Self-restraint, meditative practices and prayers are inextricably inter-twined. This is one of the symbolisms in Renuka-Yellama’s story other than being a venerable goddess in the bhakti path. She is a popular gram...adevata deity in South India especially in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and in parts of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. She is the Hindu Goddess of the Poor and Downtrodden and is popularly associated with the Devadasi concept. The story of her origins and the association two goddesses called Goddess Renuka and Goddess Yellamma unfold in the myth surrounding her. It depicts her chastity. Renuka is the mother of Parashurama, an incarnation of
Lord Vishnu. Those harmed by poisonous serpents call on Renuka Yellamma for relief. Fisher man in danger call upon her for blessings and make vows. These vows are later obliged as community rituals.
Renuka derives her name from the word ‘renuvu’ meaning sand grains. She is known for her devotion and chastity in that she could collect water in unbaked pots. Renuka Devi was the daughter of King Renuka Raja. One day her performs a yagna, so the gods blessed him with a beautiful daughter. Whe comes of age, Agastya Muni, King Renu’s guru, advised for the daughter to be married to Jamdhagni. He was the son of Ruchik Muni and Satyavathi.
Renuka thus becomes the wife of Sage Jamadagni. This rishi could burn anyone down with his single sight. Their ashram was on the banks of the Gundalakamma river in the Ramshring Mountains. In their 8 years of marriage, the Maharishi remained conventional in his ways and austere but they procreated 5 children from their union. She gave birth to five sons Vasu , Viswa Vasu, Brihudyanu , Brutwakanwa and Ram bhadra . Ram bhadra was the youngest and most loved son. He gained the mercy of Lord shiva and Parvathi he was also blessed with ‘Ambikashtra’ from Parvathi and lord Shiva and hence he was called Parushuram.
Sometimes Parashuraman is said to be Vishnu’s incarnation. Renuka would go down to the river, make a fresh pot by taking mud and sand from the banks and carry water for for the maharishi’s yagas and yagnas. It is said that she used a snake, Adhiseshu as rope for drawing water.
On one occasion as Renuka neared the river, she happened to hear voices. In not wanting to alert, she hid behind some bushes only to see a king making wild love to his queen on the riverbanks. Actually it was Indra’s horny ghandarva angels who were in love-lock. What she witnessed was something new to her. She wanted the same kind of sexual activity from her aged husband. He was given to self and sexual restraint to perform extreme tapas. The sage refused and Renuka’s mind increasingly became tainted and distracted. She mentally
started comparing her husband with what she witnessed. Jamadhagni only added more kama in her by his refusals and her mind became impure. Jamadagni came to know that the pots she tried to make with sand became heaps and she was unable to complete her usual obligations for the yagna. She could not even catch
Adiseshu. All this angered the sage, disturbed his tapas, and what more Renuka was sexually demanding more than ever.
In his anger, he intended to burn her down. But that would not be possible as he had taken a vow of yoga. Thus he ordered the sons cut Renuka’s head. Four of them refused but Parashuram, the fifth son readily agreed to cut the head of his mother. He had acquired Jamadhagni’s powers and took oath to kill his mother. This pleased the sage. Parashuram found her in the compound and chased her around mercilessly with a reaised axe. She ran from her compound and indeed out of the village but Parashuram pursued her. In the next village, she ran and took refuge in the house of a low-caste poor woman named Yellamma. The host was known to be god-fearing womans and was a devadasi, sacrificing her life to god. There Renuka sat in a corner and facing north-east prayed to Lord Shiva. In hearing her plea, Shiva sent an army of ants to protect her. Soon an anthill surrounds her. This is called putta or puthu which covered her entire body.
