What happened at Kunduru Hill

Selection from a Kannada oral epic

This is an excerpt from an oral epic popular in southern Karnataka. I translated this selection from Kannada on the suggestion of the well-known folkorist Dr H C Boralingaiah. He has transcribed the entire epic for the Kannada University, Hampi, in a book that runs into 300-plus pages. My translation appears in Painted Words, An Anthology of Tribal Literature, edited by G N Devy and published by Penguin (2002).

Was Manteswamy a rebel god?
An introduction to the epic
by Dr H C Boralingaiah


My lord comes to Kunduru Hill
Stands on Canopy Rock.

Light of the World, Light of the Heavens
Light of the Depths
Elder of the Earth
Looks at Kalinga Cave.
Can't make out if son Kempanna is inside
Doesn't know if he is dead.
Left the child captive to snakes,  captive to scorpions
Left him to be tormented by killer scorpions.
Can't find him: what use calling out to a dead son?
Elder of the Earth stands atop Kunduru Hill.
Within is Kempanna
Captive to snakes, captive to scorpions.

'I toss to the left--
The cobra torments me.
I turn to the right--
The python torments me.
God! I lie in the midde--
The killer scorpion torments me.
Can't bear this captivity.

Master, this snake captivity
The scorpion captivity
I can't bear, O Magician. 

The tender Kempanna
Lies in my cave, my child.

Every moment he contemplates
The feet of the Elder of the Earth
He hugs the python
And sobs loudly.

Master, Elder of the Earth
Mantedalingappa
Has cursed him.

On his temples 
Grow matti trees.
On the little one's forehead, son
Grow bhasumanga trees.
In his two eyes
Breed wasps.
In his nose
Grow muttuga trees.
In his mouth
O God! grows an anthill.

On his shoulders
Grow buruga trees.
On his back
Grow bilpatre trees.
Under his arms
Bees build hives.
Huge bees, child,
Little bees.

Inside his heart's nest
Cobras make children.
In his navel, child
A pipal tree is born.

In his palms
Grow angalinga trees.
From his feet
Grow padarakshi trees.
His plaits measure
Seventy arms' lengths.
They spread out all over the ground.

His fingers and toes, all nails
Embrace the globe.

The nails, they say,
Enclircled the globe.
A hundred and one scorpions
Spit venom into each hair hollow.
Snake venom gets into Kempachari,
Kempachari's venom gets into the snakes.
Inside Kalinga Cave lies little Kempanna.

He embraces the python
And lies quietly.

This snake captivity
Scorption captivity
The killer scorpion's torment
Cobra's torment--
I can't bear them, master
May Mantedalingappa's feet
Manifest on my head.

Don't know when the master's feet
Will appear, Kempanna thinks.
Hugging the python, he prays:
'I have no one but you.'

Forgets his mother
Forgets his father
Forgets his brothers
My darling
Forgets his hut
Cowshed, sheep
Bullocks, buffaloes
Renounces the twelve-lakh fortune
That awaits him in his house.

Ayya, Elder of the Earth
You are my only hope, says he.

Master, Elder of the Earth
Mantedalingappa
Light of Heaven, Image of Purity
Father, when do I behold your feet?

Elder of the Earth stands on Kunduru Hill
Hears the wails of Kempachari.

My son lives
My son isn't dead
My son is alive
He's praying to my feet.

The son who's praying
I must call now, says he.

Elder of the Earth
Mantedalingappa
Master of Magic
Says he will call
Son Kempachari.

Son, what is it, my darling?
What is it, my son?
Little darling
Little son
Seven-year-old
Tender Kempanna--
I heard your words
I heard your talk
Got angry
Pushed you into the cave
If you were just your parents' son
You would surely not have survived.

If you were just your parents' son, my darling
You wouldn't have survived twelve years.
My poor child, you've lived
Thinking of me.

I brought you, a seven-year-old
Born in your mother's womb
Nursed and raised by her
Only to lock you up in Kalinga Cave.
You were seven, then spent twelve years here.
Nineteen years have passed.
You've lived in captivity
With snakes and scorpions
Yet you think of me
Call me Elder of the Earth.
Child, you are indeed the son
of the Elder of the Earth.
You will be god to these humans.
I will make you god to the people of this world,
Will call your father, mother, friends and relatives.

I'll give you happy rewards, says he.
Kempanna, come out of the dungeon--
Show me your face.

Kempanna, I dragged you out
Of Basavachari's house
And Muddamma's hut.
Fooled you, befuddled you
Abandoned you in the cave.
The charm and grace of a seven-year-old
Fills my eyes.
Haven't set my eyes on you
Since that day, little one.

