- Kaveri Ponnapa
The river Kaveri, ancient and beautiful, wells up from a source high in the western hills of Kodagu, its presence is woven into the lives of the people. More than a river, in Kodava tradition the people are known as Kaverammera makka, the children of Kaveri.
The river is anthropomorphised:Kaveramme is mother goddess, life-giving and sacred. According the most widely repeated legend, Kaveri—twice-adopted—first as Lopamudra, the foster-daughter of Brahma, then adopted by the sage Kavera, was married to the sage Agasthya, who fell in love with her. He promised never to leave her alone, but breaking his word, he confined her in a pot, and betrayed her, bathing in the downstream Kanaké which flows at Bhagamandala. The enraged Kaveri flowed violently out of the pot and looped across the countryside, flowing out of Kodagu, pursued by a contrite Agasthya.
Balamuri, meaning ‘a turn to the right’ in the Kodava language, is a tranquil spot where the river runs wide, taking a deep, sweeping turn to the right as she flows out of Kodagu. According to tradition, this is the place where the Kodava people stood in the path of the swiftly flowing river, to implore her not to leave their land. The force of the waters pushed the pleats of the saris of the women backwards, which is how they wear them to this day. Here, an arbitration was conducted in which the Kodavas supported Kaveri, declaring that a woman should not be held against her will. This judgement earned them the anger of Agasthya, who cursed the Kodavas that their numbers would dwindle; their women not tie their garments in front; rice crops fail and cows not give milk. The Kodavas, however, were saved by the protection of the goddess, who blessed them with prosperity and children, and promised never to leave the land, but to return every year at Kaveri Changrandi.
The people regard themselves as custodians of the land for the goddess, holding the land in trust; at Kaveri Changrandi, they believe she manifests in every water body in the land—streams, wells and ponds— paying her people a visit to see if they have tended her lands well, and to bless the coming harvest. The fields are dotted with small posts (bottë) looped with special creepers and leaves to ward off field spirits that may steal the ripening crop. Offerings of curries of tender young vegetables grown in the fields and dosas, for the goddess and ancestors, are carried out to the fields before dawn by men. Taking three turns of the field, they invoke the goddess and leave the offerings on the botth posts.
When the waters bubble up in the scared pond at Tale Kaveri, the goddess is believed to manifest in all the water bodies of the land at the same moment. Vessels of scared water are stored in ain manes and every home. In homes, worship is simple: a field vegetable such as a cucumber or brinjal, sometimes a coconut, signifying the fertility of the land, is placed on a bell-metal platter heaped with rice and decorated with flowers, jewellery, areca nut leaves, betel nuts and a lit lamp by the women of the house. Thanks are given to the goddess for the prosperity of the land. The rustic altar is later dismantled and fresh produce is immersed in flowing water. Although vegetarian meals on Kaveri Changrandi are widespread, many villages retain the older practice of eating river crab, fish and wild greens. A sacred time of year, the goddess affirms her presence in the waters for ten days, a period known as pathalodi. Over these days, women return to their ancestral homes and ancestors, particularly women, and dead warriors are remembered, worshipped and honoured in the custom of karang kodupu.