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Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Story of Sankamma -Part 1

                       ‘THE STORY OF SANKAMMA’   -Part 1

             

Invocation:

In the very beginning, I revere your feet;

O Madeva, grant me wisdom.
I am ignorant of metre, rhyme and rhythm;
O godly Guru, grant me salvation.

O you, who sport on the branches of fluttering mango leaves,
Who dance to the rhythm of cymbals and tamburi,
O Mother!  Mother Sharada!
Sing the words in apt measure,
O Mother!
                                **********
              
                 






Canto IV: The Story of Sankamma

(Neelegowda belongs to a tribe called ‘Soliga,’ a hilly tribe, whose main occupation is hunting and collecting forest-produces like honey, fruit, etc.  When he reaches adulthood, he refuses to marry anybody chosen by his parents; and he goes out in search of a suitable wife.  Once, while sitting in the bunyan-tree shade …)

Neelegowda, precisely at noon,
In order to water his sheep,
Took them to the tank at Hebbala.
After the sheep were watered,
He sat in the shade of a bunyan tree.
By the side of that tank, to the east,
There lies a hamlet – the hamlet of Dundegowda.
Coming out of that hamlet of Dundegowda,
Many young maidens,
Supporting round pots on their waist
And carrying water-vessels on their heads,
Are on their way to the tank, to collect water.
There is one in their group, the daughter of Dundegowda,
Called Sankamma, the devotee of Shiva.
Since she was born on Makara Sankranti day,
She was named Sankamma.
That slip of a girl,
After reaching puberty,
Used to serve her parents with great devotion,
And thus lived the life of an  ideal woman.
To describe her character further:
As soon as she got up in the morning,
She would prostrate herself at her parents’ feet,
And then would carry out all the household chores.
On that day, supporting an earthen pot on her waist,
Together with her companions,
     Lo!  She arrives at the Hebbala tank;
    Sankamma, the woman of Truth.

    Come to me, my Guru;
    I bow to you Madeva, endeared to devotees.
    When the true devotees of Nilagiri return,
    God is immensely pleased.

When Sankamma was on her way to the Hebbala-tank,
She didn’t raise her head;
And she didn’t turn sideways to see others.
Having fixed her eyes on Mother Earth,
She walked slowly, taking small steps.
Sitting in the Bunyan-tree shade, Neelegowda saw her.
While all the other girls are alike in their behaviour,
The one girl in the middle
Is walking, without lifting her head even once –
Thinking thus, he fixed his gaze on her.


  He notices her beauty and charm;
  He notices her figure and features;
  He observes her colour and texture;
  He observes her shape and curves;
  He observes her gait and style,
  He fixes his gaze on her,
  And he goes into a swoon.
      // Give alms to the sage on the mountain peak //

When Neelegowda set his eyes on Sankamma,
He blanked out as if struck by lightening.
The reason why he fainted was,
She was such a virtuous and ideal woman.
Even today,
If one casts a covetous eye on a virtuous woman,
One undergoes a similar stroke.
That is how Neelegowda felt,
And, having fainted, lay down in the shade.
All the young maidens came there,
Washed and cleaned their pots and vessels,
Filled them with water, and began to wash their hands and feet.
Neelegowda, the Soliga of the hills,
He who could cast a spell on forests and clouds,
Recovered from his swoon; and, breathing hard,
Got up, and, rubbing his eyes,
Stood on the tank-bund, by the side of Sankamma.

O young woman!
Whose daughter are you and are you married?
What’s your name and which is your family? – he inquired.
Then Sankamma, without raising her head,
Her head lowered, said: listen, young man;
Why do you ask me and not others in this group?
I am the daughter of Dundegowda,
Who belongs to the eastern hamlet you can see from there.
I was born on a Makara Sankranti day,
And hence they named me  Sankamma.

