|Jambavantha in a village performance, Nalgonda district, 2003
In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh members of a small
caste, Chindu by name, act out a confrontation between Jambava, the first ancestor of Madigas, and 'Brahman'. Madigas
are one of the two major, formerly 'Untouchable' caste clusters or blocs of linked endogamous groups of this region.
Their main traditional occupations have been focussed on leather. Chindus are not themselves leather workers; they are performers
with the right and duty to perform for village communities of Madigas as part of their hereditary occupation.
confrontation of the 'Untouchable' and the Brahman, at first sight the key feature of the performance, displays the
centrality and opposition of these two sections of Indian society [...] A living caste purana here provides a complex of richly
contextualised and related stories and contentions, presented by those for whom they are directly significant and to informed
and for the most part personally involved audiences. [...] A prime significance of this caste purana [...] is in providing
a forceful reminder of a previous and here persisting order in which the sheer negativity of the Untouchable category had
yet to take hold, in which, in varying degree, the castes so reduced were able to distinguish their identities with pride.
What emerges is a world view which does not seek to explain away the discrimination under which they labour but contextualises
it and focuses on presenting an embraceable identity.
Madigas, Chindus and the Jamba Puranam
Today's association of leather-working with chappals, the characteristic
Indian form of leather footwear, often obscures the former importance of leather items in irrigation, farming, cattle husbandry,
transport and many manufacturing processes. In a world where technological substitutes had yet to be developed, leather goods
were of immensely greater significance. The tanning of animal skin to produce leather transforms a messy, smelly and rapidly
decaying substance into one that can be experienced as sweet and clean and of great utility. It is one of humanity's major
historic technological transformations, along with the smelting of metal. In India, complex values related to a main source
of the skin, cattle, generated a problem but did not prevent the development of a major industry, carried on in almost every
village and town across the land. Profitability of leather has at times balanced ideas of religious pollution associated most
strongly with its basic production process and made leather-related castes one of the major sections of the population, the
most numerous and best known being the Chamars of North India. For the South, the great family of Telugu leather-related castes
has been analysed in a small but pioneering volume by T.R. Singh as one of a number of 'constellations' of castes
(Singh 1969, p. 31. [See Chaps 3 and 5 below]). Madigas, as represented here by Jambava, a first ancestor, are a large central
caste in the constellation and they have other small 'satellite castes', sometimes regarded as sub-castes, attached
to them. Apart from Madigas in villages collecting cattle carcasses, tanning the skins to make leather and then producing
items of everyday local use from it, other castes of the constellation specialised in tanning, in high quality manufacturing
of particular articles - with the repair of footwear so familiar in the recent past as a generally available fallback - and
in the trading of skins, leather and finished products. The importance of leather and the secure livelihoods to be obtained
from it meant that even leather workers based in villages might support satellite castes operating over wider areas, amongst
them the Chindus and other performing castes to be noted.
The caste myth (kula puranam) here is focused
on Jambava, or often Jambavamuni [a], the ancestral Madiga, and is generally termed the Jamba Purana. Such myths and their
hereditary tellers are well known by and for many castes in Andhra Pradesh (Subbachary 2000, 2001; cf. Shah & Shroff 1959;
Das 1968). Madigas are distinctive here only in having several different groups owning and telling their own versions of the
caste myth in their own ways. Apart from the Chindus on whose version this paper focuses, there are Nulakachandaiahs who are
caste gurus, keepers of legal records and genealogies, as well as narrators. There are also Dakkalis, Baindlas, Asadis and
Masthis, each with their distinctive - but changing - specialisms. Versions from all these have been recorded but only a Chindu
text, to be discussed here, has yet been published. The Chindus are performers of yakshaganas, an ancient genre of musical
theatre with stories drawn from the major epic traditions, Mahabharata and Ramayana, and the puranas. These have taken oral
and, from ancient times, written forms. Puranas were defined as early as the fifth century AD as dealing with five themes:
genesis, destruction and regeneration, genealogy, cosmic cycles and dynastic histories (Coburn 1984, p. 21). The list remains
usefully indicative of the content of this Jamba Purana. Yakshagana is one of the ways in which the puranic tradition lives
on, if now more strongly in some regions of India than in others.(2) In the area in question, Chindus are one of two small
castes with performance of this kind as their specialism; there are also numerous amateur troupes of enthusiastic yakshagana
performers, Madigas prominent amongst them.
