A rock, a maiden and a river: The story of Kaveri

Brahma gives Lopamudra as a daughter to sage Kavera, and she gets the name of Kaveri. She turns into a river so that the arid expanses are filled with happy people, and her father is relieved of his loneliness 

 

The legend goes thus: Ages ago, all this land was dry and rocky. Not a blade of grass grew on it. On top of one of the hills sat a rock looking over this barren stretch, and whose own heart was as parched as the land. The rock desperately wanted to turn into a river and bring the landscape to life. After several years of intense tapas, the rock transformed itself, not into a river, but a beautiful maiden.

 

Before she knew it, she was married off, but that didn’t break her resolve. She continued practising her austerities, until one day she broke free. Finally, her wish had come true; she had turned into a river that scampered over rocks, gushed through crevices, collpased into valleys, and meandered through the plains before finally merging with the sea. All along the course of the river-maiden Cauvery, the land turned green, thick forests rose, and the crops swayed in glee.

 

Cauvery is among the seven important rivers worshipped in Hinduism. Also called the Ganga of the South, there are s e v e r a l myths around her, of which the one above is one of the most picturesque. However, the most popular story of her origin—interestingly, also involving a rock that transformed into a woman and later into a river—is found in the Skanda Purana, also known as Kaveri Purana.

The statue of Kaveri at Cauvery Bhavan. Pic by Ramesh Hunsur

 

The story goes back to the beginning of creation, when the gods and demons churned the ocean to find amrita or the elixir of life. Lord Vishnu didn’t want the demons to get amrita. So, he takes the form of the beautiful enchantress Mohini, who deceives the demons and gives the elixir only to the gods. To assist Mohini, Vishnu’s consort Goddess Lakshmi sends another lady, Lopamudra.

 

When her task is completed, Lopamudra retires to the top of the Brahmagiri hills, where she turns into a rock. After many years, the sage Kavera comes to the hills and begins living there. Without a soul around for miles, he feels lonely. He yearns for a child and prays to Lord Brahma. Pleased with his prayers, Brahma gives him Lopamudra as a daughter. She abandons her rock form and becomes a girl. From then on, she is called Kaveri, after her father.

 

As she grows, she is pained to see her father living a secluded life in a dry region. She wishes him to be in a place where nature is abundant in the midst of happy people. She figures out that the terrain would change if a river flowed there. She decides to turn into a river and bring her father happiness.

 

The young maiden begins an intense tapas, praying to be transformed into a river. As she nears the end of her prayers, the sage Agastya happens to pass by. He sees her dedication and instantly falls in love with her. He asks the sage Kavera for her hand in marriage. Agastya being one of the Sapta Rishis, or the seven important sages revered by men and Gods, Kavera agrees. Unable to disobey her father, Kaveri submits, but she lays down one condition: Agastya should never leave her alone. If he goes anywhere without her, she would leave him and turn into a river.

 

Agastya remains true to his promise for many years. One day, engrossed in thought, he goes out, leaving Cauvery all by herself. Finding the promise is broken, she turns into a river and flows down the hill from Talacauvery. Agastya’s disciples try to stop her. She goes underground and escapes them, only to emerge again at Bhagamandala. From then on, she gushes down, transforming the landscape along her course.

 

There is also a related legend that the Ganga flows underground and comes to Cauvery every year to cleanse herself. Thousands dip into the Ganga to cleanse their sins. Ganga is believed to come to Cauvery to be free of those sins.

The temple at Talakaveri in Coorg, where Kaveri originates

 

 

Kaveri and the Kodavas

 

The Kodavas, the ethnic tribe of Kodagu or Coorg, attribute their very culture to the river Cauvery. “We do not worship her as a goddess. But we revere the river since our civilisation developed on its banks,” says Nachappa Codava, president of the Codava National Council (they prefer the Anglicised spelling of Codava to Kodava). “We owe our traditions to her. Our gratitude is such that we name our children after her: girls are called Kaveramma and boys Kaverappa,” he says.

 

He recalls that until a few decades ago, there was no image or form given to Cauvery. “There used to be a picture of a cow and a temple, which depicted Cauvery. But about 30 years ago, someone made a sculpture of Cauvery. These were installed in many places. People have begun worshipping a picture of Kaveri these days,” he says.

 

Nachappa disapproves of the worship of Cauvery as a goddess. “We are ancestor worshippers and do not worship any gods and goddesses. There is some Hindu influence coming in,” he says.

 

Nachappa also laments that the Kodavas have no access to the waters of Cauvery. “Though the river takes birth in Kodagu, we don’t have permission to use its water for irrigation or even drinking. Tamil Nadu takes the maximum advantage of Cauvery. The Karnataka government is supposed to distribute the waters to nine districts, but it focuses only on Bangalore and Kolar,” he says.

 

You can also read the story at http://talkmag.in/cms/news/special/item/257-a-rock,-a-maiden-and-a-river

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