     Thirty springs have passed since my birth,
     And my hair has grown twelve yards long;
     The colour of my skin hasn’t changed,
     And the pimples on my face are still fresh.
     The colour of my skin hasn’t changed,
     And I am yet to go through marriage and nuptials.
          // Give alms to the sage on the mountain peak. //

As soon as he heard Sankamma’s words,
Neelegowda took out from his sack,
A five-faced cowrie, and rolled it.
It foretold good omen for him.
Then he took out his almanac and consulted it –
Name, zodiac-sign, constellation-position, etc. –
And on all these counts Sankamma and Neelegowda matched.
O my God!  For having ignored my parents’ words,
And wandering through seven and seven plus fourteen worlds,
At last, I have found a wife for me.
She is my wife and I am her husband – with such thoughts,
He put back into his sack,
The almanac and the cowrie.  And then,

     Sir, driving back his flock of sheep,
    He returns to his hamlet.
       // Give alms to the sage on the mountain peak. //

The Basava of Badalli
And Shesha are in the front;
O Guru!  Offer the first worship
To the Serpent-adorned.

            ******                       **********
(Neelegowda then approaches his parents and  gets their consent.  His marriage with Sankamma is conducted with all  traditional rituals and gaiety.)

They got married with great rejoicing; and then

The relatives and friends returned to their hamlets.
Here, Neelegowda and Sankamma the devotee of Shiva,
Stayed in his parents’ home.  They served the parents sincerely,
And thus proved themselves a virtuous couple.
After her marriage, Sankamma lived with this firm conviction:
My salvation lies only through my husband;
And I can go to heaven only through my husband;
A woman bereft of her husband is worse than a worthless rock.
 Hence, she used to serve her husband very faithfully.
To explain:
As soon as she got up in the morning, on her right side,
She would bow, first, to her husband’s feet,
And then would go about her household chores.
Whenever her husband, Neelegowda, happened to go out,
She bowed to his feet and then she sent him out.
When it was time for his return,
She stood near the door, with water in a vase, awaiting him.
As soon as he reached home,
She washed her husband’s feet, bowed, and then called him in.
Thus, she bowed to him thrice a day,
And maintained the dharma of a faithful wife.
Who? – Sankamma, the devotee of Shiva.
Neelegowda, as was his wont, looked after his flock of sheep.
It was a big, joint family.
But her six sisters-in-law,
And her husband’s sisters
Saw her beauty and attractive features,
And said to themselves:
Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune,
Has come to our house.
We shouldn’t bother her with trivial household chores. –
Thus, they looked after her with great affection.
Dear Sankamma,
Don’t you come anywhere near household chores;
Be happy – they told her and cared for her with love.
Thus Sankamma spent
Six and three nine months,
And Neelegowda continued to graze his sheep, happily.
He was a wild man, a man of weird powers, and hot-headed;
He was always given to suspicion
And anxiety about his wife.
I have elder brothers and brothers-in-law;
My wife, Sankenne, is comely and attractive.
Suppose somebody eyes her with lust?
Suppose somebody talks to her and tempts her? –
Thus he was always beset with gnawing suspicion.
But, outwardly, he was calm and continued grazing his sheep.
After nine months had passed,
Sankamma got bored.
Though at birth they are brothers, they become rivals as they grow.
One day or another, they are bound
To send us out to a separate house.
If I sit idly,  doing no work in this crowd,
How am I going to manage my house then?
I have to learn to work while I am here –
With such thoughts, when her sisters-in-law set out to fetch water,
Intending to fetch water herself also,

     She balances a pot under her arm,
     And goes with them to fetch water.
        // Give alms to the sage on the mountain peak. //
 

 
          They bring alms on a silver platter
          To Mallanna of Kongalli;
          There have arrived sages with sparkling cymbals;
          Give alms to them.

Along with her sisters-in-law,
Sankamma the devotee of Shiva,
Supporting a pot on her waist, was on her way to fetch water.
When they were half way from their hamlet,
All of them paused on the way.
Her sisters-in-law, cousins and relatives
Surrounded her and said:
O sisters and sisters-in-law!
Take a good look at this Sankamma.
Our brother-in-law, Neelegowda,
Traversed all the four countries,
Ranged through all the seven and seven fourteen hamlets,
And finally married this Sankamma,
With an idea that this beautiful and attractive woman
Would be a fitting wife for his handsome features.