The Chindu treatment of the Jamba Purana in yakshagana style is
generally known amongst performers and audiences as 'Gosangi Vesham'. 'Vesham' signifies a made-up and costumed
role, here in the first place and most obviously Jambava, the Madiga first ancestor. Its performance involves dialogue, song
and dance, with accompanying musicians. Amongst the components of the Jambava role which will be noted is, however, the power
to pacify the enraged goddess through his dancing. This identifiable and, as it turns out, separable role within a role is
Gosangi. In the narrative of the performance it is passed on from Jambava to his Chindu son and hence to the Chindus as a
whole. They, as performers by caste, are providing the player for the Jambava role, as well as for the other roles required,
Brahman and whatever supporting characters may appear in the performance known as a whole by this title, Gosangi Vesham. The
name 'Chindu', which here represents the caste, means also the dance steps which are a key part of the Gosangi performance.
From this association the caste itself may also be called Gosangis.
Though its style is closely linked to yakshagana,
Gosangi Vesham is distinguished from it in several important ways. Chindus are not summoned to perform but follow their own
programme of visits to a series of villages in which they have rights (mirasi) of support and performance. They stay
for several days, at first performing overnight as is usual for most village performances. On the last day or possibly two
days of their visit they perform, instead, in the daytime, first Gosangi Vesham and then Yellamma Vesham. The central vesham
or role in the latter is of the living idol of a goddess with whom Madigas have a special but not exclusive relationship.
Yellamma herself, a popular goddess to whom animal sacrifice is directed, is vividly described in the Gosangi Vesham but does
not appear there. When she does appear subsequently, she is played by a female Chindu performer and becomes the object of
worship (puja) in a procession from house to house around the Madiga area and beyond. The two performances together
become a forceful assertion, directed both to Madigas themselves and to other villagers more generally, of the special significance
of Madigas. Through Yellamma, their importance for the religious interests of many other villagers is displayed; through the
Gosangi Vesham, they assert Madigas' cosmic significance, practical importance, learning and piety, in the face of everything
for which the Brahman tradition, in their perception of it, stands.
The Gosangi Vesham
The content of the living purana has now to be outlined, drawing on two main sources, both
from Nalgonda District of Telangana, the north-eastern region of Andhra Pradesh. One is a village performance observed, recorded
and videoed in March 2003, the other a published Telugu text (Venkateswarlu 1997). In addition, an as-yet unpublished
paper and discussion with its authors have brought in a wider range of experience (Reddy & Harischandra 2006).(3)
Preparations for the village performance took place at the house of the Madiga leader of a yakshagana troupe in a village
of about 4000 people, 140 kms from the state capital Hyderabad. The Jambava himself was the main focus of attention, his costume
and make-up heavily laden with explicit symbolic reference (Reddy & Harischandra 2006). Two subsidiary performers, playing
members of high and low status trading castes, Komati and Balija, and the other main protagonist, Brahman, joined him. Four
dappu drummers arrived, led by one of the two elders of the Madiga community. Their first task was to deliver Komati
and Balija to the performance space at a street corner in the neighbouring section of the village belonging to the Goud or
Toddy Tapper caste. Once arrived and already attracting an audience, the two played out a short comedy of interactions between
themselves and a farmer character in everyday dress. Such supporting caste veshams - performances of stereotypical caste roles
- are usual, but the particular choice was unexpected and unfamiliar to most: Washerman and Barber had been expected. Though
such opening episodes are essentially about gathering an audience in preparation for the arrival of Jambava, they establish
the inter-caste context and theme from the beginning.
Meanwhile the final stages of Jambava's own preparation
and the ritualisation of the event were completed at the gate of the house yard. Turmeric and pink patches representing the
smallpox with which Yellamma is associated were applied to his legs, water poured around his feet, a coconut broken and vermillion
(kumkum) applied to foreheads of the other participants, signalling their participation in worship. Decked in leaves
of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica), preceded by the drummers, and with a canopy carried along behind him, Jambava
then advanced out of the colony brandishing his cutlass and a heavy bamboo stick and dancing fiercely (raudra). Brahman,
with book, spectacles, an elegant black stick and his umbrella open against the sun, walked calmly along in the same procession.
