Ganda-Bherunda in Konkan (4)

The formal overview of the history of the Ganda-Bherunda motif in Post-1 of the series, Post-2 introduced the specific sites in Konkan. In Post-3 of the series, I introduce a rather unorthodox viewpoint – of connecting the Ganda-Bherunda motif with the Tantric fold. Where does that lead us? Let us find out…

Ethnographic data indicating Bherunda-Bherundā overlap

Shiva is worshiped for poison-drawing, among other boons, at numerous Shaiva shrines. This association is intact at the shrines of Amneshwar and Rajwadi. Priests at both temples reported the existence of a specific deity for poison drawing at the temple. At Amneshwar and Rajwadi, the locals connect the water tanks on the premises of the temples with the rites of purification (as was the case with most other temples). Although it is a common trope for Hindu temples, recall the narrative of Chiccuka from Brahmapurana that associates ritual bath with the avian form and the absolving sin. The priest mentioned a specific deity in its bird form “different from Garuda – the eagle, mount for Vishnu,” at Rajwadi. It was a striking discovery for the author.

Ganda-Bherunda, in its bird form, appears at Rajewadi and Amneshwar. The worship of a poison-drawing deity with avian features, appeased by chanting (mantra) was a curious unfolding of practiced traditions, much before the chance reading of Slouber’s account in which Bherundā appears as a tantric deity associated with poison-drawing. The avian deity now known merely in the memory of the aged priests was dubbed “Yakshi” in the oral accounts. The corroboration of Bherundā with the Bherunda motif would not have been for Slouber’s work on the Tantric deities.

The chants for the poison drawing Yakshini were in the form of instructions to draw poison from the bodies of the affected. Words of banishment would be uttered for the poison to leave the human or animal body[i]. The priest at Rajwadi Shiva temple pointed to the wooden carving of a cow next to the Ganda-Bherunda depiction, recalling from his childhood memories that one such cow bit by a snake, was cured by the Yakshini right here (in the temple). The chants recorded for poison-drawing at the site are eerily similar to the ones from Garuda Tantra texts mentioned by Slouber (2017). A general familiarity with the chants from Garuda Tantra is noteworthy in a global context, as also mentioned in Slouber’s book “Early Tantric Medicine…”

The legend of poison curing at Amneshwara temple is not as dramatic. An offering of coconut to Amneshwara for the nameless Yakshi who rides a two-headed bird cure the snake bite. The description of Bherundā as a Yakshi is also connected intimately with the Shakta tradition (Rosen-Stache 1976)[ii]. With a small data-set such as this, ethnographic work can endeavor to patch some narratives that have not received dedicated academic study. The continuing stream of tradition in the local performative sphere attests to these intricate processes of interlocution with the textual traditions. Borrowing Kunal Chakravarti’s nomenclature, I call this “religious process” (Charkravarti, 2001).  

Religious Processes can be summarized as the overlap of narratives between the local performances and the textual traditions with a broader audience. Chakrabarti analyses the case of Purana literature in Bengal for the analysis of the process. For the current paper, the Tantra texts and their local adaptation in Konkan is a case in point.

Shaiva, Shakta, Jaina, and Buddhist modus operendi for gaining boons that cure maladies converge to a considerable degree. A sustained scholarship is involved in etching out the overlap between these traditions for over a decade (Mallison 2019). The overlap of various sectarian currents in Konkan has been a topic of recent studies (see, Joge 2018a, 2018b). The religious process, with its shared deity sphere and recurring symbology such as Yakshi or a bird, seems to transect the sectarian boundaries. Poison-drawing Yakshi with an avian association in Rajewadi and the banishing chant for poison uttered for Bherundā (c.f. Schlouber 2017) indicate a close connection between the two.

With the rising complexity in the iconographic trends, the composite forms developed as a synecdoche for a multitude of narratives in one iconographic form (Srinivasan 2008). The suggestion of the priest at Amneshwar temple that the later goddesses in Konkan depicted with multiple arms were in fact an adaptation of the quasi-bird form of the poison drawing Yakshi. A wooden image of a deity (labeled as Manasa) from Sawantwadi Palace Museum (Sindhudurg district) reminded the priest’s observation of multiple arms as wings of a large bird on a female body. Bagalamukhi (stork-faced), Shukamukhi (parrot-faced) and other composite renderings of Maha-Vidyas and Yoginis studied so far trace the evolutionary iconographic schema (see, Dehejia 1986). Studies pertaining to the material from Konkan are currently unknown, to make any further connections for the half-bird-half-human form of the Yakshini.  

Yakshini from Sawantwadi collection

A shrine dedicated especially to Yakshi(ni) in Mangaon, to the south of Sangmeshwar taluka, continues its renown associated with poison-drawing and other healing boons. The Yakshini temple has long been regarded as a site to obtain curing boons. At this site as well, the water tank is connected with healing boons from the sacred water. An imposing Ganda-Bherunda wooden motif was present at the site which fell prey to decay or antique dealing. It is for this reason that the Mandgaon site is cursorily mentioned to establish the connection of snake-drawing deity and the Ganda-Bherunda motif in Konkan.

The Garudi temple at Kanyale village in Sindhudurg also bears a weak link with Ganda-Bherunda. The Garudi temple site is renowned for the practice of poison-drawing and alleviation of diseases. The extant temple is a renovated building based on a Dravida-style temple construction template.  The older building was a wooden structure, with avian imagery on pillars and architraves. The shrine, dedicated to Shiva, had a Berunda-pole at the temple site. Since the temple renovation in 2016, the Bherunda pole is but a legend passed on from older to the younger generation. The temple is often mentioned as “Garuda” temple. With either nomenclature – Garuda or Garudi – the anti-snake narrative shines through.

