R and me were wandering in the mAhArATTa country after having rid ourselves from the curricular entanglements. We rode on our “ashva-s” past the prickly pear that stood between a low encasement of Deccan basalts and the most ancient temple of rudra in our regions. Having swiftly exited from the urban sprawl we reached those desolate lands were there were only the harshest of plant life was seen in the form of the jujube trees, the yucca’s dagger, acacia, prickly pears and an occasional neem. There were enormous termite mounds. There was one particularly enormous one at the base of a jujube tree. R informed that the kR^iShNa shUdra said that a rAkShasI lived in that tree/termite mound and was particularly afraid of approaching it. We approached it and found several offerings scattered around. R narrated to us a particularly interesting story about the rAkShasa. This story reminded us immediately of the origin mythology of the kApu-s from southern India that we had learned of from a learned Andhran scholar who introduced to us by the makhin:
“AdireDDi was the first of the kApu-s, a lineage of the fourth varNa in the Telugu country. He had wife named AdiammA. They had seven sons. The last of their sons was elenAgi-reDDi. He made an earthen li~Nga and worshipped rudra therein. Due to the aid borne by rudra he became the chief of a village. Then he became a leader of seven villages. His elder brothers became jealous of him. To try to finish him off, they gave him the large agricultural land around munnimodakamAnu near shrIshailaM and induced him to migrate there with his bullocks and cattle. In the middle of that land was a large tree around which was an enormous termite mound. In that tree the great god rudra had placed a brahma-rAkShasI who guarded the territory. The brothers asked elenAgi-reDDi to cut the tree. He worshiped rudra before doing so, who gave elenAgi-reDDi an axe weighing 111 Kgs. Due to aid of the deva, elenAgI the founder of the kApu-s could lift this gargantuan axe and with it brought down the tree. Six rakSha-s attacked him right away but he managed to kill them with his axe. The rAkShasi complained to rudra at shrIshailaM, but he told him that he had chosen the kApu as the new owner of the land.
In kailAsha umA had a pet ram and an ewe. They soon proliferated and started soiling the pleasure groves of rudra. So rudra dug a hole through nAga loka drove the sheep through that hole. One day while elenAgi-reDDi was tilling his field he hit the slab of rock that barred the aperture to nAga-loka. He lifted up the rock and opened it up. Sheep started rushing out and rudra appeared to him and asked him to take care of the sheep and not look back else the sheep would stop coming out. After a while elenAgi tiredly looked back and just then he saw a golden ram and ewe coming out. They vanished immediately. At this point rudra asked him to move to the port of kalyANa with his sheep. But there the chAlukyan king found the sheep to smell bad and dirty the place so he kept the kApu chief out of the city. He wandered as a pastoralist for twelve years in the forests of the rAShTraka-s. Then rudra told him that certain events would happen by which elenAgi could settle down in kalyANa and that he would be initiated into rAsAyana by his grace. [Here the story takes a detour to introduce the siddha revaNa: footnote 1]
In the Andhra country (located in the modern Kurnool province), in the brahminical lineage of archanAnas Atreya was born revaNa [This detail was added by the narrator and was not in the original kApu narrative]. As youth he studied and mastered the shaiva shAstra [Footnote 2]. After he had completed his education he went to North India to visit the shaiva maTha at champA (Chamba in modern Himachal). There lived a practitioner of the rasAyana tantra-s known as carpaTi. In the vicinity of his laboratory was a great buffalo herder. One day he left his beautiful wife in charge of his house and left with his retinue to have a holy bath. While he was away charpaTi arrived at his house singing praises of the bhairava [bayaNNa in the kApu narrative] and asked the buffalo-herder’s wife to serve him food and she did so. A little later her mother-in-law suspected what had happened and abused her severely. She ran away from the house and went over to charpaTi’s dwelling to become his consort. By her goddess-like presence charpaTi became a siddha [Footnote 3]. In his northern journey revaNa ran into charpaTi and they debated on the shaiva shAstra. Then revaNa was initiated by the latter into rasAyana and asked to practice it further. Practicing rasAyana, revaNa returned to the south. While visiting kA~nchI in the Tamil country he was told that the idol of viShNu at kA~nchi was unstoppably shaking. He went to the temple and reinstalled the image and it stopped shaking. He then performed many other alchemical acts and released women captured by brahma-rakSha-s, inviting the interest of the choLa king. The choLa king’s daughter named durgA was awed by his skills and married him. United with her he achieved rasa siddhi just as his teacher. Wandering with his consort he reached the forests near kalyANa where he ran into elenAgi-reDDi who was tending his sheep. revaNa taught elenAgi mantra-s and rasAyana.