Themes and format
The performers distinguished three puranas as making up their Gosangi Vesham. The first is
the Adipurana dealing with origins, the second the Shaktipurana dealing with the feminine principle of force or energy
(sakti), the Goddess and village goddesses, and the third the Basavapurana(4) dealing with the significance
of leather [subsequent evidence suggests otherwise [b]]. Performance
is continuous however. The three sections start in the order suggested but interweave as they are developed. Confrontation
as a narrative theme is directly relevant mainly for the last: in the two preceding, Brahmans as such are significantly absent
from the stories told. The Trimurthis - Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva - have their place in the Adipurana but it is, as will be
seen, a subordinated one. The form throughout is, however, confrontation moderated by co-operation: Brahman facilitates Jambava's
explanations from the beginning, respectfully asking him to explain himself and prompting the next stage of the narrative.
Jambava intersperses his dialogue with songs, mostly with responses (vanta) from the musicians, and the cindu
footwork. The songs are more or less relevant, more or less readily understood, sometimes subsequently explained. Brahman
keeps mostly to dialogue and supporting action. In the observed performance but not in the text, he was the more fluent performer,
at times helping Jambava out with his own points and explanations. At the same time he was intermittently provocative. Jambava
responded physically, once or twice chasing Brahman escaping from the performance site altogether. His response to the most
offensive and outrageous of Jambava's assertions was to cry exaggeratedly, to the amusement of the audience. They also
tricked each other on occasion, with acted humour relevant to their role. Brahman offered Jambava his fine scarf if he could
catch it; but then threw it bundled into a ball into the air, in the opposite direction. Jambava got Brahman to bend before
his seated self, as described below. He interacted with a young boy in a sketch about wanting to buy sweets as another family
had done; this had been for their grandfather's death anniversary. 'Grandfather', when will you die?' responded
the boy. He enquired of his fellow Chindus about their performing of lady roles, and parodied the way it should be done. The
performance ended, in typical yakshagana style, with mangalam, auspicious praise for the gods and for the sponsors
of the event, performed by Brahman. The performers then returned as they had come, in procession to the Madiga settlement.
At the beginning of the text(5), Jambava claims that he was sent to earth one night by Brahma, Vishnu
and Ishwara (Shiva). Almost immediately, in a song he proclaims himself as 'born six months before the earth itself'.
Then there is a lotus in the waters and its flowers are producing fruits. Jambava cuts one open and Adishakti emerges, crowing
and dancing like a peacock. She delivers three eggs. What follows expands and fills this out with a second and apparently
different genesis narrative of the emergence from nothingness of the sound Om with lights flashing colours. Names are acquired
and these names are the original god, Adidevudu. From it/him the waters formed and the lotus in the waters. And in the lotus,
again six months before the birth of the earth, Jambava was born.
In the main development the precedence of Jambava
is therefore boldly established. He is present at the origin of everything. Though he is going on to proclaim himself the
grandfather (tata) of Brahma, Siva and Vishnu - the Trimurthis - he has from the beginning a separate identity distinguishing
him from the gods.
Though not carried systematically all through, a claim that Madigas recognise eighteen ages
(yugam), as compared with Brahmans' four, provides the frame for ordering this and the following narratives.
Their names are recited in the first example of the naming and listing which occurs throughout. It is one of the favoured
forms of learning - or performance skills - displayed repeatedly by Jambava. It was in the first age that the original god
was born. Subsequently he is most often called Parabrahmasvarupam which may be glossed as 'the essential self-created
spirit', and he has super-anthropomorphic form: five faces, ten eyes, ten hands, and all the vedas in him. A lotus and
other plants in the water were created in the second age. Jambava himself emerged from the water looking like a hairy animal
and carrying out austerities (tapas) and this marked the end of the fourth age. In the fifth it was the creation
of Adishakti who also, like Parabrahmaswarupam, had five faces and ten hands but also an extra eye (palanetram) in
her forehead, capable of burning up whatever it blazed on. She had five names, stars on her tongue and mantras in her mouth,
and a jewel granting all wishes (cintamami) in her navel. Again she is in the lotus but otherwise the story is now
different and Jambava and Adishakti have not met.
