Renuka (Yellamma)

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Reṇukā/Renuga/Renu is a Hindu goddess worshipped predominantly in the southern Indian states of Karanataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. Renuka’s temple at Mahur in Maharashtra is considered one of the shakti peethas.

Different names

Renuka/Renu or Yellamma or Ekvira or Ellai amman or Ellai amma (Marathi:श्री. रेणुका/ येल्लुआई, Kannada: ಶ್ರೀ ಎಲ್ಲಮ್ಮ ರೇಣುಕಾ, Telugu : శ్రీ రేణుక/ ఎల్లమ్మ, Tamil: ரேணு/Renu) is worshipped as the goddess (devi) of the fallen, in the Hindu pantheon. Yellamma is the patron goddess of the south Indian states of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Her devotees revere her as the “Mother of the Universe” or “Jagadamba”.

Origin story

The legends of Renuka are contained in the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa and in the Bhagavata Purana.

Early life

King Reṇu (father of Reṇukā) performed a yajna — a ritual performed to maintain peace and good health. He was blessed with a daughter, who originated from the fire of this yajna. Reṇukā was a bright and active child and became the most beloved child of her parents.
When she was eight, Agastya, who was the guru of king Reṇuka, advised him to have his daughter married to Jamadagni when she reached maturity. Jamadagni was the son of Ruchik Muni and Satyavati and had obtained the blessings of the gods by performing severe penance. Renuka and Jamdagni Muni lived in the Ramshrung mountains, near the present day Savadatti area of Belagavi district. Renuka helped the Jamdagni Muni in all of his tasks of performing various rituals and puja. Gradually she became close and dear to Jamdagni. After a while Renuka was blessed with another daughter called Anjana (Anjana Devi). Renuka would wake up early in the morning to bathe in the Malaprabha River with complete concentration and devotion. Her devotion was so powerful that she was able to create a pot to hold water made only of sand, one fresh pot every day. She would fill this pot, on the bank of the river and would use a snake which was nearby, turning it into a rope-like convolution and placing it on her head, so that it supported the pot. Thus, she brought the water to Jamdagni for his rituals of oblation. (“Renuka” is derived from the Sanskrit for “fine grain of sand”.) Another temple of Renuka is situated at near Zamania, Ghazipur. There is another temple in Tamilnadu near vellore (padaiveedu) where the goddess is in the form of suyambu ( the idol itself originated from the land).

Later life

Renuka gave birth to five sons: Vasu, Viswa Vasu, Brihudyanu, Brutwakanwa and Rambhadra. Rambhadra was the youngest and most beloved, gaining the favour of Lord Shiva and Parvati and hence called Parashurama (the sixth incarnation of Vishnu). One day when Renuka went to the river, she saw Gandharva spirits playing. These were young couples carelessly frolicking in the water with abandon. For a moment, she lost her concentration and devotion to her husband faltered for a moment as she started thinking about her being intimate with her husband. As she was distracted, she lost her power of collecting water in unbaked pots, which she had gotten from her chastity. She lost the water which she had collected. Disappointed by this, she returned to the ashram in shame. Seeing Renuka returning empty-handed, Jamadagni became furious and angrily ordered her to go away.
After being cursed by her husband, Renuka went east and sat in the forest to meditate. In her penance, she met with the saints Eknath and Joginath; she prayed to them and asked to gain the mercy of her husband. They first consoled her, then instructed her to follow their advice exactly as told. They told her to purify herself, first bathing in a nearby lake, and then to worship a Shivalinga, which they had given to her. Next, she should go to the nearby town and beg for rice from the houses (this ritual, called “Joga Bedodu”, is still carried out by women during a particular month in Karnataka/ “Jogawa” in marathi, “Yellamma Jogu” in Telangana).
After collecting the rice, she was to give half to the saints and cook the remaining half, adding jaggery, partaking of the cooked rice with full devotion. They said that if she performed this ritual for three days, she would be able to visit her husband on the fourth day.
Knowing the anger of Jamadagni, they warned her that she may not be fully pardoned by him, and that she would have to experience the most difficult time of her life for a few minutes. “After that,” they said, “you will be eternally revered and will be blessed with your husband. You will be worshiped by all the people henceforth.” After blessing her this way, they disappeared. Renuka followed their instructions with devotion and worshipped the Shivalinga with full care and reverence. On the fourth day, she went to see her husband.

Punishment and resurrection

Jamadagni was still furious with Renuka and ordered his sons to punish their mother. One by one, four of them refused flatly. Jamadagni, who possessed the power to burn anyone to ashes with his one look, went berserk and turned the four of his sons into ashes. Parashurama, who was not there when this happened, found his mother weeping by the piles of ashes when he arrived and his father was still raging mad. Jamadagni told him what happened and ordered him to behead his mother for her infidelity. Parushurama had to think quickly. Knowing his father’s powers and the extent of his anger, Parashurama immediately obeyed his father, using his axe.
His father then offered a boon to Parushurama, who asked for his mother and brothers to be brought back to life. To everybody’s astonishment, Renuka’s spirit multiplied and moved to different regions. Renuka was back as a whole too. This miracle inspired her sons and others to become her followers, and worship her.

Renuka vs. Yellamma

In many traditions, Renuka and Yellamma are taken to be two names for the same goddess. However, there is also an oral tradition that distinguishes between the two. According to these tales, Renuka fled to a low-caste community when her son Parushurama was coming to kill her. He found and beheaded her, along with a low-caste woman who had tried to protect her. When he later brought them back to life, he mistakenly attached the woman’s head to Renuka’s body, and vice versa. Jamadagni accepted the former as his wife Renuka, while the latter remained to be worshipped by the lower castes as Yellamma, the mother of all. Matangi, Renuka, and Yellamma are all names of the Goddess.