Punyakoti - a forgotten tale

Synaptic Muddle
Synaptic Muddle / 7 yrs ago /

Simple childhood pleasures of the pre-TV era


Slice of Life

Punyakoti - a forgotten tale

Simple childhood pleasures of the pre-TV era

dharaNi manDala madhyadoLage

mereyutiha karNATa dEshadOLiruva

kALinganemba gollana pariyanentu pELvenu

I speak about the cowherd Kalinga residing in the resplendent country of Karnata(ka)
within the middle region of the earth .

My earliest memory of this song is that of hearing it on our old valve radio. It was a favorite of my mother and we would be hushed into silence whenever it was played by Akashavani. A folk song that was popular in most parts of Karnataka, it was used as the title song of a critically acclaimed Kannada movie of the 70’s. To this day it is probably the only song that I can sing… or should I say recite, in full.

eLeya mAvina marada kELage koLalnUduta golla gauDanu

baLasi ninda turugaLannu baLige karedanu harushadi

gange bAre gauri bAre tungabhadre tAyi bAre

puNyakOTi nInu bArE endu gollanu karedanu

golla kareda daniya kELi ella hasugaLu bandu nindu

chelli sUsi hAlu kareyalu alli tumbitu bindige

satyavE bhagavantanemba puNyakOTiya kateyidu

Playing his flute under the young mango tree, the cowherd called to the cattle standing around him

Ganga (e) come, Gauri come hither, mother Tungabhadre come, Punyakoti you too come”

On hearing the cowherd’s voice, the cows came closer, and upon milking them, the vessel was filled to the brim.

This is the tale of Punyakoti who believed that Truth is God

During my childhood years, the annual visit to our ancestral village to spend the summer vacation was something that I looked forward to. For two months every year, I would be transported into a world very different form that of the urban English speaking Jesuit school that otherwise made up my universe. The remote village in south interior Karnataka which was connected by just two buses a day to the outside world was a rallying point for our extended family. Several uncles, aunts and cousins would descend down to this hamlet in the hot months of April and May. While the grown ups would spend the day lounging and chatting around the central sky lit ‘tank’ of the thotti mane, we kids would romp through the fields and coconut groves, hanging out of mango tree branches, riding buffalos or chasing sheep through narrow hedge lined lanes. Late in the evenings, after the cattle had come home and cows had been milked and calves were reunited with their mothers, we would sit playing chouka bara or chenne maNe under the harsh light of the lone tungsten bulb in the jagaLi or more often around a dull flickering kerosene chimney lamp. An occasional tale of Abhimanyu or Gatodhkaja narrated by my toothless grandmother was a special treat on such occasions.

habbidA male madhyadoLage arbhutAnendemba vyAghranu

abbarisi hasihasidu beTTada kibbiyoLu tAniddanu

moredu rOshadi guDugutA huli bhOriDuta

chhangane jigidu negeyalu chedari hOdavu hasugaLu

In the middle of the spreading forest, a hungrily roaring tiger named Arbhutan lived in a cave among the mountains

Bellowing and thundering with rage, the tiger in search of a meal leapt and jumped amidst the cattle upon which they ran helter - skelter.

puNyakOTi emba hasuvu tanna kandana nenedukonDu

munna hAlanu koDuvenenuta chendadi tA barutire

indenage AhAra sikkitu endu bEgane dushTa vyAghranu

bandu baLasi aDDagaTTi nindanA hulirAyanu

The cow named Punyakoti, thinking of her child and planning to feed her was coming by

“Today I have found food” thought the wicked tiger and circling the cow he stood blocking her way

mEle biddu ninnanIgale bILahoyvenu ninna hoTTeya

sILibiDuvenu enuta kOpadi khULa vyAghranu kUgalu

ondu binnaha huliye kELu kandaniruvanu doDDiyoLage

ondu nimishadi moleya koTTu bandu sEruve nillige

hasida vELege sikkidoDaveya vashava mADade biDalu nInu

nusuLi hOguve matte baruveya husiya nuDiyuvenenditu

“I will fall upon you and bring you down. I will split your belly” screamed the tiger.

