tapoyi

Published on 8th September, 2013, in Mid-Day.

In coastal Odisha, an instrument called dhinki is used to dehusk rice. This dhinki is worshipped as a deity especially by women who work on the instrument. It is associated with Mangala, the auspicious one, a goddess who is an amalgamation of both Gauri, who is goddess of household, and Lakshmi, goddess of wealth. The goddess is also called Khudu-rankuni or more popularly, Khudurkuni, which means she who enjoys eating khudu, which is broken rice, or damaged rice, produced by the dhinki during the dehusking process. Typically this broken rice is given to poor people but is saved during times of drought. It is associated with misfortune, yet is sacred to the goddess as it nourishes the body as much as full rice.

In the month of Bhadra (August-September), on Sundays, young girls perform Khudurkuni osa (osa means vrata in Odiya). This involves worship of the goddess with flowers such as hibiscus and special food: especially broken rice, jaggery, salt and cucumbers. It is performed for the well being of brothers. And like all vratas it is associated with a simple story of how when invoked the goddess helped a young girl called Tapoyi.

Tapoyi had seven brothers and seven sisters-in-law. When she was playing with clay toys, an old woman told her that her father is so rich she should be playing with toys made of gold. Urged by the old woman, who was actually a nasty mean old witch, the girl asked her father for a moon made of gold. Father promised to give the daughter what she wanted but died before he could fulfil his promise. Shortly thereafter her heartbroken mother died too. Tapoyi wondered if her demand for the golden moon was the cause.

Tapoyi belonged to the merchant community. It was time for the brothers to leave on their annual expedition across the sea to South East Asia (Suvarnabhumi) so the brothers requested their wives to take good care of the now orphaned Tapoyi. The sisters-in-law took such good care of the little girl that it aroused the envy of the old witch. Like Manthara of the Ramayana, she went about poisoning the ears of the sisters-in-law against Tapoyi until they began ill-treating her. Instead of feeding her the choicest delicacies made of rice and jaggery, they fed her broken rice and rice husk and did not provide her with salt. The only one who took care of her was her youngest sister-in-law.

They made her herd goats all day in the jungle. There she met women worshipping Mangala. They told her that by invoking the goddess who loves to eat broken rice she will turn her misfortune into fortune. Sure enough, her prayers to the goddess yielded results: she found a little goat called Gharamani (jewel of the house) that was the favourite of her eldest sister-in-law and her brothers returned well before time. They found her crying on the shores of the sea and swore to teach their wives a lesson. They decked Tapoyi like a goddess and asked their wives to bow to her, one by one. When they did, using the sword her brothers gave her Tapoyi cut their noses, everyone’s except the youngest’s.
Thus humiliated the women apologized and eventually prayed to Mangala who restored their noses and the happiness of Tapoyi’s household.