Gods, Gifts, Trouble
DevaDasi Rites
One day the jogatis took me to the river for a puja (worship, rite). Mahadevi
came to our door early in the morning, saying: “Today we are taking the
devi [goddess] to the river—will you come along?” As was often the case
when they called us to go roaming with them and the two devis, Yellamma
and Matangi, we set off with very little information about what might un-
fold. Usually, my research assistant Jyoti and I followed them from farm-
house to farmhouse, for festivals or for household rites on auspicious occa-
sions such as the birth of a female buffalo calf or the successful drilling of a
new bore well. On that spring day, for the festival of the river goddess, we
climbed into a flatbed truck that was trailing a big green tractor: the four
jogatis—Mahadevi, Durgabai, Yamuna, and Kamlabai—assorted children
and devotees from the village, Jyoti, and me. The two traveling devis, in
the form of faces cast in brass and wrapped in saris sitting in the middle
of brightly painted wooden baskets, had been placed in the front of the
truck. During our bumpy ride over the pockmarked roads characteristic
of this district in northern Karnataka, an area rich in sugarcane but poor
in infrastructure, I asked Mahadevi whose tractor we were traveling in.
She pointed to the landlord farmer swaying in the tractor seat next to the
driver and explained that, even after several years of marriage he and his
wife were childless, so he had decided to sponsor the bringing of the devi
to the Krishna River.
I recognized in this account the making of a harake (vow to a deity) in
which devotees seek to secure blessings of fertility and prosperity from
the devi through acts of propitiation toward her. Devotees make material
or bodily offerings such as parched grain, saris, silver ornaments, pil-
grimages, prostrations, renunciations, or ecstatic performances. I came to
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