We print a report sent to the magazine by comrade Saketh Rajan two months before his martyrdom. It was sent in name of his martyred wife (2001) com. Raji. Saketh Rajan is also Saki, the author of the path-breaking study into Karnataks history "Making History", printed in two volumes.
Note- Readers who are not well versed with local culture,traditions and practices might not fully understand this article.
Arousing the Spirit of Rebellion
Just before reaching Kabbinale from Hebri in Udupi’s Karkala taluk, a mud road branches off. It climbs the foothills of Karnataka’s Western Ghats. Fallen trees and weeds cover the road. All that is visible is a narrow pathway in the jungle that appears like a divider on a well combed head. The ill-maintained road ends before a small temple at Durga.
A family of Shivalli brahmins own the temple. About two centuries ago one of the forefathers of the Bayar brahmins of Durga, called Yogeshwara, left Barkur which was their original home and made it to what is now called Yogeshwara Hill, just above Durga. He fetched an idol of the family deity, Durga, from Barkur. Yogeshwara has about 200 descendent families today. Many live in distant Bangalore. Some stay in America as doctors and software engineers. Now there are just two of their households that remain in the forests.
One manages the temple and the other lives at Sugethi in a homestead settlement just three kilometres off Durga. Both brahmin households have paddy fields and arecanut and coconut gardens. Semi-bonded labourers cultivate these lands for them today. The Sugethi family has about twenty acres of land including six acres at not too distant Nuji and the priest of Durga possesses ten.
Before the Bayars of Barkur came to Durga, Sugethi and Nuji, these forests were peopled by Male Kudiya adivasis and Billava shudra families.
Four kilometres deeper into the forest and higher upon the hills from Durga is Mundane. Like so many other adivasi settlements, Mundane has no road. In the midst of terraced paddy fields stands a lone thatched mud house inhabited by the Male Kudiya family of Bhoja Gowda. It has thirty six members, eighteen of whom are children born off six couples. The eldest of the married men is Bhoja Gowda and the rest of those married are his younger brothers.
Unlike the Bayar brahmins of Durga, history unravels itself through living memory of the Mundane Male Kudiyas and remnant oral lore. Bhoja Gowda’s grandfather was a tenant for most of his life. He cultivated all the six acres at Nuji and remained landless till he died. Male Kudiyas feel gut-deep that lands owned by the Bayars of Barkur were former settlements of republican adivasis.
Bhoja Gowda’s grand dad grew tired of cultivating the Nuji estate. Four decades ago he repaid his loans and quit serving the brahmins for good.
The Bayars fetched the Billava family of Ramappa Poojar from Bachchapu in the foot hills as their new tenant. In 1975 anti-tenancy legislation was passed by the Karnataka government and soon after that Ramappa became the new owner of the Nuji settlement. But before long he died. As the Kannada proverb ran, the morsel in his hands did not reach his mouth. His grieving widow preferred to return to Bachchapu to live with her mother. And Nuji was left fallow without a happy cultivator.
The joint family at Mundane continued to swell. As Bhoja Gowda’s brothers were married there were more and more mouths to feed. The paddy fields around the Mundane homestead were simply too meagre. Bhoja Gowda thought of his grand father’s labours and that of his predecessors. As the grand son of a former tenant, he eyed the fallow lands of Nuji with the maximum desire a tenant could surmount.
He approached Ramappa’s widow in order to buy Nuji in annual instalments and become the proud owner of the settlement.
But the Bayars beat the Male Kudiyas in the race. Before Bhoja Gowda could meet the Billava widow, Keshava Bayar had purchased the six acres at Nuji for twenty thousand rupees from her. Thus the brahmin descendants of Yogeshwara Bayar regained what they had lost and they asserted from their tile-roofed villa in Sugethi that they were landlords of Nuji as well.
But goddess Durga did not bless Keshava Bayar well, or else the malevolent Bhootas of adivasi and shudra lineage that live in her backyard had neutralised her spell. For more than a decade Keshava Bayar has left Nuji fallow. His children are educated and away. Nuji is a long trudge for his creaking bones and lone supervision. And tenants are detested because they may deceive him any moment and stake their claim. The untended coconut and arecanut trees planted by generations of Male Kudiyas and Billavas shed their fruit each year. They rattle their fronds as the winds blow, peering into the sky for a new future with their roots in a woeful welter of weeds.
The Durga temple is presided over by the goddess. As money and contributions have come, the priest has extended the goddesses courtyard. It has a Brahmasthana with a Naga and also shows off a Yaksha and a Yakshi. The Bayar descendants of Yogeshwara visit Durga each year or they send their earthly offerings to the family deity from as far away as the USA. The temple shows off new granite walls, a square enclosure and tiles on the ground to aid the transcendence of the barefooted believers ambulating round the sanctorum.
There is nothing special about Durga and the daily and annual ritual that attends her in the courtyard. It is the archetype of any divine brahmin spiritual abode.
But it is the backyard of Durga Devi’s residence that really counts.
The backyard of the temple has grass grown wild. At an edge and nearly merging with the mysterious forest where the Male Kudiyas reside, are three mud huts for the Bhoothas. Kallukuntige resides in one. Varthakallukuntige, the composite brother and elder sister, stay in the second. And the third, like the crowded Mundane household, has six Bhoothas: Maheshantaya,Duggalayya, Spatikanthaya, Panjurli, Domavathi and Kuppanjurli.
Bhoothas are spirits of peasant rebels of the middle-ages who were slain by brahmin and other upper caste feudal lords. Each year their spirits are appeased after their resurrection by individuals drawn basically from Billava, Male Kudiya and Dalit families. Bhootha culture is essentially a shudra peasant tradition with little room in it for brahmins.
More than fifty adivasi families, and close to a hundred Billava families and other shudra caste families come with sacrificial chicken to the annual fair at Durga. While the brahmins try to steal the show as a Durga festival even by ignoring the blood in the backyard, the shudras and adivasis see it as the grand occasion to propitiate their Bhoothas.
In the backyard world of the spirits which predates the courtyard world of the goddess, chicken are sacrificed and Bhoothas are resurrected by kola dancers as late-comer brahmins watch from the fringe. Some brahmins are so disturbed by the malevolence of the adivasi-shudra spirits that they succumb to their power and even sponsor plebeians to sacrifice chicken to appease the devils in their name.
It is only after the worship, blood rites and kola dance of the resurrected rebel Bhoothas that the focus of the festivities shifts to the respectable courtyard and the brahmin priest sprinkles purificatory water and begins his ritual incantation.
Durga has an enigmatic characteristic. Does it belong to the brahmin landlords who rule in the courtyard or does it belong to the neglected backyard teeming with the rebellious spirit of toiler shudras and adivasis who seek their stake in the social order of things?
Alongside the worlds of the tenants and landlords and beside the worlds of the Male Kudiyas and Bayars is a divine courtyard for the respectable gods washed and worshipped each day and a crowded backyard for the wild insurgent spirits that spring to vibrant life each year one day.
As the kola dance begins this year round, the chande beat will carry a Naxal cadence. Will age-old tenants revive rebellion and tend the unattended gardens and fields of Nuji and save society from further decay?
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