Origin of Yellamma – Renuka Yellamma Story

Goddess Yellamma is a popular Hindu deity in South India especially in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and in parts of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. She is the Hindu Goddess of the poor and downtrodden and is popularly associated with the Devadasi concept. The story of origin of Yellamma is unique and is associated with Goddess Renuka the mother of Parashurama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
According to legend, Renuka, the wife of Sage Jamadagni, was famous for her devotion and chastity. It is said that her chastity was so powerful that she had the divine power to collect water even in unbaked pots.
But once she happened to see a king making love to his wife on the riverbank and she had adulterous thoughts. She lost her divine powers and her husband Sage Jamadagni came to know about this.
The sage had five sons and in anger he ordered them to cut the head of Renuka. Four of them refused but Parashuram, the fifth son readily agreed to cut the head of his mother.
When Parashuram raised his axe to kill his mother, she ran and took refuge in the house of a low-caste poor woman. Parashuram followed his mother and while performing the act of beheading, he also accidentally chops of the head of the low-caste poor woman who tries to prevent the matricide.
Pleased with his son’s devotion, Sage Jamadagni asked Parashuram to accept a boon. He immediately said that he wanted his mother alive. Sage Jamadagni readily agreed and gave him a pot of water to be sprinkled on the corpse.
In a hurry to bring back his mother life, Parashuram accidentally placed the low-caste woman’s head with his mother’s body. Sage Jamadagni accepted this new form of his wife Renuka.
The original head of Renuka was from then onwards worshipped as Yellamma. And thus the Goddess is referred as Renuka Yellamma.
Even today, symbolically the head of Renuka is worshipped by attaching it to a pot or basket in rural Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. There is also a symbolic meaning to the entire episode which is often left to listener of the story to interpret.