Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mylara - a unique deity

Mylaralingeshwara with Gangamali
(Picture of a picture given to us)


This is a reproduction of an article in Star of Mysore (Published in July 2009) by Prof. A. V. Narasimha Murthy, Former Head, Department of Ancient History & Archaeology, University of Mysore

Mylara, Mylari, Mylarappa, Mylari Rao etc., are some of the popular names in Karnataka and parts of Maharashtra even today.

In my college days, there used to be an excellent English professor Mylari Rao at Maharaja's College, Mysore, whose thousands of students are spread not only all over Karnataka but even abroad. In recent years, Mylari Hotel has become famous for tasty and crispy dosas. That is a different matter.

With the development of Puranas, the scope and content of Hinduism was widened so as to include many new deities. Such deities are not known to vedas and upanishads. As and when needs arose locally, the Puranas created such deities which in course of time became quite popular. This democratization of religion was a strong character of Hindu religion.

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan has said that Hindu religion is a not water-tight compartment but a vibrant religion moving with times with dharma as its main content. This has elevated persons like Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhwacharya, Basavanna and others to the level of divinities to be worshipped in temples.

Now let us consider Mylaralinga, Mylaradeva, Mallari, Mallari Bhairava etc. In Maharashtra area, he is also called Khandoba. The Puranas explain the birth of Mylara as follows:

There was a hill called Manichoola and saints used to live there happily performing Yajnas and Yagas. A demon by name Myla also called Malla invaded the mountain and tormented the saints, their family, cows and their belongings. The saints went to Indra and requested him to kill this demon. But Indra asked them to go to Siva which they did.

Siva took the form of Bhairava and killed the demon Myla or Malla and became famous as Mylari or Mallari and then onwards came to be worshipped in the form of Mylaralinga. Khande means a sword and as Siva killed demon Myla with this sword, he also came to be called Khanderaya which became Khandoba in Maharashtra area. Khanderaya is also used as a personal name in Karnataka.

There is a folk tale connecting Aurangazeb with Khandoba. When Aurangazeb invaded Jejuri, people fought valiantly chanting the name of Khandoba and Aurangazeb was pleased by the bravery of these people and referred to him as Ajamatkhan.

A stone record refers to him as God Mallu Khan. In the border areas of Karnataka and Maharashtra where this cult is more popular, even the Muslims used to worship him for his valour and bravery and hence the deity is associated with such Muslim names. These are all later developments. It is very difficult to fix the antiquity of this deity from our literary records. One of the Shankara Vijaya works which was composed in the fourteenth century has a reference to this cult. The devotees of Mallari, who were living in Ujjain had dog as their symbol and were behaving like dogs. Shankaracharya taught them the real significance of Siva and asked them not to follow the magico-religious practices. This is supported by another Kannada work Samaya Parikshe in which it is clearly stated that this deity is of recent origin, and one Minister Chattappa was responsible for extending patronage to this deity by building temples for him.

This also points to about tenth century AD. Even the great Sringeri saint Vidyaranya refers to Mylara as a tantric deity. Some of the Veerasaiva works also refer to Mylara. Stone records of eleventh century refer to this God. From all these historical records it becomes clear that this deity was in a dormant state in the early period and gradually became prominent after shedding off the tantric associations. Many families adopted him as their family deity and began to use Mylara as a proper name.

Mylara had two wives of which Malachi became famous. Some scholars take this name as a corrupt form of Mahalakshmi while others explain it as a Goddess of Mountain or Forest and hence equate her with Parvati, the consort of Siva. In course of time, Malachi was sanskritised as Madalasa and Malathi and Mylara became Malathesha. Malachi generally has two or four hands with sword, trisula, damaru and a cup in her hands.

In course of time, Goravas became the descendants of Mylara in Karnataka and Vyaghra in Maharashtra. The Goravas of Karnataka have a special dress which includes woolen long coat, a skin bag, necklace of cowrie (Kavade) and a hairy headgear. Even now they can be seen in villages. In Maharashtra they use the tiger skin to adorn themselves.

Temples for Mylara are found in many parts of Karnataka such as Devara - gudda (Dharwad), Kubatur (Shimoga), Anegondi (Raichur), Devi Hosur (Dharwad), Mylara (Bellary), Jejur (Poona), Naladurga (Osmanabad). Two stone records found in Banashankari temple (Devi Hosur) praise Malachidevi as having conferred the grace on the rulers of the area.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this deity is his non-sectarian character. The Brahmins, the non - brahmins of different sects and even Muslims are found to be his devotees. Thus this deity has an interesting development taking origin in the Puranas, becoming obscure in the early stages and getting prominence later by Aryanisation without losing his original significance. That is how this deity appears unique.


Some snippets:

This Gorava kindly honoured my request for his picture (above) recently.

Picture above was taken in our home backyard in 1970. As was the custom, Goravas were invited before any auspicious function in the family. On that occasion, it was my sacred thread ceremony. In this picture, they are not in their "full uniform".

Fully attired in their customary dresses, Goravas used to visit houses of followers of Mylara - somehow they would this find out - and would make the residents to worship them, which was a custom in olden times, but that was a time when commercialization was taking shape. So had developed this habit of forcing their way in and demanded the ladies in the house to offer milk to Lord Mylara, which they drank out of their own curious containers, do various rituals and demand money for that. If they refused, they would threaten that Lord Mylara will not be happy! So the poor women would yield. I have seen it once or twice in my younger days.