In the form of a bee, however, she searched the lotus looking
for someone else and found Jambava sleeping. Growing up, she tried to persuade him to have sex with her but he refused: he
was her elder brother, born in the preceding age. Instead she should undertake austerities (tapas) for the original
god. By such means she would summon him to fulfil her desire. This was accomplished and, in the form of peacocks, she and
he played in the waters. He impregnated her with three drops of his tears and she laid three eggs. From the eggs Brahma, Vishnu
and Shiva were born.(6) Providing for them in the watery world required an island and the building of a nest on it, and Adishesha,
the original serpent, to guard them. From the shells remaining, the rest of the form, furniture and living beings of the world
were created. Their resonant names and vast numbers are impressively listed, arriving finally at Kamadhenu, the cow that provides
unlimited milk - or perhaps anything that can be wished for; Kalpavriksham, the tree that is similarly bountiful with fruits;
and Palasamudram, the ocean of milk the churning of which was to yield immortality for the gods. They were to provide sustenance
for the newly born Trimurthis. At this point the purana of origination can be regarded as completed, with the Shaktipurana
already grounded within it.
Jambava is still the muni, holy sage and adviser of the gods, in this next stage, but the narrative
now goes beyond this to link him with his Madiga and other descendants and provide charters (Malinowski 1926) for their relationships,
privileges and pains. The three young gods have grown up and Adishakti now wants sex from them. Though she claims to be only
the mother of the eggs, hence their grandmother, they regard her as their own mother. They therefore refuse her and she seeks
to kill them. They turn to Jambava for protection. His advice is to agree to her request but to ask her to bathe first. She
will them remove her dangerous third eye before entering the water - the gods should seize it and use it to burn its owner
herself up. They do as instructed and she is reduced to ash. From the ash Parabrahmasvarupam, who now re-enters the story
to provide wives for the young gods, creates a new image of Adishakti. He divides it into five parts. From the head, the chest
and the navel he creates Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati, as wives for Brahma, Vishnu and Ishwara (Shiva) respectively. From
the fourth part, two wives are created for Jambava, and from the last part Kali, not as a wife but to help the gods (devata)
fight the anti-gods (asura) and demons (raksasa). She would do so in a succession of forms and would be
worshipped and receive animal sacrifice under so many names: 43 are listed in this text, most of them the names of village
goddesses. The passage locates the wives of Jambava amongst the goddesses but without being goddesses themselves. Their clearest
significance is that they express the relationship between the Madigas and their Chindu performers: the first wife is the
ancestress of the former, the second wife of the latter.
Having created wives for the Trimurthis, the task then
is to get them married. This necessitates jewellery, requiring the creation of precious metals for it. Vishwabrahma and other
craftsmen are required to make it, and Jambava to provide the leather bellows needed for melting the metal. Leather was however
lacking: this is its first appearance in the narrative and it is noted that he did not have cows. Having given his word to
provide the bellows nonetheless, a son, Yugamunindrudu, was born from the right side of his own stomach, to be killed by his
own father so that his skin would provide the necessary material. Once killed and his skin - indeed his bones too - used for
necessary implements, he still came back to life and cursed his father: 'you will forget your austerities and will become
a Chandala' - the puranic outcaste. Nobody would touch him. Eventually the curse was limited to five thousand years, but
Jambava nevertheless cursed him in return: 'you will be called Dakkali. You will beg for food in the houses of my descendants.'
The episode is completed with the successful making of the jewellery and the creation of a Kummari (Potter caste) to make
the pots needed for the marriages.
