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.

References:

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