Two other instances of Ganda-Bherunda depiction come from the temple at Kunkeshwar in Devgad taluka, Sindhudurg district, and Parshuram temple at Devache Gothane in Ratnagiri district. Both temples underwent renovation in 2014-2015. Ganda-Bherunda motif at Kunkeshwar temple is placed in a niche on the exterior wall of the temple, put together with modern building material. This particular motif can be interpreted as a reiteration of the political and naval power of the bygone dynasties in the area. At Devache Gothane, the Bherunda motif is in bird form, echoing the style of Amneshwar Ganda-Bherunda.

Conclusion: Ganda-Bherunda in a spatial context

Three Ganda-Bherunda motifs discussed in the paper (from Rajwadi, Burambad and Pedhe) connect with some female goddess through performance or spatial association. The descriptions of Berundā are mute about the number of bird heads for her form but add the detail of a blue throat due to the consumption of poison. If the Buddhist story of Garuda-Upagaruda is read in context, the association of the Bherunda bird with poison eating can be extrapolated from the textual evidence. A further association of Bherunda through Jain narratives satisfactorily establishes Bherunda bird with the practices of healing and boons for health. The history of religious traditions in Konkan presents a syncretic (although not non-violent in all cases) shared sacred space. The belief in Bherundā (Yakshi) developed in the anthropomorphising as a large bird in Konkan. In the interest of the length of the paper, further connections of Bherunda birds with Garuda, and with female deities such as Mahavajreshwari are reserved for another discussion. These connections, alongwith tangential references to Manasa (as seen in the Palace Museum at Sawantwadi) connect with a sphere of deities venerated for the alleviation of snakebites and poison-drawing practices.

Following the 11th century CE, the popularity of Ganda-Bherunda in the present state of Karnataka increased fourfold, as attested by the inscriptions, iconographic references, and literary records[iii]. Ganda-Bherunda appears routinely as an honorific epithet borne by the Kannadiga kings from Hoysalas to the Keladi Nayakas. Traveling from Keladi dominated area of Karnataka to the coastal villages of Konkan in Maharashtra, the motif lost its sectarian and political association. In case of the kings in Konkan, the prefix “ganda” is used to denote heroic character, but the homage to Ganda-bherunda of political or military power was lost.

A strong, hero-like (ganda) Bharunda or Bherunda bird was also revered as a deity and carried in processions with other auspicious objects such as the celestial cow (kamadhenu), servants of the deity, etc (Shastri 1974: 4). The village festivals in Konkan to this day feature such a ritual procession of the main and auxiliary deities along with the sacred symbols and paraphernalia. This connection may indicate the representation of Ganda-Bherunda alongwith the multi-headed celestial cow at Rajwadi and Amneshwar.

Traveling north-west from Belligavi, the site of Bherundaswamin temple, Ganda-Bherunda appears again as a royal insignia for the Kadambas of Goa. The site of Kunkeshwar can be interpreted as the northernmost point for Ganda-Bherunda motif associated with military power. Other sites mentioned above on the Konkan coast use the motif as a mere relic, with associations from performative traditions. The “religious process,” leading to a shared space for popular deities and textual (or inscriptional) tropes, is not uncommon. Once we stretch the limits of appropriation, and the boundaries between sacred and secular consumption of form are allowed to bleed into each other, Ganda-Bherunda motif can easily be viewed as Bharanda-pakshi (bird), or Bherunda Yakshi.

Such analyses across the sectarian traditions, nuanced attention to the typical motifs could divulge untapped connections. The avian form of the mythical being with two heads morphs many attributes, including the association as Garuda itself. Ganda-Bherunda gets incorporated as a motif for the aniconic Nitya deity and her body-practices associated with poison-drawing. Popular Berunda bird of erstwhile Mysore survives a morphed representation in Konkan.


[i] Bherunda chant furnished by Slouber from the Garuda Tantra texts (page 117): Om to Yoga Mother Bherunda whose basket is filled with spells, listen to the mantra! As you cry out, screech, you destroy the poison, be it from a plant or animal – terminate it! Destroy it! Make it fail! Go! RE! Go! RE!

I was able to record a chant for poison-drawing in Marathi language, at the site of Rajwadi. It reads as follows: “Oho oho Om phat om phat. Aai tu vish shoshun gey, kay ahe nai te bagun ghe. Orad, rad, ragav tu, pan ish-sare piun tak tu. Pashu-paki, manus-bai, sarva jite asu de. Vish badha talu de…Oho oho om phat om phat.”

English translation is as follows: (sounds and om) Mother, absorb the poison, and see to it what is or is not (what remains and what does not). (you) scream, cry, get furious, but (you) drink all venom. Animals-birds, man-woman, may all live. May the poison-affliction be averted. (sounds and om)

[ii] Reference to Shabdkalpadruma and Kalikulasarvasva texts cited in Bherundaswamin(?) text in Kannada. I was unsuccessful in tracing the Kannada text, and the corroboration of data from Schatche-Rosen’s work remains to be undertaken for further comment on Yakshi form of Bherunda.

[iii] Some inscriptions honoring Ganda-Bherunda: Chalukya inscription at Belgami (1047 CE), Pillar inscription at Keladi (1060 CE), Yadava king Ramachandra’s Berundaswami inscription (1294 CE), Hebbailu stone inscription (1099 CE), Santalinge inscription (1191 CE), Belur inscription (1191 CE).


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