Koti Chennaya Series: Heroes of Tulu Folklore (Part-3)

Numerous studies suggest that most daivas(spirits) are reminiscent of the folk heroes of that name, who were subjected to oppression of different sorts to maintain the hierarchical status-quo of the traditional Tulunadu.

Koti Chennaya
Yakshagana play on Koti Chennaya

[Note by the translator: The twin daivas(spirits) of Koti and Chennaya are one of the most popular folk deities of Tulunadu. Along with other daivas or bhutas such as Kallurti, Bobbarya, Maisandaya, Alibhuta, Koragajja, etc., Koti-Chennaya get venerated in the length and breadth of the Tulu region. Numerous studies suggest that most daivas are reminiscent of the folk heroes of that name, who were subjected to oppression of different sorts to maintain the hierarchical status-quo of the traditional Tulunadu. When they became mayaka (or perished fighting that oppression), they started getting venerated. Being born in the Billava¹ caste, Koti-Chennaya were subjected to constant treachery and harassment, even though they came close to power centres. It is roughly estimated that the twin brothers lived in the seventeenth or the eighteenth century. The following story of Koti and Chennaya is a translation based on the story written by Shri Panje Mangesha Rao, an early litterateur in Kannada. Panje himself got several (Tulu) versions of the story – one of them from Hermann Moegling of the Basel Mission. Comparing and contrasting, he finally arrived at the following story in the early twentieth century.] 

This is Part III of the 14 part Koti- Chennaya series

Part II  Part I

If the paddy sprouts should be fine, it is a practice to let go of the stagnant water and supply fresh water. Koti’s field was full of water and looked like a lake, whereas, Buddhivantha’s field was devoid of any water. It was dotted with egrets. Koti went straight to Buddhivantha’s house; bent his head and greeted him. Buddhivantha ignored Koti’s arrival deliberately and looked the other way. Koti greeted again and again. When he was continuously ignored, Koti said, “Sir, I greeted you four times, you never responded. Anyways! Had I greeted the kasarka(2) tree in the forest, it would have shed some dried leaves in response!” Mallaya Buddhivantha simply gestured by twitching his moustache.

“Sir, it is three days since we sowed our fields. You should permit us to let go of the stagnant water therein”, with folded hands he requested.

Buddhivantha was absolutely mute. Realising that he wouldn’t respond, Koti said, “Let my namaskara go to your forefathers”, and came down from there towards his fields. He created a small vent on the border of his field so that the water could flow out. The stagnant water gushed down to Buddhivantha’s field located below. As soon as Buddhivantha saw this, he called his servants, ordered them to cover and fill the vent, and stopped the water from flowing.

Koti saw this and said “Sir, this is not right! If you have any vengeance against us, confront us directly; please don’t show it on the crops! Let the water flow as per the rule.”

“Rule!? What did you say? Who gave you the rules – you, a Billava man! Is my field the way to water from your’s? Go… cut the forest beside your field! Draw a channel… Let’s see where the water goes!” Buddhivantha shouted.

Koti responded, “Sir! I am calm by disposition. What if my brother Chennaya was in my place?!”

“What are you rumbling? Your brother! Is he drunk on bison’s milk?! Does he come exploding the skies? Or does he appear cracking the Earth? Your brother!!!” Buddhivantha thundered with sarcasm.

Chennaya, who was listening to all these exchanges from far, approached them with his silvery dagger. Yet, Buddhivantha continued to curse.

Koti checked Chennaya who was on the verge of aggression. Addressing Mallaya Buddhivantha, Koti said “No Mallaya, don’t provoke! If you pour water on the head, it would flow down to the legs and not the other way round! Let the water flow down naturally! Please don’t prevent it! Don’t disobey the customary rules please!” Koti requested again with folded hands.

“Rules… my foot…” Mallaya was about to burst out into another series of abuses. In this instance, Chennaya untangled himself from his brother’s clutches. Shouting aloud, he caught hold of Buddhivantha’s tuft of hair, broke his back, laid him on the floor and stabbed the dagger thrice into his chest. Mallaya Buddhivantha vomited blood and breathed his last.

Koti-Chennaya performed the rites for the deceased. They buried his body near his field and turned towards his house. Seeing the twin men, Buddhivantha’s wife shuddered. When she saw the bloody dagger in the hands of Chennaya, she was sure what must have transpired. “Ayyo…” she screamed and ran towards the field. Chennaya said, “Anna, do you remember our childhood words to Buddhivantha? This is the time to get back the ball that was snatched from our tiny hands!” They went into the house, got the ball back and walked towards home.

Buddhivantha’s wife rushed to Padumale Ballala, removing her jewels placed them at his feet and narrated what transpired. “Those who murdered will face death!” assured Ballala. He sent her home after consoling. Not only the beedu(3), but the whole village was terrified by the murder.  Meanwhile, Ballala sent for Koti-Chennaya.

Before Koti-Chennaya reached home, their foster mother Sayina Baiditi had heard about the ghastly act committed by Chennaya and the Ballala’s fury about it. When the brothers arrived she started querying about the incident. “Koti, what happened?! Chennaya, what did you do?! We have to face tough times now!” Baiditi wailed. Koti replied, “Amma, Buddhivantha was unrestrained in his words. Chennaya was uncontrolled in his words and act. Buddhivantha’s rashness matched with Chennaya’s haste.” He bent his head with a sense of guilt.

Sayina Baiditi said, “For what you have done Ballala is going to punish you gravely. Will he push you down the cliff?! Will he make an elephant trample you?! Will he throw you into a tank?! Oh my God! What will be your fate?!” She said crying.

Looking at this, Chennaya said fervently, “Amma why do you cry? This dagger is sharp! And my hands are skillful. We need not be afraid of anybody. If they are truthful to us we can sacrifice everything for them! If they are unfair to us, we can take away their life, whoever they are!”

Baiditi said, “Oh children! Now you can’t stay in this country for a moment. The whole of Padumale would be your enemy!”

Koti replied, “In that case, we will go to another country! Is it written in our fate that we should drink the water of only Padumale? Absolutely not!”

“If the Ballala comes to know about your plans to leave Padumale, he won’t sit quiet. He would order the guards on the border, the servants on the toll gate and people at the water sheds to catch you and get you back! You cannot escape his scrutiny and such escape is unbecoming too!” Baiditi advised.

“In that case we shall meet him in his beedu(3) and then leave the place”, Chennaya declared. “Why should we be afraid of him?”

As the mother and children were speaking, the servants of Ballala came and took the twins to his beedu. Before they left the place, Baiditi advised Koti as to how to behave before the Ballala. The twin set off to the beedu. They crossed the paddy fields, they crossed the barren land; they climbed the hillock; they got down; they crossed the river; they went through the main door of the fort; they went to the platform on the western side and then to the upper floor with the silvery top. Ballala saw them when they were in front of the beedu and thought, “the twins have grown to be tigers from meekish mice”. He readied himself to conduct an enquiry.

Glossary of Kannada and Tulu words 

  1.  A community in coastal Karnataka with almost one-fifth of the population in that region. The traditional occupation of the community was toddy tapping and working as agricultural help.

  2. A decorated plantain stem installed in the paddy field as an agricultural ritual. 

  3. The feudal homestead of the Ballala 




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