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Kottanada Somamma (ಕೊಟ್ಟಣದ ಸೊಮ್ಮಮ್ಮ/ಸೊಮ್ಮವ್ವೆ)

Full Name: Kottanada Somamma
Alias Name: Sommavve
Pen Name (Vachana Signature): Nirlajjëshwara
kāyaka (Occupation): pound and thrash the rice-paddy into rice grain

Kottanada Somamma, Sommavve

Sommavve worked in Basava’s Mahãmane. Her kayaka was to pound and thrash the rice-paddy into rice, remove the husk and clean the rice so that it could be served as prasãda to the Sharanas visiting Basava’s abode; an ordinary kayaka by any stretch of imagination. She would serve guru, linga and jangarna out of the money she earned from that occupation. Only one vachana of Somamma with the signature Nirlajjeshwara is found. Nirlajja Shaantheshwara must have been her guru. Her vachana emphasises the purity of disciplined living.

This simple vachana of Sommavve, an ordinary women at best, brims with profound advice and meaning. It tells us that one should keep the company of righteous folks and should lead a god-fearing life. It tells that a life with no proper guidance and lacking in character leads to one’s ruination and spiritual bankruptcy.

Kottanada Sömamma's life is shrouded in mystery. No details of her life story are known. Her time is the same as that of most of the Sharanas and Shraneyas, i.e., 1160 A.D. she served Guru, Linga and Jangama by doing the Kāyaka of paddy-pounding in the houses of the Siva devotees, especially in Basavanna's Mahāmane. The metaphor of paddy-pounding is very evocative. Like other Kāyaka-bound women, Sömamma too emphasizes the importance of strict observance of vows. All the Kāyaka conscious women are the strict observers of vows also. Surprisingly enough, their vows are none other than the sacred works they are obliged to carry out every day. In their opinion breakers of vows are outcastes and untouchables. Whatever work a devotee undertakes to do in order to serve the trinity of Guru, Linga and Jangama, he/she should carry it out with a sense of dedication. Casualness of approach or carelessness of application is sure to kill the very spirit of Kāyaka and thereby to defeat its very purpose. “There is remission for the sin committed unwittingly, but there is no remission for the sin committed wittingly", says Sömamma in unequivocal terms. According to her, it is a grave sin to join a vow-breaker. So she swears not to have any truck with vow-breakers. “A terrible punishment – the chopping off of nose and ears with a hot sword-awaits the sinner who is guilty of committing a sin knowingly." Her language is simple and lucid laced with sugary phrases pregnant with meaning. For instance:

If you pound improperly (too much force),
There can only be broken rice not whole grain
If you unite with a vow-breaker there can only be hell not liberation.
Ignore those times when I did not know.
If I know and still mingle with him
My ears shall be severed with a searing sword, ayya knowlingly I won’t
I swear on you Nirlajjeshwara.

Thus good conduct and observance of vow are the cardinal principles of devotion which will ultimately lead devotees to the goal of salvation. Sömamma was an almost uneducated woman, like most of the Kāyaka-occupied ones who are of labour class, but a highly spiritually motivated individual in her own right. Her one Vachana reflects her spiritual experience and attainment.


[1] Vachana No.1303 in "VACHANA" English Version Translation by: O.L. Nagabhushana Swamy, ISBN: 978-93-81457-12-2, 2012, Pub: Basava Samithi, Basava Bhavana Benguluru 560001.
[2] Shivasharaneyaru, by: Shri Somashekhar Munavalli and Shri Siddhayya Puranik, 1994, Pub: Shree Basaveshwara Peetha, Karnataka University Dharwad-580003.
[3] Heaven of Equality, Transalted by: Dr. C. R.Yaravintelimath and Dr. M. M. Kalburgi, 2003, Pub: Shree Basaveshwara Peetha, Karnataka University Dharwad-580003.

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