Punyakoti says “Listen Tiger, I have a request. I have a son in the cowshed. I will feed him and return to you in a minute”

“At a hungry time when I have cornered you, if I do not capture you, you will slip away. Will you come back? You are lying” says the tiger

satyavE namma tAyi tande satyavE namma bandhu baLaga

satya vAkyake tappi naDedare mechchanA paramAtmanu

satyavE bhagavantanemba puNyakOTiya kateyidu

“Truth is our mother and father. Truth is our near and dear. If the truth is not followed, the Supreme Self will not approve” answers Punyakoti

This is the tale of Punyakoti who believed that Truth is God

One particular summer, my mother and her sister suggested that we enact the story of Punyakoti. It took us a week to amicably settle who would play what role in the dance drama. Everyone wanted to be Punyakoti. Thonta, our next door neighbor, the favourite of all the adults for his impeccable behavior was rewarded with the role of Punyakoti. Two days of stubborn petulance and a bucketful of tears did not help my cousin who fancied herself as Punyakoti. She had to settle for the ‘side role’ of Thungabhadra. My Chikappa Giri who was a couple of years older than me and who was the only one amongst us whose voice had broken enough to roar convincingly was chosen to play the Arbhutan the tiger. I managed to salvage the role of Kalinga the cowherd thanks mainly to the fact that I was the only one who had managed not to break the bamboo flute that we had bought at the village fair the previous week. Thonta’s cute little kid borther Kishore was a natural choice to play Punyakoti’s calf-son. The others had to resign themselves to being the other cows and calves in the cowshed. For four evenings we practiced singing and acting our roles under the direction of my mother and aunt. And then we were finally ready. Most of the kids of the village assembled that evening to watch the play.

kondu tinnuvenemba hulige chendadinda bhAshe koTTu

kanda ninnanu nODi pOguve nendu bandenu doDDige

Ara moleyanu kuDiyalamma Ara baLiyali malagalamma

Ara sEri badukalamma Aru nanage hitavaru

“I have come after promising the tiger who wanted to kill and eat me that I will return to him after seeing you” says Punyakoti to her child

Punyakoti’s calf: “Whose udder shall I drink from? By whose side shall I sleep? With whom shall I live? Who is there to be good to me?”

My grandfather helped me wear a kachche for the first in my life. A towel wound around my head and another tied around my waist transformed me into a rustic cowherd. A thin moustache drawn with my Aunt’s kadige made me feel twenty years older. The flute tucked through my waistband completed my costume. Thonta was wrapped in a white bedsheet to be made into Punyakoti and had a black ribbon stuck on the butt for a tail. Giri, bare chested and streaked with charcoal and sandal became a fearful tiger. Kishore draped in an oversized white kurtha, crawling around on all fours turned into a frisky little calf. My Mom and Aunt provided the vocals with all of us pitching in with our totally out of pitch voices.

Everything went on well until Giri made an entry. His incessant roaring all but drowned the singing. He pranced around with gay abandon and (unintentionally) knocked Punyakoti right off her (his) feet. The costume came off and the play had to be interrupted to find more safety pins to put Punyakoti’s hide back on.

ammagaLirA akkagaLirA enna tAyoDa huTTugaLirA

kanda nimmavanendu kANiri tabbaliyanI karuvanu

munde bandare hAyabEDi hinde bandare odeyabEDi

kanda nimmavanendu kANiri tabbaliyanI karuvanu

Punyakoti: “Oh mothers and sisters, those born to my mother, please look upon this orphan calf as your own”

“If he comes in front of you, please do not gore him. If he gets behind you kindly do not kick him. Please look upon this orphan as your own child.”

