Yaksha, the caretaker of Haigunda

Yaksha, the caretaker of Haigunda

Yaksha and Yakshi have a special place in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. In Hindu mythology, these nature-spirits are semi gods living under the earth in the Himalayas, where they guard the wealth of the earth.

In the vedic period, Yaksha worship co-existed with priest-conducted sacrifices. During pre-Aryan days, Yakshas were worshipped by rural folk wishing for boons or protection from the evil. People in rural areas worshipped them as guardian deities that resided in a formless manner on trees and in water bodies. They made offerings to the trees, rivers or lakes where they believed Yakshas resided. In Buddhist and Jain art sculptures, Yakshas are depicted as associates and attendant deities of Bodhisattvas and Thirthankaras.

Yakshas are portrayed as diverse kind of beings – super human or sub-human or extra terrestrials. They are generally depicted with a big belly, dwarfish limbs and a big face with chubby cheeks. They are assumed to be powerful magicians who change their size, shape, disappear or fly as per their will and wish.

Kalidasa too used Yaksha as the central character in his lyrical Sanskrit work Meghadoota. The popular Yakshagana, the traditional theatre art of coastal and Malnad regions of Karnataka, literally translates to the song of a Yaksha.

In many regions of India, there is a folk tradition of worshipping Yaksha as a deity of the forest, lake or well. An interesting statue of Yaksha is found in a sacred grove in Haigunda, an island in Sharavathi river, near Honnavar in Uttara Kannada district.

It is dated around 2nd or 3rd century AD. Standing at 1.69m tall, it exhibits Graeco-Roman influence in his dressing. He has a broad face, knotted hair at the top with a strand of beads tied to it.

His earrings are big in size and round in shape and have tiger faces at the bottom drop. The earrings entwine the earlobes. A broad necklace adorns his neck. His head gear is like a band and on the right side just above the ear, it has circular shaped jewellery with ribbon like drippings at the centre. The right hand of Yaksha is broken, but a close look at the arm reveals the presence of armlet.

The left hand rests on his waist and dons a big kada (a bracelet). The Yaksha has a pot belly surrounded by a waistband which is tied on both the sides and the excess cloth with foldings hangs on sides reaching till ground. The Scythian (Saka) influence can be seen in the jewellery decoration.

The villagers of Haigunda have high regards for Yaksha. They call him Bobri and believe that he is the protector of the island. Legend says that Yaksha used to signal the locals with a particular kind of sound to indicate impending danger. Locals believe that is why the British were unsuccessful when they tried to trespass the island to take the hidden treasure.

Haigunda has rich historical and cultural heritage. Archeological deposits of pre-historic period are also found on top of a hillock in the village. Three other images of historical importance are also found on the outskirts of Haigunda village.

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