     Thirty springs have passed since her birth,
     And her hair has grown twelve yards long;
     The colour of her skin hasn’t still changed,
     And the pimples on her face are still fresh.
     A barren land is this Sankenne,
    A sterile  woman by birth this Sankenne is;
    She is fated not to have children.
     If we see her face getting up in the morning,
    We will also become sterile.
    If she tends our cattle,
    The cattle will become sterile;
     If we eat the food she cooks,
     We will also become sterile;

     If we cross the water used by her for bath,
     We will surely become sterile,
     And our children also will be sterile.
        // Give alms to the sage on the mountain peak. //

              Come unto me, my Guru, the Saviour of devotees!
              We bow to you, Madeva.
              Who is it that worships you touching your body?
              It is Kannayya the hunter.

When those words of her sisters-in-law

Reached the ears of Sankamma, the devotee of Shiva,
She felt her ears were struck with lightening.
Alas!  Oh, my God!
She looks down at mother earth; she looks up at the sky.
O Mother Earth!  O Sky above!!
Even one year hasn’t passed since my marriage;
And already these people have begun to slander me,
That I am a barren land, that I am sterile by birth.
These sisters-in-law and cousins
Are using such scurrilous words regarding me.
I should not see their faces,
I should not talk to them,
And I should not eat with them.
Until my husband, Neelegowda, comes home,
I shall stay within my room,
And I shall remain alone in my bedroom –
With such thoughts,

     That virtuous woman holds the pot on her waist,
     And she returns, dejected,  to her hamlet.
        // Give alms to the sage on the mountain peak.  //

(When Neelegowda comes home in the evening and comes to know of the happenings, he is so enraged that he decides to take his share of the property and live separately.  Accordingly, he leaves the joint family and sets up a house of his own.  After some time, his clan decides to go on the yearly hunting trip, which may last for nine months.  After the assembly, Neelegowda returns home, full of worry and anxiety. )

As soon as he returned to his storeyed house,
Sankamma, most loyal to her husband,
Washed her husband’s feet and bowed.
Neelegowda went in and sat quietly.
What’s the matter, master?
When all the elders gathered for discussion,
What decisions were taken in the assembly? – she asked.
What other worse thing can happen to me, Sankenne, my wife?
All the heads of seven villages
And those of seven and seven hamlets
Are leaving tomorrow for the hills of wild honeycombs.

     My wife,
     They leave for the hills of wild honeycombs,
     To bring home wild honey;
     They leave for the hills of light honeycombs,
     To bring home light honey;
     To bring home wild bananas;
     To bring home fresh water;
     To bring home bamboo-rice;
     To bring home sweet potatoes;
     To bring home pulses;
     To bring home Magadi-roots;
     And to bring home plantain-bunches.
     It takes three months to go,
     It takes three months to return,
    And for three months, we stay there.
    My wife, six and three nine months
    In all, Sankenne, it will take.
        // Give alms to the sage on the mountain peak. //

O Madappa, Lord of the hills!
It is time for your morning ablutions.
See the wild hens crowing,
And the world getting brighter.
With the covey of wild hens and peacocks,
The world glories in splendour.

Hear me my wife, Sankenne,
It will be six and three nine months
Before I return from the hills of wild honeycombs,
Having collected wild honey.
I have to leave now for the hills of wild honeycombs.
Master, in that case,
No woman straying from her clan, and no bird straying from its field,
Can survive in this world, master.
One shouldn’t transgress one’s clan.

     Sir, you go to the hills of wild honeycombs;
     Sir, pay heed to my words.
          // Give alms to the sage on the mountain peak. //

Hear me, Sankenne my wife:
I have also thought over it,
And have decided not to violate our clan’s laws.
But, Sankenne,
It’s only a year since we began to live separately,
And many enemies surround us –
Brothers-in-law, nephews and nieces, and cousins.
My wife, I cannot leave you alone in this house.
If I have to go to the hills of wild honeycombs,
     Swear me an oath, woman,
     And send me to the hills of wild honeycombs.
      // Give alms to the sage on the mountain peak. //

O Guru!  O the feet of my Guru!!