This is a passage of immense significance for Madigas. It establishes the link
with skin or leather, only it is not the skin of cattle but almost Jambava's own. It exemplifies the dependence of others
on the leather he provides, which is to be the major theme of the last section of the performance. And it fixes another inter-caste
relationship, that between Madigas and Dakkalis, another of their satellites. At its centre is the rooting of untouchability,
not in working with leather or even in anything to do with the cow, but in a human tragedy. Such generous pledging of help
as Jambava displays and its potentially tragic consequences are a well-known spring of action and emotion in the epics and
the rendition of stories from them in yakshagana: Lord Krishna, for instance, commits himself to avenge the spat-upon Gayodu
in the popular Gayopakyanam. In yakshagana, however, ultimate tragedy is avoided through the powers of gods: here however,
it is the outcome in mutual cursing amongst humans which is envisaged as having the direst of consequences for them and in
their everyday world. Curses are, in the universe of Hindu thought, neither in themselves wicked nor the historic fantasy
that they are in contemporary Western thought. It is not a mistake, nor wickedness, nor is it portrayed as entrapment by the
gods: it is a tragic consequence of a good man trying in extraordinary circumstances to do what is both necessary and right.
It is the following episode which sets up a dangerous relationship between Jambava and the cow.
The story now brings him into relation with the key source of the leather, dead cattle, indeed with the skinning of the dead
Kamadhenu. It is framed in a way which avoids any implication that this in itself is other than a valued skill. From this
Madiga perspective, the impending problem lies elsewhere, and blame will be firmly attached to a non-Madiga. Parvati and her
husband were moving in the forest. Parvati injured herself and blood from the wound became a tree and at its foot a boy, Chennaiah,
was born. The implication of his birth is that he is the child of Parvati, and quasi kinship with Jambava is established too.
The gods (devata) told Chennaiah to address Jambava, 'born six months before the birth of the earth', as
grandfather (tata). Chennaiah is first taken back with Parvati to Kailasam, Shiva's abode, to be the keeper there
for Kamadhenu. He, however, forms a desire to taste her meat, at which she dies of sorrow in front of Lord Shiva. The gods
are not up to the task of removing and cleaning the body. Chennaiah is therefore sent to fetch Jambava from his own place
where he is sitting, high up and engaged in the worship of lingams, the symbol of Shiva. Chennaiah means to call him: 'Grandfather,
come down!' but instead mispronounces the intention, saying instead 'Grandfather Madiga come!'
portents are bad: the disturbance has caused him to lose his lingams(7) and to be called 'Madiga'. He descends, interpreting
events as the working of the curse of his Dakkali son. He opens his treasures and hands on to his Chindu son, Jihmamuni, a
bell which Adishakti had given him. It is a conspicuous ornament worn by the Chindu playing Jambava in Gosangi Vesham. His
Chindu son is to come twice a year to the houses of the Madigas to receive his dues. Jambava and Chennaiah return to Kailasam
where he and the gods cut up the carcass. Chennaiah is to cook it for eating, but in the course of the cooking a piece falls
from the pot. He picks it up, blows on it to clean it and pops it back. This is the offence: he has polluted it with his breath
and the gods reject it: 'it is for Jambava and his grandson'. By implication, the gods are ceasing to eat beef as
polluted; it is to be for those cursed with untouchability only, but the restriction is linked to the polluting of food, not
to the sacredness of the living cow or danger from the dead one. Pollution as a phenomenon is not denied, but any understanding
of the cow in its death as intrinsically dangerous is turned aside. Disaster hangs over the whole sequence of events and is
expressed in a tirade of blame aimed at the unfortunate Chennaiah. Jambava proclaims him a Mala, the progenitor of the other
main 'Untouchable' caste of the region.
The impending end of the last age before the present age of ultimate
degeneration, Kaliyugam, is signalled. The gods will withdraw, leaving him, says Jambava, helpless in the bad place to which
they had summoned him. He begs from them the boon of the provision for his Madigas of paddy and other foods. He lists thirteen
kinds of residue from harvesting and threshing, as well as other items that people are to give them annually. Thus the final
element in the relationship of untouchability for the present age is set up. In it Madigas will continue to deal with the
successors to Kamadhenu as they die; they will continue to have the beef to eat but will be regarded as polluted for doing
so; and they will be provided with paddy and other means to life by those growing it. They will have a livelihood but its
cost in pollution and status loss is not disguised.