Heed my words this moment--
Come out, says he.

Child, if you become my son
I'll bestow on you
The world of humans
I have acquired.
I'll make you my successor
Make the son and moon your guards.
Make you the husband of goddesses.

Not five, not ten
Son, not a hundred
In this world of humans I've acquired
A good seven hundred village goddesses.
I'll make you husband to all seven hundred.

In this world of humans
I'll make you Siddappaji--
I'll call you my son
I'll make you guru
To the gods and humans of this world.

Kempanna, do you hear me
Down there in the dungeon?
Do you heed me?
My happy words
Will never turn untrue.
I'll never fail you, son.
Come up from your dungeon
Show me your face.

I have no parents
No brothers, no comfort of relatives
No wife and children to bother me
No pleasures of the family.
You have no parents, no relatives either.
I am alone, and so are you.
I rule over humans in this world
Don't fail them, son.

I'll make you god of the human world
And go away to the nether world

I possess eight hundred million
Living creatures
I'll make you lord of them all
And disappear to the nether world.

The world of humans I possess
Is all yours, child.

I can't live without you, son
Can't bear to live in this town without you

Where can I find a little darling like you?
Where can I beget a son like you?
In which house can I beg for a son like you?
So saying, the Elder of the Earth
Sits on a flaming seat.

My lord climbs Kunduru Hill
Master of the World
Elder of the World climbs the hill
As the little one cursed by him
Lies on his stomach
Hugging a python
Inside Kalinga cave,
Wondering when he'll see
The feet of the Elder of the World.

Elder of the World
Stands atop canopy rock
And calls out to his son thus: 

Darling, son of the ironsmith,
One with long life, come out. ||Siddayya||

Son of the ironsmith
Son of Basavachari
Son of Muddamma

Listen, my child
Kempachari, Kempachari
Get up and come out ||Siddayya||

Ayya, son Kempachari
Little Kempanna
Get up and come out
He calls out three times ||Siddayya||

Within Kempachari's tongue turns sweet
Hugging the python, he hears
The words of the Elder of the Earth
What he says is this:
Master of the World, I've forgotten them all
And lain here in Kalinga Cave for twelve years

Why take the names
Of those bastards ||Siddayya||

Pray don't mention the names
Of my father, my mother,
Don't call me Kempachari
Do I need that wretched name any more? ||Siddayya||

The name of little Kempanna
Suited the seven-year-old

Who needs that name now,
Says he, hugging the python.

Elder of the Earth
Speaks thus the second time:
Sorry I forget, my son.
You won't come if I call you
Son of Basavachari
You won't come, little one,
If I call you son of Muddamma.
You won't come, will you, dear son
If I call you Kempanna?

May the name your parents gave you
Cease in that dungeon this moment.
May the name of Kempachari
Perish this very day.

I'll call out right at least now
So says the Elder of the Earth:

Speaking parrot of my grove
Come, dear one ||Siddayya||

O precious stone
Come, dear one. ||Siddayya||

My gold medallion
Come, dear one ||Siddayya||

Son of the Elder of the Earth
Chieftain, my deep blue one
Come, dear one  ||Siddayya||

Siddappaji, Siddappaji
Get up and come, says he ||Siddayya||

Thus calls out my lord three times.
Hearing his words
The little one shakes himself up.
Where's my master calling out to me?
Having called out, where has he disappeared?

The moment he is called Siddappaji
He rolls left, rolls right
The tears in his eyes
Flow like a stream ||Siddayya||

The wasps in his eyes
Drop into the dungeon.
He opens his eyes
Looks left, looks right.
Hundreds of snakes and scorpions!
Plucks each from his body
Flings it away ||Siddayya||

He cleaves the python
He is hugging.
Such is his fury!
He looks up for the sky ||Siddayya||

Kempanna looks to find the sky
His eye falls on the huge boulder
Sprawling across the opening.
He spies a needle's eye of sunlight
Somewhere among the stones.
This must be the way, he thinks.

In wrath he gives the boulder
A violent kick ||Siddayya||

The sound strikes my lord
Like thunder ||Siddayya||

Who is this now, says the Elder of the Earth
I thought I was the mightiest
In this world of humans.
My son is mightier than I am
Says he ||Siddayya||

The boulder Siddappa kicks cleaves in two
One portion drops at the cave's opening.
The other rolls down.
Arrives at the door of the monastery
In Rajabappagowda Pura

It spins round and round
Like a top ||Siddayya||

  • Sung by Mahadevaiah of Hinakallu (near Mysore)
  • Transcribed by Hi Chi Boralingaiah
  • Translated from Kannada by S R Ramakrishna