Dense clouds gathered up the skies in a thick viscous mass. The night in the deep forests seemed darker than usual.
It was the third day of the waxing phase and the moon had made its appearance similar to that of a clawed foot of an eagle; thin and crescented. The stars lay hidden behind the night clouds making the sky appear hazy and intense.
The ariel view of the place presented a bushy, luxuriant forest in the mountains of Satpura. The inhabitants of the place were the traditional tribal group known as Halbis.
The Halbis were a small group of religious tribals bound by traditional practices and customary beliefs. Their primary occupation was farming that later extended to cattle rearing, dairy, wood cutting and other ancillary rural occupations.
In the depths of the region, lay hidden some mysteries and ancient secrets. Deep in the impenetrable forests tonight, owls hooted while bats clicked; crickets chirped and snakes hissed.
The Halbi tribal men and women folk of the Satpura range had assembled at the self-manifested Yellamma temple nestled at the top of the mountain, totally unperturbed by all lurking fears.
Yellamma was the revered Goddess of the tribe. The Goddess was a form of Mata Renuka Devi, the consort of Rishi Jamadagni, who was revered as a fertility goddess.
She was fierce, yet gentle; raging, yet docile. The wrath of the Goddess was believed to shatter the very existence of the tribe. On the other hand, the abundance and lush vegetation was also considered a gift from Her.
Cymbals, conches, bells and drums resounded against the valleys. The gathered crowd sang in praise of The Divine Goddess Yellamma. The temple was richly ornated with yellow marigold flowers and turmeric powder sprinkled around the entire periphery. Multiple oil lamps were lit adding a peaceful glow and warmth to the surroundings. The temple wore a glowing, festive look despite the otherwise dark backdrop.
“Utho, Utho, Yellamma!” together they chorused as the chief priestess chopped off the head of the sacrificial lamb.
Not one, but two Divine marriages were ordained tonight. The sacrifice signalled the commencement of the ceremony.
Savi, the sixteen year old bride was decked with a green bridal nine-yard saree, dozens of green glass bangles on her delicate wrists and a cluster of neem leaf garlands ornamenting her neck. A bright red vermilion dot adorned her temple against a thick paste of turmeric spread across her entire forehead. Handfuls of loose turmeric powder was sprinkled on the top of her head.
Tears flowed seamlessly and her eyes were drenched in deep pain. There wasn’t a smile or joy on her innocent face. Her throat experienced emotional lumps. She kept murmuring, “I don’t want this, I don’t want this.”
No one seemed bothered though. Savi’s entire family and friends stood in colourful traditional attire around the bride experiencing contradictory emotions. They seemed enthusiastic and ecstatic about the grand wedding. It was a blessing after all!
Savi’s father stood as a safe distance from the crowd muttering to himself, “Wonder who convinced my baaiko? She gets so easily influenced by the superstitious beliefs of the locals. My poor mulgi is now being sacrificed to some random Goddess.”
He seemed worried. But he couldn’t share his concern with anyone fearing unforeseen possibilities.
On the other side, Rangappa, a young, energetic and handsome boy, all of eighteen was decked up in a bright yellow six-yard saree, a bottle green blouse, green glass bangles on his muscular wrist and a similar mark of vermilion against a turmeric paste on his forehead. His neck too, was filled with a clump of neem garlands and his head had the same loose turmeric powder showered making his face appear yellow.
Rangappa, unlike Savi, seemed furious and his eyes were red with rage. He kept screaming, “You all have gone crazy. I am a man, not a woman. How can you do this to me? Aren’t you ashamed to force and insist that I wear a saree?”
The elders from his family shushed him, each offering their own advice.
“Don’t you dare invoke the wrath of Mata Yellamma!
You belong to Her now. You should not be speaking ill about Her.
Only the fortunate ones are bestowed with such grace and blessings to be married to Her.”
The irony was both Savi and Rangappa were being married to The Divine Mata Yellamma.
The octogenarian temple Oracle who also happened to be the temple’s chief priestess had predicted their Divine union with Mata Yellamma because both had developed thick knots of matted hair on their heads that could not be detangled.
This lady- The temple Oracle was the oldest surviving leader of the troupe. She was handed over the responsibilities of the lineage to carry forward the traditions of the tribe.
It was trusted that the lineage will be passed on to the next generation with a successful heir chosen to take the responsible post. That would only occur when the present Oracle gets the desired permission and go ahead through her meditation directly from Mata Yellamma. It was considered an honour to hold the position as an Oracle as well as the chief priestess of the village temple.
An ancient prophecy of the tribe had suggested that any unmarried young teen or adult, male or female, who developed knots or matted hair must be united in a wedlock with Mata Yellamma.
The sacred marriage tonight concluded with the chief priestess tying the sacred ‘mangalsutra’ consecrated at Mata Yellamma’s holy feet around their necks.
