ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Nude Worship in Karnataka

The article revisits the debate around bettaleseve or nude worship at Chandragutti, central Karnataka that occurred in the mid-1980s. Bettaleseve is a form of worship rendered to goddess Renukamba at Chandragutti. It ran into major controversy in 1986 when the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti, some women's groups and non-governmental organisations protested against the "nudity" of dalit-bahujan women who comprise the majority of worshippers. The article examines the subject produced in the protest discourse and proposes another reading of the subject through a return to the Renukamba myth that underpins and is played out during bettaleseve. It explores whether the myth can be read as a body of knowledge-practice that provides an alternate basis to articulate the dalit woman's standpoint.

This article was originally presented at the “Comparative Aspects on Culture and Religion: India, Russia and China” conference organised by the Slavic Research Center of Hokkaido University, Japan and the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore. I thank all participants for their feedback. A version of the paper was published as conference proceedings and is available at: http://133.50.171.227/rp/publications/no11/11-03_Radhika.pdf

This article attempts to understand the subject at the centre of bettaleseve (nude worship), which is a service or form of worship rendered to goddess Renukamba at Chandragutti, Shimoga in central Karnataka. Bettaleseve is one of the forms of seve performed during the annual jathre (festival) at Chandragutti that draws about a lakh of devotees.1 Mostly women from the dalit-bahujan2 castes perform bettaleseve to fulfil a harake (vow) undertaken when a calamity has befallen the family (such as sickness or death), or for a wish to be fulfilled (such as a wish for a husband or a child). Bettaleseve is performed in other temples too, the most well known being the Yellamma temple at Saundatti, Belgaum district. Here, worshippers ­including jogappas and jogammas, i e, men and women who are dedicated to the goddess and thereafter do not marry, perform bettaleseve during the annual Yellamma jathre performed during the full moon.

It is observed that along with dalit-bahujan women, men and non-dalits too perform bettaleseve at Chandragutti. However, we need to understand the feminisation and dalitisation of bettaleseve by moving beyond the empirical fact, and recognising the way it is embodied in the myth surrounding Renukamba and participation in the myth by the devotees. (The article will return to this aspect later.)

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