Now, Parashuram disguised like a beggar and searched every house. Then he got wind of the exact location. Upon finding her, he was not able to break the anthill. Renuka had secured protection from Lord Siva and Mother Parvathi. Indeed she visualized the Lord as a Lingga and immersed herself in tapas. Serpents emerged
from the anthill to threaten Parashuraman. Having the protection of the Divine couple, Renuka breaks out of the anthill. Parashuraman could not attack her by seeing face to face. She told the son that he could ask for a boon but he told her that he is duty bound by the promise he made to the father. While performing the act of beheading, he also accidentally chops of Yellama’s head as she tried to stop Parashuraman.
Sage Jamadagni was pleased and asked Parashuram to accept a boon. He immediately said that he wanted his mother alive. Sage Jamadagni readily agreed and gave him a pot of water to be sprinkled on the corpse. In a hurry to bring back his mother life, Parashuram accidentally placed the low-caste woman’s head with his mother’s body.
Sage Jamadagni accepted this new form of his wife Renuka while her original head was elsewhere. There was also some consolation to the rishi. You see, while the body was that of Renuka, the brain was Yellama’s. She was given to austere spiritual life and either did not have any sexual feelings or exercised great restraint. Probably
it was the reason that Jamadagni did not chose his wife’s face? One should engage in conjecture other than sticking to the story line. That pesona went off into the forest. It is said that returned as Goddess Matangi at a later period.
The legend continues. The sage and ‘Renuka’ moved nearer the Himalayas and constructed a ashrama. Once a king visits them with his army. They were all fed and the king learns of Kamadhenu, the all providing cow. He forces the sage to surrender Kanadhenu so that his army could be fed. He than forcibly takes the holy cow but it runs away. The king was laughed at and Jamadhagni loses his head. Renuka’s attempts to enter the funeral pyre is stopped by another sage. Parshurama enters the scene to revive the father but was unfortunately abused. He was asked to go for a pilgrimage during which time the king’s son took an opportunity to revenge Jamadhagni and ventilate the insult. The sage was killed and Renuka is said to have entered the waters in the Siramur
Lake in Himachapradesh. It is said that the lake turned into the shape of a divine lady. When its waters reached the Ganga, its colors turned yellowish. People in Andhrapradesh believe it was this water that started live evolving there.
WORSHIP: The original head of Renuka was from then onwards worshipped as Yellamma. And thus the Goddess is referred as Renuka Yellamma. Even today, symbolically the head of Renuka is worshipped by attaching it to a pot or basket in rural Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Anthills, to
this day are symbolically revered in the south and also in many traditions. Generally they are linked to prolonged periods of meditation and believed that they house divine souls. When a anthill takes form, it would be said that Renuka has started evolving. Various rituals are centered in this belief. There is a Yellamma Jatre in which the celebration are bout the power of women is in the form of DEPICTION: Yellamma is represented in a sitting posture, with a red skin, a fiery face and four arms. However the popular form of worship, apparently is the deity of Renuka's head as portrayed in the mythology. A severed head by itself is symbolic of ego and desires being shed.
SEXUAL RESTRAINT IN SPIRITUALISM: Purity of the mind and meditation are partners. The principle is inextricably linked to Hindu spiritual thoughts. The basis is that the Atman is pure, perfect and free, unaffected by desires and free from the vagaries of the body and mind. The more one identifies with the Atman, the purer the person becomes. Identifying more with the body and giving in to bodily urges makes the mind impure. It was for this reason Hinduism placed a great importance on sexual restraint of brahmacharya.
Literally this means ‘the state of dwelling in Brahman.’ It means the mind remains identified with Brahman-Atman. Sexual desire intrudes powerfully on body and mind and one who is in the grip of sexual passion becomes completely identified with the body. Self restraint, by a sannyasin or a householder jnani strengthens his body, mind and naturally character. The sage Patanjali set 20 ethical guidelines called yamas and niyamas, the dos and donts. These yamas are not limited by class, country, time or situation as they are indeed universal vows. These restraints and corresponding practices are necessary to maintain bliss consciousness.
Hara Hara Mahadeva.
Yogi Ananda Saraswathi