From that moment onwards, Savi and Rangappa were to serve Mata Yellamma because of this ancient tradition, ritual and custom. Both lives had taken an unexpected turn.
Savi was a rustic village girl with simple dreams of marriage, matchmaking and running a household. With a dusky, honey dewed skin, coal eyes and lustrous tresses, Savi was an astonishing village beauty. Her hopes mirrored those of any young girl her age. Savi’s charm was the talk of the village. She was a dream girl to many young male village aspirants of marriageable age.
She had discussed love, it’s emotions, marriage and nuptials with her best friend, Rupa, who had recently married. Her own parents were seeking a suitable match for her when one day…
“Aai, please don’t be so hard with my hair. It hurts,” pleaded Savi as Aai sat to oil and comb her tresses.
“Arre Deva, this knot is thick. How long have you not applied oil?” enquired her Aai.
Aai was a typical villager and an ardent follower of the tribe. She was a plump woman in her late thirties and always seen wearing the traditional bright-coloured nine yard with a vermilion mark on her forehead and green glass bangles in her hands marking the signs of a chaste, married woman. The saree pallu always covered the head indicating respect and honour.
Just as a typical and orthodox village woman, she eagerly discussed this topic with her navra the same evening.
Her navra ignored her rantings and said, “That must be because Savi is roaming around the village all day. She must not have combed her hair well.”
Apparao, Savi’s baba and Aai’s navra was a village farmer with much modern beliefs. He did not believe in superstitions and was totally against the customary beliefs and traditions. However, his faith in Gods and Goddesses were impeccable and strong.
Apparao’s standard attire included a white dhoti, kurta and a village cap. A piece of towel hung across his right shoulder. His body was lean and muscular and he sported a long, thick moustache that he twirled with pride as he walked the village streets.
Aai mentioned Savi’s hair knots to her gossip monger neighbours and friends the same evening. They were the ones to suggest consulting the village Oracle known for her mystical powers.
One of them said, “Mata Yellamma is very powerful. Hence, it is best to consult the old Oracle who can guide you through this challenge.”
Another quipped, “It’s best to safeguard the glamour your daughter exudes. Maybe that’s why she has developed knots on her tresses. Looks like Mata Yellamma also wants to grab her.”
Aai was convinced and the meeting that was scheduled the next day led to this marriage.
Rangappa was a handsome youngster living with his widowed mother and serving as a woodcutter to support the family. His father had passed away when Rangappa was just a child.
His aai, Ranjana, a lean, dark woman in her mid-forties, had toiled hard to bring him up. As a widow, she did not adorn green bangles or the vermillion mark on her forehead. However, the nine yard saree with pallu over the head was typical of women in the village.
Rangappa was a tall, dark and handsome boy. His skin was tanned darker by up to four shades by the cruel rays of the Sun. His body was toned, chiselled and muscular owing to the nature of job he performed.
Rangappa’s work as a woodcutter required him to carry heavy loads of wood upon his head. This had caused the knots. He mentioned this to his aai one evening on return from the forest.
However, his aai, being superstitious, in consultation with the relatives residing in the same village, decided to meet the Oracle and the marriage to Mata Yellamma was fixed on that fateful day.
Both Savi and Rangappa had to leave their homes to reside at the common ‘Shayangruha’ that housed many more such inhabitants. The whole place was filled with girls and boys, men and women, all dressed in green and yellow sarees with mangalsutra tied in the name of Mata Yellamma.
The women and men staying under the same roof had to shed their shame, inhibitions and apprehensions to share common facilities that even included washrooms and dressing rooms.
There was also a very peculiar condition. No one was allowed to touch, oil, comb, shampoo, wash, cut or plait their tresses.
The traditions proclaimed that the knots developed was indicative of Mata Yellamma’s Holy Spirit inhabiting the tresses. It was indicative that She was residing in that individual as knots on their tresses.
Any attempt to remove those knots or making any changes to the tresses were considered to be an offense. It was a way of disregarding Her Divine presence and overriding the rituals.
No one so far in the legendary history of the tribe ever dared to endeavour this act against the spirit and command of this unwritten law.
Also, the entire clan of individuals married to Mata Yellamma were isolated from the society and not included in their daily activities. They were to fend and care for themselves. Thus, even their lodging was far away from the local inhabitation close to the temple of Mata Yellamma.
Savi and Rangappa were finding it difficult to accept the sudden change that was forced upon them.
Try as much as they did, they couldn’t find solace in the new place. They had minimal interaction with the others at the dormitory.
Most people in the ‘Shayangruha’ were used to the culture and general practices here. They behaved as if they had always belonged here. They held no shame or remorse.
They also seemed to be contented with their lives. Not much could be fathomed about their deep hidden feelings and fears, emotions or sentiments.
Every single person residing in this Shayangruha was bound in a scared marriage to Mata Yellamma.