Performance and the goddess
Next we are taken into the world of war between the gods and the anti-gods and demons.
Shankara (Shiva) is killing them but with the resulting problem that from every drop shed of their blood another opponent
springs up. Adishakti reappears to provide a solution: she prevents the blood falling to earth by catching it on her tongue
and drinking it. However, this blood-drinking enrages her and she turns on the gods themselves. Jambava is recruited to pacify
her. To carry out this great service he is presented with 32 badges of distinction or 'honours' (birudamu) by the
gods. Vishnu creates for him the distinctive Madiga drum (dappu); Shiva presents a tiger skin; Virabhadra the ankle
bells (gajjelu) which all performers who dance wear; Shanmuka peacock feathers; and so on. These are more or less
closely connected with performing and displayed in the performance observed. Jambava, supported by his sons and his wives,
pacifies the fury of Adishakti by his Gosangi Vesham and returns to his home, Jambalagiri.
Only now does Goddess
Yellamma enter the narrative for the first time, in her Brahmanical form as Renuka, wife of the Brahman sage Jamadagni and
destined to be killed at her husband's behest by her son Parashurama. The focus is now on Chindus rather than Madigas.
Renuka/Yellamma is represented as fleeing from her son to Jambalagiri and seeking Jambava's protection. Parashurama, however,
comes to the town, manages to find his mother and kills her. She becomes a demon and chases the people to kill them. Jambava
therefore needs to protect his people from her but is unable to do it himself. He called first on his guru, Rudramahamuni.
He could not help, but his mention emphasises yet again Jambava's standing and piety. Likewise his first wife's Madiga
sons and his Dakkali son declared themselves unable to help. The Dakkali parried the request: his father having made him Untouchable,
how could he possibly have that strength. Finally Chindu Jihmamuni, the son of his second wife, was asked. He accepted the
task but on condition that all his father's 32 honours received from the gods should be passed on to him. This was agreed
and, so equipped, Jihmamuni and his wife Sridevasalani danced before Renuka and finally she was appeased. Yellamma - as she
is now named in the text - blessed the couple and gave Jihmamuni seven gifts of her own ornaments. His wife was to perform
Yellamma Vesham and they were to take it round people's houses every year. In return, they would receive offerings from
The text appears then to revert to the perhaps older story which preceded this Renuka episode. Chindu
Jihmamuni is again being given performance instructions but now by Parabrahmaswarupa and the other gods. Yellamma is not referred
to again until the very end of the performance. Taking up the earlier story, the Chindus are to perform for Jambava's
people and to take round with them the honours Jambava had handed on to them. There should be no marriage between Madigas
and Chindus. The Dakkali son receives instructions too: he is to beg in the houses of Madigas and to live to the east of them.
Five Jetti castes, attached to Madigas, Malas, Toddy Tappers, Weavers and Washermen - apparently descended from those to whom
the falling drops of blood mentioned above gave rise - are also called for instruction. They are to make the people happy
with their performances, except perhaps for the Madiga Jettis who are to be guards.(8)
Learning, caste schemes and the challenge to Brahmanism
The Shakti purana theme has been completed and the stories
of originations (Adipurana) are about to be with one short section grounding links with pastoral Gollas (Venkateswarlu 1997,
p. 20)(9). Jambava's claims to superior knowledge of caste and genealogy come to the fore. Only the [leather] theme remains to be finally developed. Cattle and leather are emphasised as the source of Madigas'
importance for others, simultaneously as the source of problems for themselves. The latter is identified as essentially Brahmanical
and is challenged. This is the theme that comes to dominate the last part of the performance.
The first major demonstration
of superior knowledge here is the listing of castes in three separate schemes. [...] The theme of caste knowledge and the
relationships of Madigas and other castes does not end here. Two further strands are woven together, one concerning puranic
relationships of origins and genealogy - another Brahmanical sphere of knowledge to be contested (c) - the other representing
the importance of Madigas' leather products for people of all castes. Relationships with Gollas lead the first strand:
the idea that Lord Krishna was a Golla rather than - the usual Brahmanic version - only brought up by pastoralists (O'Flaherty
1975, pp 204-13) leads into genealogical issues. The Madiga version has Jambava giving his daughter, Jambavathi, to Krishna,
making him the Madigas' son-in-law. The son of Jambavathi and Krishna, Sambudu, then married Lakshana, daughter of Dhuryodhana,
the Kaurava king in the Mahabharata.(10) The extended and contentious debate refers to inter-caste marriages, mixed descent
and anomalous births. Jambava uses it to ridicule Brahman ideas of proper descent and any radical separation between Brahmans
'Don't say that you are superior and Madigas are inferiors.
