Sunday, July 22, 2007

And another goddess is born

Walking through Matunga, I glanced upwards and spotted this colourful carving. I couldn't figure out who this lady was. So I hunted around, and I found a thousand year-old story - the story of Goddess Kannika Parameswari.

In the 10th Century AD, in Penugonda in the West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, a daughter was born to the Vysya chieftain Kusuma Sreshti. She was named Vasavi - and she grew up to be beautiful and talented, an accomplished musician and artiste.

When the girl turned 16, the Hoysala Emperor Vishnu Vardhana visited Penugonda, and became enamoured of her. He was much older, already married, and from a the Kshatriya warrior caste (the girl was from the trader caste). So the alliance was refused. Enraged (and perhaps besotted), Vishnu Vardhana declared war and defeated Kusuma Sreshti.

In the wake of defeat, faced with the plunder and looting of her city, the princess arranged a great immolation pyre on the banks of the Godavari and burnt herself to death. Along with her, 102 other families, who had supported Kusuma Streshti also immolated themselves, in a show of solidarity. The legend is that the princess appeared before them in her true form as an incarnation of the Goddess Parvati, so they followed her into the fires. (Methinks it was political expediency - they had backed the wrong horse, so to speak, and perhaps immolation was preferable to Vishnu Vardhan's tender mercies).

And what of the victorious Vishnu Vardhan? He advanced towards Penugonda to claim his bride - but died mysteriously on the outskirts of the city, vomiting blood. The city was saved from loot and plunder.

And so the princess became Kannika Parameswari, the Virgin Goddess, a saviour of her people. A temple to her was built in Penugonda, and continues to be the most important place of pilgrimage for the Andhra Vysyas.

As for me, I continue to be amazed by the stories and legends that are everywhere around me.

3 comments:

ragz said...

Deepa, she is Kanyaka Parameswari. apart from a General following, She has a special following among the Vaisyas of Andhra Pradesh. To a very large extent, most community organisations of vaisyas are known as Kanyaka Parameswari society/association/sangham. Even colleges and co-op banks of this community have the name somewhere in their appellation.

Deepa Krishnan said...

In Tamil Nadu, the English spelling used is Kannika Parameswari. It is the same goddess. The Arya Vysyas, other than Andhra Pradesh, are distributed across Tamil Nadu also, they are classified as Chettys.

Miri said...

Sigh, I miss that sight...I grew up in Matunga looking at those idols and wondering about their stories......though I moved to Chennai (that bastion of rituals) after my marriage, without my familiar temples I became quite distanced from the ritualistic part of religion...