As part of this sacred union ritual, the individuals could not get into a conjugal relationship with any other person. However, they could perform the act of holy masturbation practiced in conjunction with a ritual ceremony done in the confines of the temple chambers. This process was guided and ordained by the Octogenarian temple Oracle.
This act was regarded as a way of uniting with The Divine Goddess Mata Yellamma. It was also a way to satiate the surging sexual desires in these teenager and young adults.
Each one living here was also assigned a particular task as part of their daily routine. Some sweeped and mopped the temple premises, some collected funds for the temple, some washed the utensils used in the temple worship, some cooked for the offerings, others cooked for the inmates and so on.
Savi and Rangappa were both assigned the task of collecting wood from the forest for performing the holy sacrifice, lighting the evening lamps, cooking food etc.
As Rangappa also bore experience as a woodcutter from his earlier days, assigning this task to him was an obvious choice.
Savi was also assigned to accompany Rangappa to help him collect and carry the wood back from the forest to the dormitory.
Savi and Rangappa began to spend more and more time with each other. Destiny had fated to bring them together.
Savi felt an instant connect with Rangappa. Rangappa also felt the same. This was not only because they were of the same age group and did similar activities, but also because they exchanged a lot of common wishes and aspirations.
Their dreams were similar and so were their desires. Both had a carefree nature and longed for love. True love with a partner who could understand, speak, listen, fight, pamper, make love to…
A few months of constantly spending time and company of each other, they both realised that while sharing a similar fate, they had come to find comfort in one another. This also paved the way to develop deep, platonic feelings and eventually love and desire for each other.
Both Savi and Rangappa were blissfully unaware of the proximity they had subconsciously developed in each other’s company.
They both spent not only the time they were out at the forest talking to each other, but also that time at the Shayangruha back home. They started conversing about random topics and exchanging views on people, practices, religion, likes, dislikes gradually leading to more intimate topics about love, relationships and so on.
People at the Shayangruha also sensed and felt the propinquity blooming between these young couple. They became the talk of the residing mass of individuals.
There was a startling reaction varying between fear to apprehensions, gossips to mockery, from shame to blame and even the extremes of ignominy to humiliation.
The news of love blossoming between these two shining stars soon reached the temple Oracle. Her fury and rage knew no bounds. She immediately went deep into meditation and after about three hours, she ordered a direct confrontation with them both.
In the meantime, both Savi and Rangappa had obtained clues of the news reaching the crowd and the temple Oracle. They had discussed it and concluded that their love for each other was true and pure. There were no intentions to hurt or harm anyone.
They also realised that this love that broke the standard norms was unacceptable and a severe punishment awaited them.
Preparing themselves to face the worst, both Savi and Rangappa were upfront and willing to face the consequences.
Heavy rains and thunderstorms stuck the forests. Strong winds whipped and rains lashed on the mountain tops. It felt like even Mata Yellamma was furious. Savi and Rangappa were summoned to meet the Oracle.
Rangappa explained, “Aaji, this was meant to be. It was with Mata Yellamma’s grace that we even got married on the same day. Even She has blessed our union.”
“You have crossed all possible limits. The Goddess will never forgive you both. Be prepared to atone for your sins. You either mend your ways or be prepared to be abandoned completely,” the Oracle lashed out.
“Love has no bounds. Our love for each other is true. Even Mata Yellamma will have no restrictions in accepting the love and respect that we have for each other. While we rever The Goddess, we are Her children. A Mother will always accept the flaws of Her children and forgive our shortcomings,” persuaded Savi.
Saying so, both Savi and Rangappa offered their oblations to The Divine Goddess and prayed for their secure future together. They had already decided to unite and no one could stop them.
They boldly held each other’s hands and went back to the Shayangruha to pick their belongings.
Without turning back, they left the place leaping towards the unknown.
The rains had subdued and the sun had peeped into the azure skies.
A beautiful rainbow smiled it’s blessings on the young couple. A sense of Euphoria descended upon the land as the onlookers stood dumbfounded.
It was a Divine Union afterall!
While a lot of information provided here in about tribe names and description of The Goddess is true, the story is purely a work of friction. Any resemblance to real life incidencesband facts is purely coincidental. The idea is not to harm religious sentiments and beliefs. However, there have been evidences of traditional practices that doesn’t comply with current day beliefs.
Halbi– Tribals community found in Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa in India. They speak the Halbi language. The name Halbi is derived from the term ‘Hal’ that locally means ploughing.
Mata– Revered Mother
Utho, Utho, Yellamma!- Awake, Awake, Revered Goddess!
Baaiko– wife in Marathi
Mulgi– daughter in Marathi
Mangalsutra– a sacred thread with black beads or chain adorned around the neck of the bride as per Indian Hindu traditions marking marital status.
Arey Deva– Oh! God
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