Oh fool! do you know who was superior and who was inferior in the past?
Don't talk without
knowing the past!
Oh Brahman, you are the son of a donkey.
are the slaves of other castes.
... to whom was Vyasa born?
Was he born to a Madiga or to a king?
... tell me who are bastards, Brahmans or Madigas?'
(Venkateswarlu 1997, p. 28)
Brahman bounces back with protests and counter-assertions.
The text runs on in sharp banter and mutual abuse. Sexual morals and practices - whether it is Brahmans or Madigas who were
born to prostitutes (lanja); who practise abortion to hide sexual irregularities; who refuse remarriage to child
widows - these and more are brought into vigorous contention.
Madigas' identification with leather is the last
strand running through the final section of the performance. The dependence on them of other castes as leather users is argued,
with song and acting, culminating in a final mocking of Brahmanical notions of leather as impure. Even Reddy landlords, Jambava
asserts, though they will not touch Madigas, use the footwear made by them. Others depend on their leather for their traditional
callings: Gouds use a leather sling made by Madigas to enable them to climb their toddy trees; Bhogams as dancers use it as
skins for their drums; Washermen (sakali) as blinkers for their donkeys. Even Brahmans, when they draw water for
their daily bath, must come into contact with leather. But not nowadays, responds Brahman: today we press the button
on an electric motor. Ah, Jambava answers, but the belt on the motor is prepared by Madigas. 'Everything in the world
can only work with the help of Madigas' (Venkateswarlu 1997, p. 34).
Mingled with this are direct challenges
Brahman: 'Hey, you son of a dog, don't touch me!'
Jambava: 'Hey, I touched you - you are impure!'
He rebukes Brahman for calling him ' Untouchable' and
educates him in the work of Sri Virabrahmam, a popular seventeenth century saint who denounced ideas of pollution and Untouchability.(11)
The published text ends with the acting out of a scene between Jambava as a contemporary village Madiga and Brahman
as a would-be customer for his chappal repair services. Brahman asked him to mend his chappal; Jambava denied that Madigas
do such work any more. Brahman tried to remind him that he would be wanting him to fix the propitious time for his son's
marriage.(12) Jambava denied it: they are knowledgeable too and can fix it for themselves. Brahman appealed to his good nature
and kicked the chappal to be mended over to him. In the performance this was a symbolic chappal, a stick with a thread tied
round it: his own potentially polluting leather chappals remained firmly on his feet. Though the represented insult was supposed
to anger Jambava, it also cued a word-play song proclaiming the central importance of footwear for life and for Goddess Yellamma
herself. He then distracted Brahman with talk of Madiga marriage customs and his son's wedding, before asking him to try
the repaired chappal. This necessitated his bending, only to be teased for bending before a Madiga. 'Yes, yes! That is
how you pay the respect that everyone offers to Madigas. Bend down again and repair your own footwear' (Venkateswarlu
1997, p. 35).
This was too much: Brahman announced that he was going to Kashi, otherwise Varanasi the holy city
of Hindu pilgrimage and death on the Ganges (Parry 1994). He enacted his going, finally overtly complicit in the undermining
of Brahman ideas, values and even dignity. He comes to a river; his chappals will be soaked; the water is rising; he will
carry them in his hands; the water has reached to his shoulders, to his head. So finally Brahman is carrying his leather footwear
on his head. He demonstrates where the real priority lies, not in issues of purity and pollution but in keeping one's
In the performance, though the action was over with this final discomfiture of Brahman, it was he
who led the final singing of praise to the gods and gave a concluding speech. In the past they used to perform Jamba Purana
for the Madigas, he said. In return they would receive donations. But now these people from Hyderabad had come to watch their
performance. God had sent these people from the city to help them. All Gods are the same: Adam, Eve, Allah, Rama, Krishna,
all are the same. People from different places worship the God with different names. Finally, everyone set off back whence
they had come, to the Madiga settlement for the working out of the ' help' which was to be provided.