O master!  My master!!
What words are you using, master?
You are demanding an oath from me –
I am not a thief and I haven’t mixed with thieves;
I haven’t even raised my eyes to see other men.
Master, should I swear an oath to you?

     Sir, point out my fault first;
     And then, sir, ask me to swear.
             // Give alms to the sage on the mountain peak.  //

There is the hill on which the elephant served as a pillow;
There are oleander flowers all around the Guru.
Who is it that touches you and worships you?
It’s Kannayya the hunter.

Listen to me, Sankenne, the daughter of a foul widow!

Don’t oppose your husband’s wishes,
And, wife, don’t answer back your husband.
Once you answer back your husband,
You will violate the principles of an ideal wife.
Unless you give me your solemn word,
I won’t go to the hills of wild honeycombs.
If I don’t go to the hills of wild honeycombs,
They will excommunicate me from the clan 
Then, my wife, how do we live here?

O master!  My master!
I will bear your feet on my head.  Please.
If I have to swear an oath to my husband,
What happens to my principles of conjugal fidelity?
Master, I will not take an oath, come what may.
     Sir, pay heed to my words;
      Sir, go the hills of wild honeycombs.
                // Give alms to the sage on the mountain peak.  //

Damn you, daughter of a foul widow!
You are pertly answering me back.
Look!  All the heads of seven villages and clan-members,
Having assembled in the central place,
Beating tom-toms and blowing horns,
Performing different  kinds of worship,
And singing and shouting in rapture.
Now, when I have to leave for the hills of wild honeycombs,
You are indulging in mere word-games.
Look here, Sankenne!  I tell you:
If I leave you alone in this house,
Those nephews and brothers-in-law –
Pay heed to me, Sankenne:
Having traversed seven and seven fourteen regions,
I married you for the reason, my wife,
That  you are beautiful, you are comely,
And that you befit my handsome features.
Hence, I won’t go leaving you alone, my wife.
If I go, leaving you alone,
     My aunt’s sons will come here;
     My uncle’s sons will come here;
     And my brothers-in-law will be here.
     They will come here, feigning the need for fire;
     They will come here, feigning the need for hot water.
     They will joke and chat with you;
     They will use honeyed words.
      They will see your figure and features;
     They will see your beauty and charm;
     They will make eyes at you.
     Then, wife, they will caress you with love,
      And they will cajole you to elope with them.
         // Give alms to the sage on the mountain peak. //

Alas!  Master, my Master!!

What sinful words are you uttering!
With such sinful words, don’t make me a sinner, master.
Aren’t my brothers-in-law the same as my father, master?
Aren’t my cousins the same as my children, Guru?
 
     Don’t utter such sinful words, master;
     I will bear your feet on my shoulders.
         // Give alms to the sage on the mountain peak. //

Hear me, O master!

Mother Earth and Sky above as my witnesses,
I will not swear an oath, master.
If I do, I will be unfit to be called a virtuous woman.

     Sir, pay heed to my words;
     Sir, go to  the hills of wild honeycombs.
          // Give alms to the sage on the mountain peak.  //

Fie! You daughter of a foul widow!

Don’t answer me back.
If you don’t give me your solemn word,
I will not go to the hills of wild honeycombs;
If I don’t go to the hills of wild honeycombs,
All those of seven and seven fourteen hamlets will ostracise me,
And will excommunicate me from my clan.
Then, it will be impossible for us to live here.
Your won’t give me your word,
I can’t go to the hills of wild honeycombs,
And, we can’t live here with the clan-members.
Then, how do we survive, my wife?
In that case,
In the tiny tribal hamlet,
In the foggy valley,
Where the three mountain peaks meet,

     There, my wife, let’s build a solitary hut.
     Sankenne, get ready to go there with me.
         // Give alms to the sage on the mountain peak. //


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Dr. C.N. Ramachandran

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