka couldn’t help but heed. She requested her father and went deep into the jungles to the river and while she was coming back , she heard OM NAMAH SHIVAY,OM NAMAH SHIVAY…
This voice was like a nectar, it made her search everywhere and there sitting under a huge tree was Jamadagni, meditating in deep concentration, his hair running across his face, Renuka immediately fell in love with her but he rejected her proposal. Renuka goes crying to her father demanding to marry this Swami, the king calls Rishi Agastya who Jamadagni couldn’t disappoint. Soon, Renuka married her beau and went with him to the jungles but before leaving all her privileges and the comfort life, she bids farewell with a song for her life will be very different now. After the couple reaches the abode, Jamadagni demands water from a river in the other side of the mountain, in a pot made of sand which is to be carried in a holster which should be a snake. Renuka was no ordinary woman she prayed Udha Udha..Udha Udha….Udha Udha and off she goes to her husband with the water he demanded. Jamadagni becomes so happy that he asks her to do the same thing everyday. The obedient wife heeds to the husband and then one day she sees in the midst of the river, a young Gandharva couple frolicking, she sees them and thinks what they have is love and what she ended up with was compromise. At this, her pot of sand breaks and even after repeated trials she couldn’t rebuild it for she had sinned in her husband’s eyes. Jamadagni leaves her and off she goes in the jungle, heartbroken and desolate, she couldn’t return to her father’s place for her dignity was at stake. Then she starts begging, begging in a song for food, for shelter, for clothing.
One day she meets two woman and they remind her that she is the daughter of lord Shiva who will inconspicuously heed to her request. This was true, Shiva did come to the ground and had to heed to her earnest request for a son but with a condition, this son though nurtured by her, would be the reason of her death. At this, the Urban Folk Project comes out of the story mode to give an important detail that the labor of Renuka is one of the most intense scene played by the Jogappa, it is full of screams and energy and restlessness. And out comes Pandu Parshuram, a notorious son of Renuka, he grows in the care of other deities of North Karnataka along with Renuka. One day he asked the inevitable question about his father? Even after dodging attempts, Renuka had to heed to his son and tell him about Saptarishi Jamadagni. So, he goes in search of him only to get disowned by Jamadagni. After repeated persistence from Parshuram, he agrees to be his father only when Parshuram agrees to kill Renuka.
Being a caring mother, Renuka heeds to her son’s request. The death scene is interesting for it doesn’t happen at once. Parshuram beheads his mother with an axe but another head grows out,he does this again only to find another head and on and on he goes till Renuka tells him the correct method to kill her. And soon she dies, at this point Parshuram couldn’t help but pine for his mother, he goes to Shiva and asks to restore his mother. “Your mother is no ordinary woman” says Shiva and brings her back to life. The happy Parshuram sews his mother back but now what is enlivened is not his mother but strong and powerful Yellamma who has zero tolerance for any discrimination against her. Her temples are created in all the places where her several heads fell and her power is worshipped even today in many parts of Karnataka.
This story has seven versions and so it is not only a story of Yellamma but the story of every community, the story of pain of women and their trials which are weaved beautifully by every community. This is the purpose of Urban Folk Project, to bring the Chowdki and their mentors like Radhe Maa Aai to life. To contemporarise what was always imagined as old, sitting down in the mat and not using the cushioned sofa provided by the Bangalore Literature Festival also proved to be a statement – a statement about going back to the roots, to our villages, and see how a mixture can be painstakingly lucid and colorful. The session ended with a rendition which summarised the whole story called Huttibande.
About the Author: Kalpita is a Bachelor in English Literature. Her ultimate goal is to fulfill the romantic notion
of changing the world for better and she is pursuing MA in Development from Azim Premji University, Bangalore. She currently writes for Bookstalkist.