tabbaliyu nInAde magane hebbuliya bAyannu hoguvenu

ibbarA R^iNa tIritendu tabbikonDitu kandana

satyavE bhagavantanemba puNyakOTiya kateyidu

“Son, you have become an orphan. I am going into the mouth of the great tiger. Our bond ends here” Punyakoti hugs her child

This is the tale of Punyakoti who believed that Truth is God

I know this may sound corny, but even to this day, a strange sense of heaviness comes over me when I remember my mother singing those lines.

gOvu karuvanu biTTu bandu sAvakAshava mADadante

gaviya bAgila sErinintu tavakadali huligenditu

khanDavideko mAmsavideko gunDigeya bisiraktavideko

chanDavyAghrane nInidellava nunDu santasadindiru

Leaving the calf behind, the cow with no further delay stood in front of the cave door and said anxiously

“Take my flesh, take my meat. Take the warm blood from my heart. Oh fierce tiger, have all this and be happy”

puNyakOTiya mAta kELi kaNNanIranu surisi nondu

kanneyivaLanu kondu tindare mechchanA paramAtmanu

enna oDahuTTakka nInu ninna kondu Ena paDevenu

ennutA huli hAri negedu tanna prANava biTTitu

Listening to Punyakoti’s words, the tiger was pained. Shedding tears, he says “If I kill and eat you it will not please God Almighty”

“You are like a sister born with me. What will I gain by killing you?” So saying, the tiger jumped down and gave up his life

The end was spectacular. A high bench covered with hay served as the perch on which the tiger was to wait for Punyakoti to return. In the climactic scene, when the tiger leaps off the cliff and gives up his life, Giri who was by now high on an adrenaline rush leapt of the bench with much energy, did a back flip and landed with a thud. The bench came crashing down on him. Punyakoti barely managed to get away in time and prevented a hilarious and contrarian ending.

The applause was deafening. None of us understood that night what all that fuss about truth and God was but Giri was definitely a hero.

satyavE bhagavantanemba puNyakOTiya kateyidu

This is the tale of Punyakoti who believed that Truth is God

As we grew up, the visits became less frequent. Life took us in different directions. Death played its part too. Thonta was nineteen when he rushed into a swollen Kabini to rescue a friend. Both of them were fished out dead a few hours later. His sister who played one of the calves died of leukemia when she was seventeen. Giri is now a much mellowed man with a paunch that would make back flips unimaginable.

A few months ago, we had gathered in the village again for a cousin’s wedding. There were a bunch of kids more or less of the age that we were when we played out Punyakoti’s tale years ago. They were all hunched together and unusually quite. I went up to them to see what they were up to. In the center of the group was Giri’s five year old with his dad’s mobile phone in hand, engrossed in a video game. The others were trying to peer over his shoulder to get a look at the monstrous looking car that he was racing in the game.

I wonder if they have heard of Punyakoti...

* * *

Clip from the movie "Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane" (Son, you have been orphaned)

* * *

thotti mane - a house of traditional architectural style commonly seen in the old Mysore region . 'Thotti' refers to a shallow square tank like structure in the center of the house which is open to the sky. The house is built around the thotti which is lined by pillars.

chouka bara and chenna maNe - traditional indoor board games. Chouka bara is something similar to ludo played on a grid usually drawn on the ground with chalk stone or charcoal and which uses cowries as dice. Chenne maNe is a played with a wooden pitted board and dried tamarind seeds.

jagaLi - verandah

chikkappa - paternal uncle

kachche - A form of dress worn by men. A wrapping around the waist tucked up between the legs and secured behind.

kadige - black eye liner.

