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Omens and Superstitions of Southern India

Superintendent of the Madras Government Museum and of the Ethnographic Survey of the Madras Presidency


Among the Kalyana Singapu Kondhs of Vizagapatam, a rain-making ceremony called barmarakshasi is performed, which consists in making life-size mud images of women seated on the ground, holding grindstones between their knees, and offering sacrifices to them1.

1. " Gazetteer of the Vizagapatam District," 1907, i. 73.

In times of drought, the Koyis of the Godavari district hold a festival to Bhima, one of the Pandava brothers from whom they claim descent, and, when rain falls, sacrifice a cow or a pig to him. It is said2 to be considered very efficacious if the Brahmans take in procession round the village an image of Varuna (the god of rain) made of mud from the bed of a river or tank. Another method is to pour a thousand pots of water over the lingam in the Siva temple. Malas (Telugu Pariahs) tie a live frog to a mortar, and put on the top thereof a mud figure representing the deity Gontiyalamma.

2. " Gazetteer of the Godavari District," 1907, i. 47.

They then take these objects in procession, singing "Mother frog, playing in water, pour rain by pots-full." The villagers of other castes then come and pour water over the Malas.

The Rev. S. Nicholson informs me that, to produce rain in the Telugu country, two boys capture a frog, and put it into a basket with some nim (margosa, Melia Azadirachta) leaves. They tie the basket to the middle of a stick, which they support on their shoulders. In this manner, they make a circuit of the village, visiting every house, singing the praises of the god of rain. The greater the noise the captive animal makes, the better the omen, and the more gain for the boys, for at every house they receive something in recognition of their endeavours to bring rain upon the village fields.

"In the Bellary district when the rain fails, the Kapu (Telugu cultivator) females catch a frog, and tie it alive to a new winnowing fan made of bamboo. On this fan, leaving the frog visible, they spread a few margosa leaves, and go singing from door to door, “Lady frog must have her bath ; oh ! rain god, give at least a little water for her.” This means that the drought has reached such a stage that there is not even a drop of water for the frogs. When the Kapu female sings this song, the woman of the house brings a little water in a vessel, pours it over the frog, which is left on the fan outside the door sill, and gives some alms. She is satisfied that such an action will bring down rain in torrents.

On the first full-moon day in the month of Bhadrapada (September), the agricultural population in the Bellary district celebrate a festival called Jokumara, to appease the rain-god. The Barike women (said to belong to the Gaurimakkalu section of the Kabbera caste) go round the village in which they live, with a basket on their heads containing margosa leaves, flowers of various kinds, and sacred ashes. They beg for alms, especially from the cultivating classes, and, in return for the alms bestowed (usually grain or food), they give some of the leaves, flowers, and ashes. The cultivators take these to their fields, prepare cholam (Sorghum) kanji or gruel, mix them with it, and sprinkle the kanji over their fields. After this the cultivator proceeds to the potter's kiln in the village, and fetches ashes from it, with which he makes the figure of a human being. This figure is placed in a field, and called Jokumara or raingod, and is supposed to have the power of bringing down the rain in due season. A second kind of Jokumara worship is called muddam, or the outlining of rude representations of human figures with powdered charcoal.

These are made in the early morning, before the bustle of the day commences, on the ground at cross-roads, and along thoroughfares. The Barikes, who draw these figures, are paid a small remuneration in money or kind. The figures represent Jokumara, who will bring down rain, when insulted by people treading on him.

Yet another kind of Jokumara worship prevails in the Bellary district. When rain fails, the Kapu females model a small figure of a naked human being, which they place in a miniature palanquin, and go from door to door, singing indecent songs, and collecting alms. They continue this procession for three or four days, and then abandon the figure in a field adjacent to the village. The Malas take possession of the abandoned Jokumara, and, in their turn, go about singing indecent songs, and collecting alms for three or four days, and then throw the figure away in some jungle. This form of Jokumara worship is also believed to bring down plenty of rain.

In the Bellary district, the agriculturists have a curious superstition about prophesying the state of the coming season. The village of Mailar contains a Siva temple, which is famous throughout the district for an annual festival held there in the month of February. This festival has now dwindled into more or less a cattle fair. But the fame of the temple continues as regards the Karanika, which is a cryptic sentence uttered by the priest, containing a prophecy of the prospects of the agricultural season.

The pujari (priest) of the temple is a Kuruba (cultivating caste). The feast at the temple lasts for ten days. On the last day, the god Siva is represented as returning victorious from the battlefield, after having slain the demon Malla (Mallasura) with a huge bow. He is met half-way from the field of battle by the goddess. The wooden bow is placed on end before the god. The Kuruba priest climbs up it, as it is held by two assistants, and then gets on their shoulders. In this posture he stands rapt in silence for a few minutes, looking in several directions. He then begins to quake and quiver from head to foot. This is the sign of the spirit of the god Siva possessing him. A solemn silence holds the assembly, for the time of the Karanika has arrived. The shivering Kuruba utters a cryptic sentence, such as 'Thunder struck the sky.' This is at once copied down, and interpreted as a prophecy that there will be much rain in the year to come.3"

3. Madras Mail, 4th November, 1905.

It is said that, in the year before the Mutiny, the prophecy was ''They have risen against the white-ants."