This paper has outlined the performance of a living caste purana and the light it throws on its 'Untouchable'
owners' placing of themselves in the world. It lives in the sense of being still performed, if probably less frequently
than in the past, and in a dynamic adjusting of its legacy of narrative, song and issues to current circumstances. The account
here has shown how the performance is framed as a confrontation between the ' Untouchable' and the Brahman, seeking
to undermine the perceived claims to superiority of the latter in learning, in descent and in purity. It challenges notions
of purity and pollution in terms of which the owners of the purana as traditional leatherworkers, associating these ideas
particularly with Brahmans, know themselves to be devalued. Its claim is deeper and more radical however. [...] It is precedence
rather than coevality which is claimed, calling on cosmogonic traditions emphasising the female Shakti and making secondary
and junior the great male gods of contemporary Hinduism. [...]
If precedence is the fundamental theme here, and
the challenging of Brahman hegemony a contemporary relevance with strong local roots, the practical importance of Madigas
for others is the second major element. It has two parts to it, leather and performance. Dependence of others on Madigas as
the source of leather goods is established cosmologically in the provision, as so great a cost to themselves, of bellows for
furnaces, making metal-working possible, and in relationships with Visvakarmas in recognition of this. The relationship with
pastoral Gollas, at least in the region in question, is the major practical though less immediately telling example claimed.
Relationships with Toddy Tappers and a mass of other secondary claims mentioned are becoming ever more tenuous with the decline
in practical dependence on leather in recent times. This appears to be the point of greatest vulnerability in the puranic
tradition here: as leather becomes increasingly residual in the historical experience even of Madigas themselves, its significance
as a mythological concern is likely to be fading. A third theme is then performance signified in the Gosangi role, not merely
as entertainment though there is certainly an element of this, but in relation to the goddess, her pacifying and worship.
The purana, as has been seen, represents the power of Gosangi performance as having been passed on from the ancestor of the
Madiga cluster as a whole to one branch, the Chindus, but as regards performing more widely, Madigas have remained active
in their distinctive style of drumming and, since the mid-twentieth century, often in yakshagana performance. More recently
they have also been active in contemporary performing arts as promoted by the cultural wings of parties of the left. Their
identity as performing people therefore remains significant and, like the purana itself, alive to current change.
It is these aspects together which make the embraceable caste identity which is at odds with sheerly negative conceptions
of 'the Untouchable', asserting instead a multi-stranded tradition of which people can be proud. The problematic aspects
of Madiga identity are not ignored, but there is no reason to see them as, for Madigas, what the purana is primarily about.
Exclusion, Untouchability and poverty are accounted for, but contextualised within powerfully positive elements. The ability
to move and skin dead cattle is given a forcefully positive evaluation. The eating of beef is not represented as a mistake.
Its confinement to certain castes is the consequence of a change of heart by the gods which at once secured a source of nourishment
but also set apart those benefiting from it. A mistake had been made. It was not, however, to eat beef but to pollute it for
others by blowing on a piece thrown back into the pot. Even this somewhat tangential mistake had been made, not by a Madiga
but by the progenitor of their rivals, the Malas.
It was in any case not this, nor the gods, which caused Madigas'
downfall. Jambava is caught up in an epic tragedy. It is the tragedy of his Dakkali son, born to be killed by his father to
provide the leather needed for the bellows, cursing him in return, and the curse working out in exclusion through the intervention
of Parvati's Mala 'son'. Analogies with the fate of the Pandavas at the root of the Mahabharata epic and of Rama
in Ramayana, both well known here through yakshagana and other performance genres, come to mind. Most particularly it resonates
with the fate of the ever-faithful King Harischandra, condemned to serve an 'Untouchable' master in the burial ground
and the subject of one of the most popular and moving dramas of all the many performed today in Andhra Pradesh.(13)