Seeking empowerment through Siri

This land has seen several brave women who have stood for their rights. Siri is one such inspiring mythical woman who laid the foundation for emancipation of women and today thousands of women from Taulava land seek freedom from ‘bondage’ of various forms by calling themselves as Siri. Bhakti V Hegde brings out a record of feelings of such women and the reason that keeps them tied to Siri.

Women clad in white sarees, about to be possessed by Siri. Photos/Gayathri Navada

Possession cult’ is an integral part of the Taulava land.

While most of the deities and the impersonators attached to possession cult are male, there is only one cult, which is specifically accepted by and dedicated to women.

The cult is Siri, which revolves around the life of a brave woman of this land, who stood against and rejected the male dominance in the society.

Today, all those women who have been affected, oppressed and rejected by the same male dominance resort to Siri, portraying themselves as Siri’s reflection in one way or the other.

There are several temples in undivided Dakshina Kannada where Siri is worshipped along with a host of their Daivas and the presiding deities.

However, Kabatharu, Hiriyadka, Dalyottu, Pangala and Nidgal are the most significant Siri temples where thousands of women congregate to get possessed, during the ‘Pagguda Punnime’ (From April to May). Apart from these main temples, there are over 20 other places across Dakshina Kannada and Udupi where Siri finds place of a deity.

Uniqueness

However, what is unique and worth noting about this possession cult is the very background of women who come to accept Siri and call themselves to be Siri. The women can be posses even by any descendents of Siri- may it be Siri’s daughter Sonne, her foster child Ginde, Sonne’s twin daughters Abbaga-Daraga.

As per researchers and folk experts, most of the women taking refuge in Siri hail from acute poverty where security and stability in life is a utopian concept. Late marriage, unmarried, illiterate, women without issues, alcoholic husband, bad married life etc are some of the common factors seen in the lives of the women following Siri cult. It is because of these factors, that the women take to Siri as a weapon to fight against their reality, against which otherwise waging a war would be difficult.

“It is nothing but a beautiful concept of empowerment through Culture. We have to see the instant transformation of the women in terms of status, dignity and identity once she declared herself as a Siri. I call it cultural empowerment of women who have not experienced economic or social empowerment,” says Researcher Gayathri Navada speaking to City Herald.

Navada has been working and studying the life of women taking up Siri very closely over the last one decade and sharing her experience, she says that while elite and literate women do have various channels to overcome their problems, the women at the grassroots have very limited channels to vent out their feelings and in such a situation, Siri comes as a best option for them to realise their innate feelings and fight against the real world.

“The lady who is abused, tortured and battered by her husband for no fault of hers suddenly sees respect in her husband’s eyes once Siri embraces her. A degree of sanctity is attached to her not only by the husband and his family but also in the neighbourhood,” Navada adds.

Siris speak

Deviyamma (name changed) is 60 year old and she had recently called off her duty at a reputed college as a cleaner. Popularly known as ‘Amma’ among the students of the college, she was married off at the age of 16. Deviyamma soon found several facts about her husband, which she would not like to disclose.

After putting up with an unhappy marriage for about 10 years, Deviyamma heard divine calling from Siri. Since then, she has been a regular at Siri temple at Hiriyadka.

“I go to Hiriyadka every year without fail. Holding the areca flowers and dancing in frenzy singing Siri Paadana is the most cherished experience of my life. I am proud of my identity, which has given me a status of someone close to god,” says Deviyamma.

On the other hand, Savithri (name changed) from Mangalore was also married off at a tender age of 14 to a physically handicapped person. After having been treated as nothing less than a domestic maid by her own parents, the torments of being a physically handicapped person’s wife was difficult a fact for Savithri to digest. Savithri decided to abandon her husband and lead an independent life.

“From there, I worked as an agriculture labourer and when I was 25, I entered into wedlock with a man I fell in love with. Even this marriage was not a happy one. He was a drunkard who used to beat me up black and blue. Though I had been blessed by Siri as a young seven-year old girl, I manifested it openly only when my second marriage had turned sour,” said Savithri.

Krishnakka says that it is only through Siri that she made her husband a reformed man. “The women of today find reasons to divorce their husbands but I am here with my husband, correcting him and making him a respectable person only by the grace of Siri,” she says.

Virtual family

Another noteworthy aspect of the entire Siri culture is that these women, who meet annually at their temple come as strangers, live together for a night in frenzy but return home with new bonds.

“A strong sense of bond is built every year between these women, which continue even outside the temple arena, even after the identity of Siri is shed. They keep in touch with each other and also come to help one another in distress.

There are many instances of how older women have taken care of their younger Siri acquaintances during times of delivery or any other health disorders,” points out Navada who calls its almost like the new era social networking sites where virtual relations bloom.

Male dominance

Symbiosis Law School Dean Dr Shashikala Shetty who is an folk enthusiast says that even though the entire Siri cult is supposed to be a female dominated cult, at the annual fairs of Siri, Kumara, Siri’s son plays the major role.

“If one reads the Siri epic, Kumar is nobody. But at the Jathra ceremony, the entire possession is initiated by Kumara and somewhere the Siri takes backseat allowing Kumara to lead and dominate the picture.

Call it catharsis, venting out frustration, a poor woman’s pursuit for happiness and dignity in life or simply a cope up/defense mechanism of a woman to change her unchanging reality, what Siri has done to thousands of women by their deification is a phenomenal epic in itself.

Thousands of women who say ‘I am the Siri and Siri is me’ continue to flock at Siri temples every year with the sole aim of superimposing their existence and identity and after a day of reverence they continue to return to their normal lives.

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