Yallamma temple is situated on a hillock, about 5 kms. from the town Savadatti near Dharwar of Karnataka. It is a popular place of pilgrimage for many devotees and families of Karnataka and Maharashtra. Every day, pilgrims visit the temple of Yellamma with great devotion. The full moon days during the months of September to April are considered very auspicious for this deity. Especially, on Tuesdays and Fridays, hundreds of devotees assemble here from various parts of the country.
The off-shoots of the Western Ghats which cover this area have given rise to seven hillocks, of which Yellamma Gudda is an important one. Naturally, the goddess came to be known as ‘Yellamma of the Seven hills’. The place name is mentioned repeatedly as ‘Sugandhavarthi’ and also ‘Soundaryavarti’. In the earlier period, under the rule of the Bhaisas and later under the Rattas, it was a celebrated Jain centre. It was also the original capital of the Rattas, who flourished between the 12th and 13th centuries. Later, when the capital was shifted to Venugrama (the present city of Belgaum), Savadatti lost its significance as a seat of administration.
According to mythology, the sage Jamadagni and his wife Renuka lived in their ‘ashrama’ near the hillock on the banks of the river Malaprabha. The story goes to say that sage Jamadagni once became furious and bade his children to chop off the head of Renuka, which his fourth son Parashurama did. However, Renuka was resurrected by Jamadagni.
Later, Karthaveerarjuna killed Jamadagni in order to snatch away the celestial cow ‘Kamadhenu’. Although sage Jamadagni was revived later, his wife Renuka had to suffer widowhood for four days. Renuka is now considered as a ‘Shakti’ deity and worshipped here as ‘Yellamma Devi’.
There are three sacred ponds known as ‘Jogula bavi’. ‘Yenne konda’ and ‘Arisina konda’, cut out of solid rock near the temple itself. The water in these ponds is believed to contain curative properties, particularly for skin diseases. Generally, the pilgrims bathe in these ponds before entering the temple. The neem leaves have also great significance in this temple. In the olden days, the devotees used to enter the temple almost naked, covering the body only with the sheaves of neem leaves. The British Government banned that ritual holding that it was obscene.
Camphor, salt, oil, coconuts and plantains are the main offerings to the deity. During ‘pooja’ time, the temple premises echo and resound with the cry of‘Udho, Udho’ and the beating of a special drum. The temple does not conduct any extravagant ceremonies as such. The idol of Yellamma is decorated with different types of jewelry and a good number of sarees offered by the devotees.
The temple of Yellamma is constructed in an ancient Dravidian style with a ‘mukha mandapa, navaranga, sukanasi’, an inner ‘sanctum’ and the usual ‘pradakshina patha’. it is enclosed by high walls and has three big main entrances. Outside, there are separate temples for Parasurama and his father Jamadagni, obviously of very recent origin. The temple itself is devoid of any significant architectural grandeur.
From the historical and archaeological point of view, it is believed that the ancient shrine belonged to the Jaina school of the 16th century, as evidenced by the sculpture on the pillars. The idol of the main deity itself does not appear to have the characteristics of a Hindu goddess, as she holds a lotus flower in her hand, similar to Padmavati Devi, the Jaina Deity.
One of the edicts, discovered in this temple a few decades ago, refers to this goddess as ‘Jataka’. It is beyond doubt that Jaina religious influence played a prominent part at that time. During the reign of Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagar, Tirumala Nayaka, one of his feudatories is said to have renovated the shrine and beautified it with lamp pillar, ‘Mahadwara’. etc., in 1515 A.D.
Legends and myths apart, in time, the temple came to be associated with the Devadasi cult which has caused untold misery to many a dalit woman in North Karnataka. In the olden days, the Devadasi was the mistress of a single man. She was a prestigious acquisition even though her feudal lord would eventually abandon her for another. With the arrival of the modern age, there was more money in circulation and rural communities were vulnerable and exposed. In a matter of decades the Devadasis became prostitutes. However, the bad system has now been banned and rehabilitation work has been taken up in the Karnataka State.
The annual fair during the month of‘Chaitra’ (February) attracts lakhs of pilgrims and visitors. All the roads leading to Savadatti during that season resound with the noisy refrain of jingles of the bullock carts and the prayers of pilgrims.
Savadatti is only 37 kms. north of Dharwad, and 85 kms. west of Belgaum. it is connected by excellent roads from all sides. State Road Transport buses and private vans operate in this route at frequent intervals. Taxi or jeep can be hired at Belgaum or Dharwar.
There are a few Choultries, Dharmashalas and rest houses at Savadatti, but is preferable to stay either at Belgaum or Dharwad, where there are very convenient lodgings and rest houses.