Source for lyrics: http://www.cs.toronto.edu/~kulki/kannada/kannada.html

* * *

Synaptic Muddle

Copyright © Harsha Halahalli 2007



nhari_x9 / / 1 year ago

PB srinivas voice is excellent who sing the song Punyakoti in Kannada language. This song should be translated in all the languages that exists on this planet

nhari_x9 / / 1 year ago

If this punyakoti song is made to listen to the childrens right from 7 years, I believe the delhi gang rape cases are sure to end. First all parents main responsiblity is to initiate moral & human ethics in their kids. So next the society transforms from evil to spiritual. If not otherwise merely implementing severe punishments & judicial change will not be fruitful in the long run. First school teachers & parents should initiate moral poems to their kids instead of desiring one's daughter or son to become doctor or engineer

Satva / / 5 yrs ago

Though a simple folk song, its Richness is felt in the depth of nerves even as one hears it sung. Further, it is etched into oneself forever, only to come rushing out and overwhelm with a sense of Higher Truth in Life - God the Creator, whose only intention make us (humans) realize that Living in Harmony is the true Way of Life.

pirate19 / / 6 yrs ago

hey harsha ,thanks a lot for such a beautiful narration ....i aslo had a similar childhood  experience ,what a beautiful song with a great message ...unfortunately these days we dont get to see or hear anything like this .

Synaptic Muddle / / 6 yrs ago
Synaptic Muddle

yes, i do remember watching that movie on doordarshan many years ago. it belonged to an era finely crafted kannada movies. sadly such movies are made far too infrequently in sadalwood these days. thanks for your interest in the blog.

what can i say? the greatest joy for a writer is being told that s/he has been able to reach out and touch a reader. thank you for your generously kind words.


desiette / / 6 yrs ago

all i can say is wow !!! wow wow wow... i thought nothing and i mean nothing could top the story of the bronze figurine(in itself a a work of genius) and this one begins where the other story left off. i was so homesick before i read this. but your writing took me back to the days when bangalore was still verdant and green and beautiful and neighbours knew each other. without intending to, your blog has captured the richness of karnataka 's literature, the beautiful simplicity of its people and the sheer joy and uncomplicatedness of village life. the story of punyakoti is one that always brings a lump to the throat. as i sit here at work and write this comment, my mind is half a world away far far removed from the fuss and complexity of life in america. into a simple, beautiful, fragile and fast disappearing world that you have forever immortalised with your words. beautiful !!!!

denice _menace / / 6 yrs ago
denice _menace

i can't see the video..fire fox *argh..it was one of my fav movies..it brought out the diellema of parents whose sons were living abroad had forgotten their roota or had married a white woman..it did justice to both ends..from the oarents perspective and the children's, i guess this was one of most endearing movies of our time ..and those days of parellel cinema when naseeruddin would do all sorts of power packed performances...it was so heartening to see panakaj kapoor in blue umbrella also...and what a witty story..but kids din't watch it they find it slow..and i watched it twice..sad that now a days kids are racing ahead with video games and comp games and do not have the patience to watch such beautiful fils without gizmo effects..

denice _menace / / 6 yrs ago
denice _menace

i remeber this ageless tale, it has travelled from my grandmother to mother and now to my childre, sucha lovely tail about sacrifice, noble character of the tiger, the truthfulness of punya koti and her kind heart..it still moves you when you hear her asking her other friends to take care of her son..
gane baare gowri bare tunga bhadre neenu baare, ninna kanda endu kaaniri tabbaliya eee karuvanu...

and have you watched "tabbaliyu neenade magane" movie starring naseeruddin sha...thsi movie has this song.
nice that you blogged on this long forgotten folk tale.

Synaptic Muddle / / 7 yrs ago
Synaptic Muddle

you seem to have had similar experiences. yes, the present generation seems to be missing out on some wonderful experiences in spite of having greater access material comforts. in some ways it may be inevitable...
thanks for your kind comment.

lowbat / / 7 yrs ago

loved your blog. seem to have done a lot of work.
is my favourite story too. whenever my mom narrated this story i would be in tears.  i too had a similar childhood. i feel sorry for today's generation who do not have anything to look forward to. there's nothing exciting to them anymore. icecreams, chocolates and readymade toys are in plenty.when we were kids, all those were  luxury. today children are given everything, still  dissatisfied. the answer to this lies in your blog.

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