The villagers at Kanuparti in the Guntur district of the Telugu country objected, in 1906, to the removal of certain figures of the sacred bull Nandi and lingams, which were scattered about the fields, on the ground that the rainfall would cease, if these sacred objects were taken away.

To bring down rain, Brahmans, and those non-Brahmans who copy their ceremonial rites, have their Varunajapam, or prayers to Varuna, the rain-god.

Some of the lower classes, instead of addressing their prayers to Varuna, try to induce a spirit or devata named Kodumpavi (wicked one) to send her paramour Sukra to the affected area. The belief seems to be that Sukra goes away to his concubinage for about six months, and, if he does not then return, drought ensues. The ceremony consists in making a huge figure of Kodumpavi in clay, which is placed on a cart, and dragged through the streets for seven to ten days. On the last day, the final death ceremonies of the figure are celebrated. It is disfigured, especially in those parts which are usually concealed.

Vettiyans (Paraiyan grave-diggers), who have been shaved, accompany the figure, and perform the funeral ceremonies. This procedure is believed to put Kodumpavi to shame, and to get her to induce Sukra to return, and stay the drought. According to Mr W. Francis4, the figure, which is made of clay or straw, is dragged feet first through the village by the Paraiyans, who accompany it, wailing as though they were at a funeral, and beating drums in funeral time.

4. "Gazetteer of the South Arcot District," 1906, i. 94.

I am informed by Mr F. R. Hemingway that, when rain is wanted in the Trichinopoly district, an effigy called Koman (the king) is dragged round the streets, and its funeral performed with great attention to details. Or an effigy of Kodumpavi is treated with contumely.

In some places, the women collect kanji (rice gruel) from door to door, and drink it, or throw it away on a tank bund (embankment), wailing the while as they do at funerals. People of the higher castes repeat prayers to Varuna, and read portions of the Virata Parvam in the Mahabharata, in the hope that the land will be as fertile as the country of the Virats, where the Pandavas lived. When the tanks and rivers threaten to breach their banks, men stand naked on the bund, and beat drums; and, if too much rain falls, naked men point firebrands at the sky. Their nudity is supposed to shock the powers that bring the rain, and arrest their further progress. According to Mr Francis5, when too much rain falls, the way to stop it is to send the eldest son to stand in it stark naked, with a torch in his hand.

5. Ibid.

A Native of Coimbatore wrote a few years ago that we have done all things possible to please the gods. We spent about two hundred rupees in performing Varuna japam on a grand scale in a strictly orthodox fashion. For a few days there were cold winds, and some lightning. But, alas, the japam was over, and with that disappeared all signs of getting any showers in the near future. It is noted by Haddon6 that, in the Torres Straits, as elsewhere, the impossible is never attempted, and a rain charm would not be made when there was no expectation of rain coming, or during the wrong season.

6. Magic and Fetishism " (Religions ancient and modern), 1906, 62.

There is, in some parts of the country, a belief that, if lepers are buried when they die, rain will not visit the locality where their corpses have been deposited. So they disinter the bodies, and throw the remains thereof into the river, or burn them. Some years ago, a man who was supposed to be a leper died, and was buried. His skeleton was disinterred, put into a basket, and hung to a tree with a garland of flowers round its neck. The Superintendent of Police, coming across it, ordered it to be disposed of.

The following quaint superstitions relating to the origin of rain are recorded by Mr Gopal Panikkar7.

7. "Malabar and its Folk," Madras, 2nd ed., 63-4.

"In the regions above the earth, there are supposed to exist large monsters called Kalameghathanmar, to whom is assigned the responsibility of supplying the earth with water. These monsters are under the direction and control of Indra8, and are possessed of enormous physical strength. They have two huge horns projecting upwards from the sides of the crown of the head, large flashing eyes, and other remarkable features. All the summer they are engaged in drawing up water from the earth through their mouths, which they spit out to produce rain in the rainy season. A still ruder imagination ascribes rain to the periodical discharge of urine by these monsters. Hence, in some quarters, there exists a peculiar aversion to the use of rain-water for human consumption."

8. Indra presides over the seasons and crops, and is therefore worshipped at times of sowing and reaping.


1.  William Logan’s ‘Malabar Manual’

2.  MEIN KAMPF by Adolf Hitler - A demystification!

3.  Native life in Travancore by Rev. Samuel Mateer

4.  Castes and Tribes of Southern India by Edgar Thurston

5. A commentary on Kamasutra

6. Feudal languages! What are they?

7. Software codes of mantra, tantra &c.

8. Indian culture! What is it exactly?

9. You and your star by CHEIRO

10. English Classics Illustrated

A small annotated commentary on this book can be seen in the book:

Software codes of mantra

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