When Bala Krishna ate Butter from Devara Rangamma’s Hands
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When Bala Krishna ate Butter from Devara Rangamma’s Hands

A moving and evocative story of Devara Rangamma, a pious devotee of Sri Venkateshwara Swami of the 18th century who was visited by Bala Krishna everyday and ate butter from her hands.

Preface

SRI T.S. VENKANNAYYA’S NAME IS ETCHED in gold in the cultural memory of Karnataka. He belongs to that hallowed galaxy of greats who gave but did not take from the society and culture that birthed and nourished them. He was an Acharya in the real meaning of the word. Through the depth and prowess of his prodiguous learning and his spotless conduct, he gifted to the world of Kannada language and literature such stalwarts as K.V. Puttappa (Kuvempu), D. L. Narasimhachar, T. N. Srikantaiah, K. S. Narasimhaswamy, M. V. Seetharamaiah, C. K. Venkataramaiah, K. Venkataramappa, G. Venkatasubbiah and S. V. Parameshwara Bhatta. All of these distinguished men were fortunate to be his direct disciples and all of them without exception have spoken and written reverentially about him. Kuvempu’s poignant poetic tribute in his magnum opus, Sri Ramayana Darshanam to Sri Venkannayya deserves multiple readings for its artistry and its consummate depth of feeling. Likewise, D.V. Gundappa’s evocative profile of Sri Venkannayya in his Jnapakachitrashale volumes is a separate education by itself. DVG calls him a phenomenon.  

Savouring the pages of Sri Venkannayya’s sacred biography is an experience of piety. It is also deeply humbling. Fortunately, his younger brother — an equally distinguished scholar and litterateur — T.S. Shama Rao (Ta. Su. Shyama Raya) has written Sri Venkannayya’s biography in Kannada titled Mooru Talemaaru (Three Generations). It is actually the story of the lineage that birthed Sri Venkannayya. But it is also a primary source of the social and cultural history of the Mysore Kingdom. 

The story narrated in this essay is adapted from the aforementioned work. It is an immensely moving tale of Devara Rangamma, an ancestor of that lineage who lived in the 18th century. To the “modern” Hindu mind, her story might sound unbelievable. The notable Kannada litterateur, Sri G.S. Shivarudrappa — T.S. Shama Rao’s student — gives the  best retort to such doubting skeptics in his foreword to the book: 

When we look at it honestly, the three planes of myth, history and reality are not really different. These three planes narrate the episodes that arise as a result of the continuity of Existence. The narration emanates from the human mind that operates in the spatio-temporal sphere. The labels assigned — myth, history and reality — depend on the Samskara of the person analysing or interpreting the episodes… In this book, Sri Shama Rao has titled the lives of the three generations as Heard, Seen and Experienced. This is what I meant when I said, Myth, History and Reality.

And now, on to the story of Devara Rangamma as told by Sri T.S. Shama Rao. Translated by Sandeep Balakrishna. 

Happy reading!

Devara Rangamma

DEVARA RANGAMMA HAS a special reverence in our lineage. She was renowned as a great Pati-Vrata and had unswerving devotion towards Tirumala Venkateshwara Swami. Even as a girl of seven, all her activities revolved around him. Wiping the Puja room to a spotless finish, washing, cleaning and polishing Puja utensils to a fine shine and  drawing elegant Rangolis depicting the Shankha, Chakra were her most cherished chores. She performed them with unmatched care, grace and love. Even at that young age, she wore a large Kumkum on her forehead in the half-moon shape. Then she would sit before the soapstone Vigraha of Venkataramana Swami and worship it with flowers and leaves. After this, she would remain seated in meditation before Him for hours. 

This daily routine did not alter even once in her long and pious life. 

After her marriage, she won the hearts of her husband and in-laws with her pristine and devout conduct. Rangamma awoke early, finished her morning ablutions, applied her customary large Kumkum and set to work. She cleaned the courtyard and the whole house and drew beautiful Rangolis and washed the utensils. After this, she plucked flowers in the garden behind the house and placed them in the Puja room. 

By this time, her mother-in-law would have finished her bath and entered the kitchen. Rangamma assisted her in this work as well. Later, she would arrange the various items for the daily rituals that her father-in-law and husband performed. 

After they were done, she would perform the Tulasi Puja and sit before her favourite Venkataramana Swami’s soapstone Vigraha and begin her Puja in solitude. Being extremely shy and modest by nature, she did not want anyone to see her performing this Puja. After her Puja was done, she hid the Vigraha and lit a small lamp before it. The hiding places varied from day to day. Sometimes, it would be concealed in a niche on one of the wooden pillars in the house. At other times, it would be in a remote corner of the attic or on an innocuous wooden plank. The lamp had to remain glowing at all times. And when she found even a few minutes of free time, she would dash off to the hiding place and sit before Venkateswara Swami in deep meditation. 

A permanent part of Rangamma’s daily routine was curdling buttermilk and extracting butter from it. The curdling took place in a dimly lit room in the house, which she locked from the inside. She would rue the fact that this setting prohibited her from at least lighting a lamp for her favourite deity. 

One day, when Rangamma was curdling the buttermilk as usual, a powerful wave of emotion overwhelmed her. Tears streamed down her cheeks like a flood. She mechanically kept curdling, oblivious to the fact that butter had already emerged. All of a sudden, she heard the sound of anklets behind her. Scared, she turned around and beheld the enchanting sight of none other than Bala Krishna… he was standing right there, flashing his bewitching smile at her, his teeth resembling jasmine. The same smile that had mesmerised Gokula and Vrundavana. His eyes radiated world-encompassing resplendence. Golden anklets adorned his cute little feet. 

Rangamma forgot herself. Her sight was transfixed on this child but how much can the human vision “hold” Krishna? She kept looking, wanting more, and not wanting this divine spectacle to end. Bala Krishna’s smile widened and he slowly stretched his right hand towards her. With no conscious effort on her part, Rangamma’s hand dipped into the earthen pot and took out a big lump of butter and placed it on that boy’s outstretched hand. He smiled even more, put it into his mouth and vanished just as suddenly. 

Rangamma was jostled out of this divine trance by the sound of her mother-in-law’s voice: “it has been so long, haven’t you finished curdling?” Bewildered, she returned to “normal” and looked at the earthen pot. There was absolutely no reduction in the quantity of butter. 

This became the new routine. Each morning, Rangamma would sit for  curdling. The moment butter floated on the surface of the buttermilk, she would hear the sound of the anklets. Bala Krishna would appear in his usual form, his captivating smile of endearing mischief, his right hand outstretched. She would give him butter, he would eat it and disappear. 

Postscript

THE “DEVARA” PREFIX to Rangamma’s name was an honorific given by people who correctly saw her as an embodiment of divinity and piety. Devara means “of God” or “belonging to God.” 

She lived a full, fruitful and devout life dedicated to Tirumala Venkataramana Swami. In the later part of her life, she undertook an annual Yatra to Tirumala. However, when old age forbade this Yatra, she had a vision of the Swami. When he asked what she wanted, her reply was simple: “you must grant me your Darshana right here, in my village.” Smiling, he ordered her to build a temple for him and told her that he would provide his Nijarupa-Darshana in that temple. 

She informed her family and the people in her village of this vision. In no time, thousands of people in the region pooled in their resources and labour and built a grand Venkateshwara Swamy temple. This is the renowned Sri Venkateshwara Swamy temple in Molakalmuru, about 250 kilometres from Bangalore. 

|| Om Namo Venkateshaya || 

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