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Once a year hundreds of thousands of devotees flock to the shrine of Veeranna in Korivi. Whether a myth, a reality or just folklore, devotees return home with their faith reinforced.

“O my God of fertility, my saviour, gives me a baby. I will give him your name and vow to return to your shrine next year.”

This is a fervent petition by a childless woman who in an emotional surrender, clings to the temple-post (Dhwajasthambha) facing the idol of the deity Veeranna. A timeless scene which immediately recalls one of the familiar Puranic pictures depcting Markandeya embracing the Shivalingam. Strolling alone the pathway to the sanctum sanctorum, I was astonished to see several women prostrate on the ground in the scorching sun, holding coconuts and incense-sticks in their hands stretched in the direction of the deity. All of them appeared to be in a state of semi-consciousness and unmindful of the vociferous singing, chanting and dancing around. In Korivi, the ancient shrine of Veeranna, the god of virility and fertility celebrates his annual Ratha Yatra.

Korivi is situated about 60 kilometres away from the historic fort-town of Warangal in Andhra Pradesh. A very small village, it owes its importance to the presence of the temple. Korivi has a hoary past dating back to the days of the Chalukaya dynasty. For some time it even enjoyed the status of a capital of the Kakatiyas and continued to be so until the early 11th century AD when the capital was shifted to Warangal. According to some inscriptions found here, the idol of the deity Veeranna or Veerabhadra was installed some time in 800 AD by the Chalukyan kings who also erected a small structure around it. Later, during the days of the Kakatiyas, some more structures were added. It was not until the year 1700 that the temple gained glory when some of the Rajole chieftains took pains to reconstruct the whole temple complex and started the Nitya-radhna. The idol of the deity stands seven feet high, wielding clubs, shafts and discs. Set amidst simple rural landscape in the middle of the village, the temple is surrounded by a number of neem and pipal trees.

The deity is said to possess miraculous powers. Hundreds of thousands of people visit Korivi in prayer and penance each year starting from the Mahashivaratri day to the Telugu new year day, Ugadi, in March.

Devotion to the deity Veeranna is the strongest in rural areas of Telangana, especially amongst the Lambada tribals for whom a pilgrimage to Korivi is a tradition. Whether it is to pray, to conceive or to give thanks for the child they have already conceived, women travel to Korivi to fulfil their vow by observing certain religious austerities and customs. Whether myth or reality, their prayers at this temple find their faith reinforced and they return home assured that they have been heard.

When and how the concept of so called ‘fertility’ got attached to the deity is not exactly known. The faith is so old and so deeply rooted in worship of the deity that the very name – Veeranna, pervades almost every Lambada household, particularly in Telangana, where there is at least one member in each family devoutly named after the deity.

There are many legends, beliefs and anecdotes, which make the Korivi Theertham a myth, a mystery and folklore. Earlier, according to legend the deity was asserting more powers and performing many miracles. People possessed with evil spirits would never dare enter the shrine for fear of being exposed. This, the people believe, was because of a powerful yantra (a thin copper plate carrying inscriptions of incantations) that was cryptically implanted somewhere on the back of the idol. Once, a local chief wanting to worship the deity entered the temple accompanied by his wife and assistants. But as soon as they entered, much to the embarrassment of those present, the chief’s wife started screaming demonically. The annoyed chief immediately got the yantra removed.

The Lambadas arrive in Korivi in large numbers in their gorgeously decked bullock carts fitted with modern musical systems. For about 40 days the village reverberates with excitement and religious fervour. Scores of makeshift tents shelter the pilgrims. Several stalls selling various commodities sprout up along the temple street. The large gathering also helps tribals to conduct weekly markets outside the temple where anything from forest produce to livestock is traded.

The women who observe penance start their day quite early with a ceremonial bath followed by body anointment with a paste of turmeric and vermilion. They are then led by the clan elders, carrying coconuts and incense-sticks to circumambulate the temple amid deafening drum-beat and dance. After completing the predetermined number of rounds about the temple, the women are splashed with a bucket of cold water mixed with turmeric. In some cases a woman is given repeated cold baths after every round to induce sleep. When they start dozing they are made to lie on the ground facing the deity. They drift into a state of semi-consciousness but continue to chant the name of the deity. They seem to be detached from their surroundings and remain so for hours. The chosen ones are said to have communion with the deity. When they wake up, they do so, beaming with joy. Through these women the god is said to manifest his will, and his pleasure or displeasure. The unlucky ones who do not attain this state return next year to repeat the rituals.

The blessed ones revisit Korivi to fulfil their vow and their votive offerings include Godanam – gifting away a cow or a calf to a Brahmin. The newly born baby is given a ceremonial tonsure and named after the deity – Veeranna or Veeramma, in case of a female baby.

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