Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Deva dasis

Just finished reading an extract from Castes and Tribes of South India by Edgar Thurston and K. Rangachari. It's about the deva dasi system in South India, wherin young women are "married" to the temple idols and thereafter serve the general public as sex slaves.

The authors claim that in the whole Madras Presidency, the system survived in only one temple -- the shrine of Sri Kurmam temple in Vizagapatam.

The temple is actually located in Srikakulam around a hundred kilometers away from Vizag and is said to be the only temple in India dedicated to Lord Vishnu's second avatar -- that of the turtle or kurmam.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cyclones in Vizag

I love storms. They were definitely the most exciting part of growing up in Vizag. They would begin with howling gales and end in steady rain for days together. As a child I would thrill at the pitter-patter of the first raindrops and the smell of the earth rising through the air and penetrating closed windows into muggy rooms. When the clouds took a break, the whole city would look washed and clean: the leaves greener and the roads greyer. There was hardly any water-clogging like there is in larger cities that have more concrete to hinder the earth from absorbing all the water that the clouds had released.

It was the wind before the rain, however, that was most exciting. It would howl on for hours, rattling windows, smashing the panes, uprooting trees and even twisting iron poles. After the storm, we would learn of fishermen lost at sea and ships stranded in the port.

The Vizagapatam district gazetteer too has many references to cyclones in the area. In fact, Mr. Francis says droughts wreaked havoc in many parts of India but it was the rain that did the most damage in Vizag.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Today I’ve decided to look up Buddhism from every angle. For, after all, a portion of Vizag’s history does seem to be tied up with Buddhism. Thotlakonda, Pavuralakonda, Bavikonda….the list of kondas being discovered is increasing by the year.

I remember going to Thotlalkonda the first time in 2000. It really did look long-abandoned, ruined, and beautiful. Just a year or so later, I visited it again, this time with my parents and a friend from the Asian College of Journalism. Padmini Thorakumbura—a Sri Lankan Sihalese girl—was keen on visiting the Buddhist ruins in Vizag, as she thought they might be important to her religion. This time, the ruins were ruined. They had been converted into a tourist attraction. The road was lined with cut grass and garden flowers. The bricks had all been gathered and laid down as though a new colony of Buddhisht monks were to take up residence there any day. In a word, things looked ugly. But who am I to comment on what the Archeological department, in all its wisdom, considered the best course of action?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Erukamma - Hariti

Seeking Mahadevi: constructing the identities of the Hindu Great Goddess, a research paper by Tracy Pintchman is the piece I talked about in my last post.

I’m particularly fascinated by the conclusion Pintchman draws about the Erukamma cult being a continuation of the Buddhist practice of Hariti worship. Faint traces begin to emerge of how a Buddhist Vizag must have looked and felt.

The Erukamma temple is located in Dondaparty, Visakhapatnam, and Pintchman says Dondaparty was one of the many villages Vizag swallowed as it grew. The Erukamma cult is, therefore, basically a rural one.

The Erukamma story is quite similar to most stories related to Goddess worship. The woman Erukamma preyed on children, stealing them from locals and devouring them in a secret place on the village outskirts. One day an Erukula man (belonging to the caste that weaves baskets) found her eating a child she had recently stolen; he cut off her head. The people of the village panicked at the thought of her spirit taking revenge and tried to placate her by worshiping her. They diverted her malevolent powers to their benefit and now seek blessings, protection, and sons from her.

Now for the Hariti story. According to classical Chinese Buddhist Mahayana texts, Hariti was originally a yaksi who feasted on children. One day Buddha kidnapped one of her own five hundred children, to show her how it feels to lose a child. Hariti’s appetite for children soon cooled and she turned vegetarian, accepting offerings of rice from devotees. The parallels are obvious enough.


Seeking Mahadevi: Constructing the Identities of the Hindu Great Goddess; Tracy Pintchman

Erukamma cult - Buddhist connections

I found a well-written piece on how the Erukamma cult (of Dondaparty, Visakhapatnam) is actually a much-modified continuation of the Buddhist Hariti cult. It represents a gradual, seamless blending of Hinduism and Buddhism in India.

This piece of information comes from a paper written by one Tracy Pintchman and could yield some nuggets. Will definitely follow and see what it has to offer.