Ganda-Bherunda in Konkan (1)

Part 1 of 4

After a long hiatus, I begin my musings on anthropology, art, archaeology and history on my blog once again. Some of the less studied and slightly elusive motifs continue to tell their story in the annals of coastal India. Today I start with an exploration of a motif that has captivated the attention of mythologists, chroniclers, poets and common people like me (and probably you?).

The two-headed bird – Ganda Bherunda (rendered in traditional art form, Sawantwadi, Konkan)

Although the introduction of Ganda-Bherunda into Konkan is shrouded in mystery, the interaction of kings in Konkan with the rulers in medieval Karnataka seems to be the plausible influencing factor. To this day, scholars hold that the occurrence of Ganda-Bherunda in Konkan or Maharashtra state is a mere extension of the Kannadiga motif of the mythical bird. There is a real need to reassess the material sources in conjecture with the performative traditions and oral narratives for a holistic understanding of cultural processes. This series of blogs attempts a close reading of the extant sources, narratives, and a re-analysis of the Ganda-Bherunda motif in its as far as possible, undisturbed context on temples.

“Ganda” means strength or protector, and “Berunda (or Bherunda)” pertains to “terrible” in Sanskrit. It is not surprising that the form with terrible strength came to be a royal emblem over centuries. The prefix “Ganda” also implies masculine protector, as opined by Naidu (1997: 22). Ganda-Bherunda is generally depicted with bird-like attributes. A recurring association of Bherunda bird with Garuda makes for an interesting insight into the continuing belief around the saviour archetype for a big bird. We see this reiteration in case of Jatayu, the vulture, who attempts to rescue Sita in the epic Ramayana (Goldman and Pollock, 2016: 89). The Ganda-Bherunda in Ratnagiri district appears in its bespoke protector stance. Although one thrusts the association of power on these renditions of Ganda-Bherunda, the regional Konkani tradition makes for an alternate reading of the same motif, as will be elaborated subsequently.

“Ganda-Bherunda” or the two-headed bird well-known in Karnataka or Tuluwa dominions, is the state symbol of the state of Karnataka since c. 1947 CE. Ganda-Bherunda appears as a royal emblem for the Wodeyars (c. 1399 – 1950CE, intermittent rule) ruling from Mysore. The association of Ganda-Bherunda with administrative authority came in vogue since the Ganda-Bherunda type Vijayanagara coins (c. 1350 – 1650 CE). The Ganda-Bherunda form at Balligavi temple in Karanataka is an anthropomorphic figure with two avian (bird) heads. Other forms depict the mythical creature in its bird form, with a feathered body and two heads facing either side. A variety of depictions for this mythic bird may indicate an evolving iconographic tradition, as well as a plethora of narratives that have influenced its representation through material culture.

It is useful to point out the Vaishnava association with Ganda-Bherunda, as seen in Karnataka, expressed in the Puranic lore[i] of the medieval period. Puranas narrate the need to curb the angry Hindu deity Vishnu, in the form of Man-lion (Narasimha) after killing the anti-hero Hiranyakashyapa. Shiva, another deity of the Purana, incarnates as Sharabha to challenge Narasimha. Among various descriptions, Sharabha is portrayed as a hybrid between an elephant and a tiger. The Puranic texts with Shaivite affiliation give gleaming accounts of the duel between Sharabha and Narasimha, ultimately leading to Sharabha’s win. The Vaishnavite Puranas add to the narrative by introducing Vishnu’s further complex form as “Ganda-Bherunda” who overpowers Sharabha[ii]. The narrative trope posits a higher status onto Ganda-Bherunda, thereby igniting the conversation on Shaiva-Vaishnava strife of the early medieval period (c. 700 – 1000 CE).

The emergent narrative on Ganda-Bherunda thus ties the motif firmly with Vaishnavism. However, to blindly follow this Puranic narrative would imply a complete disregard for the other sectarian associations tied to Ganda-Bherunda apparent in Konkan. Although this paper does not intend to trace the discursive space of the motif or as a religious symbol, it is ideal for pointing out that the motif does not occur in Konkan in association with any cultic deity. The cultic deities in Konkan studied so far (for details, see Hadap and Joglekar, 2008) occupy a tutelary role in the Konkani villages. Ganda-Bherunda, on the other hand, occupied an ambivalent space – both as an iconographic form and as a totem of traditional practice.

– Durga @kalemighty


[i] The medieval Hindu texts, the Puranas (lit. old or ancient) received a sizable following across the subcontinent. The Narratives or legends found in Puranas are referred to as “Puranic” in the paper.

[ii] Al-Beruni, a traveler during the medieval period in Maharashtra, describes a curious animal with lion-like body and multiple legs and mentions “Scharan” as the name of the curious animal (Nairne, 1894). Could it be a hearsay about Sharabha?


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