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Inter-caste Marriage and Shakta Myths of Karnataka

The annual jatras or fairs conducted for certain female deities like Maramma and Dyamavva in Karnataka include the ritual of buffalo sacrifice. There is an accompanying myth that explains this sacrifice as symbolising the punishment meted out to a Dalit boy who had married an upper-caste girl by concealing his caste identity. Karnataka is one of the states where love marriages provoke honour killings, where the Sangh Parivar—as part of its “love jihad” campaign—attacks inter-religious couples, and beats up meat-eaters. Do these jatra practices, rooted in ancient memories, still serve the purpose of protecting the sanctity of caste?In what way have new developments changed the traditional meanings associated with the mythand the practice?

After Tamil Nadu, Karnataka has the largest number offemale village deities in South India. Of these, Maramma and Dyamavva are the two most popular ones. Buffalo sacrifice is an integral part of the annual jatras (fairs) held for these deities.1 The popular myth relating to this sacrifice concerns the love and marriage between an upper-caste girl and a Dalit boy. According to the myth (which is common to both of them), Maramma and Dyamavva were upper-caste girls who married a Dalit youth, who concealed his caste identity. When the truth is revealed, the upper-caste women try to kill him, and he, fearing for his life, enters the body of a buffalo. They proceed to kill the buffalo, after which the girls submit their “polluted” bodies to purification by fire and become goddesses. The myth and ritual thus incorporate themes of crime and punishment, love and marriage, caste and profession, murder and suicide, revenge, and deification. These themes acquire local forms in accordance with the conceptions of crime and punishment prevalent in different regions. But, these conceptions, in turn, are rendered complex by the existence of counter-myths that endorse such love relationships.

The myth begins with the episode of a Brahmin pandit’s daughter falling in love with a Dalit youth who is taking lessons from her father incognito. There are regional variations in the way the conduct of the marriage itself is depicted. In many of them, the narrative shows the Dalit youth falling in love with his master’s daughter, and the pandit himself, taking the youth to be a Brahmin, giving away his daughter to him in marriage. In the versions prevalent in the Hyderabad–Karnataka region, the Dalit youth has come from Kashi, where he had already completed his education. In northern Karnataka, he belongs to the left-hand, untouchable Madiga caste of leather workers.2 In the Mysore region, he comes from the right-hand untouchable Holeya caste of agricultural workers.3 In the southern coastal region, he belongs to the untouchable Koraga community.

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Updated On : 10th Nov, 2017

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