One day one of elenAgi’s sheep died. So he skinned it and went to offer the skin for sale in kalyANa. However, the citizens were in no mood to take it because just then the vR^iShbha of their shiva temple had died. They were trying with their singing devotional songs and dancing to revive it. elenAgi went away to a reservoir near the city and made a pyre to cremate his sheep. The smell from the burning sheep aggravated the citizens even more who came out and started abusing elegnAgi, who said he was worsening matters when they were trying to revive their bull. He remained unfazed and said he only wished to help them and offered them the sheep skin and said he could also help with his powers. They taunted him and said if his rasa-s and mantra-s were truly effective he should revive his sheep. Remembering his guru revaNa he cast some rasa powders into the pyre and applied his mantra-s. A ram jumped out of the pyre ran on a rampage in the city breaking everything down. The king himself fled the city and took refuge atop a rocky eminence outside the city. The ram bashed the rock and made the king tremble. He called to revaNa for help, who arrived and struck the ram dead with his rod. revaNa asked the king to accept elenAgi into the city and buy his wool and butter. Now elenAgi became the frontier guardian of the city and was given the title vIradeva.”
elenAgi was prolific and had several sons. Those of them who went to his agricultural lands were the classical agricultural shUdra-s. The kApu-s who inherited his shepherd ways became the pastoralist shUdra-s. These followed the ways of revaNa in worshiping deities with mantra-s. Those among them who started consuming mutton and drinking liquors became pastoralist avarNa-s. Those who gave up the ways of revaNa and instead adopted vIrashaivaM became vaishya-s. It is striking to note that a similar origin mythology is preserved among various shUdra groups of the southern states. We had earlier mentioned a similar tale among certain reDDi-s. Similar tales are also found among the kuruba shepherds who trace their origin to the kApu-s who lost their varNa.
Footnote 1: The siddha revaNa was assimilated by the exclusivist vIrashaiva-s and accepted as a major figure in their system. However his origins are very distinct from the vIrashaiva system – he was shaiva of the mantra-mArga with a particular focus on the rasAyana school. This is supported by his saMskR^ita works on chemistry. The earliest Tamil work attributed to him is also not a vIrashaiva work but a lexicon. The above tale from the Andhra country and the narratives from Maharashtra also strongly support his rasa siddha origins. It was mainly in the Karnata country and somewhat later in the Tamil country that he was taken up as a vIrashaiva figure. He has become the locus of insertion of many anachronistic and grandiose tales that describe his siddhi-s.
Footnote 2: While the Andhra narrator was unclear as to what this shaiva shAstra was the saMskR^ita work siddhAnta-shikhA from the Tamil country states that he mastered the saiddhAntika tantra-s.
Footnote 3: We realized that the “goddess-like presence” in Andhran’s narrative is probably a “sanitized” description of the need of the dUtI or the kAkinI for a rasa-sAdhaka to become a siddha. There is a parallel narrative in a Tibetan description of siddha-s. The tamil charitraM mentions charpaTi’s tAntrika practice of yoga with the cowherd’s (kovaLan= drAviDa word for gopAla) wife leading to his siddhi.