Goddess Yellamma is the Ādiśakti popular Hindu deity in South India especially in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and in parts of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. She is the Hindu Goddess of the poor and downtrodden and is popularly associated with the Devadasi concept. The story of origin of Yellamma is unique and is associated with Goddess Renuka the mother of Parashurama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
According to legend, Renuka, the wife of Sage Jamadagni, was famous for her devotion and chastity. It is said that her chastity was so powerful that she had the divine power to collect water even in unbaked pots.
But once she happened to see a king making love to his wife on the riverbank and she had adulterous thoughts. She lost her divine powers and her husband Sage Jamadagni came to know about this.
The sage had five sons and in anger he ordered them to cut the head of Renuka. Four of them refused but Parashuram, the fifth son readily agreed to cut the head of his mother.When Parashuram raised his axe to kill his mother, she ran and took refuge in the house of a low-caste poor woman.
Parashuram followed his mother and while performing the act of beheading, he also accidentally chops of the head of the low-caste poor woman who tries to prevent the matricide.
Pleased with his son’s devotion, Sage Jamadagni asked Parashuram to accept a boon. He immediately said that he wanted his mother alive. Sage Jamadagni readily agreed and gave him a pot of water to be sprinkled on the corpse.
In a hurry to bring back his mother life, Parashuram accidentally placed the low-caste woman’s head with his mother’s body. Sage Jamadagni accepted this new form of his wife Renuka.
The original head of Renuka was from then onwards worshipped as Yellamma. And thus the Goddess is referred as Renuka Yellamma.Even today, symbolically the head of Renuka is worshipped by attaching it to a pot or basket in rural Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. There is also a symbolic meaning to the entire episode which is often left to listener of the story to interpret.
This goddess is worshipped by people of all castes. Ceremonies in her honour are performed by dobeys (cākala), toddy-sellers (īdige) and chucklers (mādige). Her temples, which are numerous in this district, are built at a little distance from the villages in the vicinity of the Sudra houses. They should be overshadowed by a margosa tree. There is, as a rule, in each a stone-image representing a woman with three eyes, in the shrine (mūlasthanamu), and near this a small image made of the five metals. In the verandah there is a small palanquin in which this smaller image is carried at festivals. People of all castes, Brahmans included, make offerings to the goddess of cocoanuts, incense, and not infrequently offer sheep. It is an Idige man who acts as pujari in presenting the usual offering, and who when an offering of food (bhojanamu) is presented, places a portion before the idol, and returns the remainder to the offerers. When a sheep is presented it is a dobey who sacrifices it. After he has cut off the head, he places it on the pandal in front of the temple, and those who have presented it, take away the carcase. The Madiga people who are present or rather those of the Mādigas who are set apart for the purpose, the Bainēnivāndlu, play upon the instruments and recite tales of the goddess, while offerings are being presented.