A question about kumbhAr caste

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Thu Jun 25 01:11:18 UTC 1998

In a message dated 98-06-24 14:52:36 EDT, you write:

<< Gora the Potter had various kirtanwalas over for supper, among them
 Muktabai, Jnanadev, Nivritti, Sopan, and Namdev.  All were sitting in a row
 waiting for their food when Jnanadev whispered in Gora's ear, "Gora, you're
 a potter.  See these pots placed before you?  Can you tell me which is baked
 and which is unbaked?"  Gora got the idea and he took a spoon from the
 kitchen.  He walked down the row hitting these holy people on the head with
 his spoon.  No one reacted until he came to the end of the line, to Namdev.
 "Ouch!" Namdev said.  Everyone began to laugh at poor Namdev.  Gora said to
 Jnanadev, "This is the one unbaked pot."  In humiliation, Namdev went to
 visit Vitthal at his temple in Pandharpur.  He related his story to Vitthal
 and Vitthal replied, "They are correct Namya.  You are unbaked because you
 do not have a guru."  Namdev realized the need for a guru and went to Visoba
 Khechar, a Shaiva, for initiation.

 The story takes some interesting turns from here.  You can read Mahipati's
 account in _Bhaktavijaya_, chapter XVIII

 But there is another very interesting story about Namdev and Gora that you
 might like to hear.  Briefly:

 Gora was entirely devoted to Vitthal and would repeat Vitthal's name in his
 mind while being oblivious to everything else.  Gora and his wife had a baby
 girl.  While Gora's wife was distracted, the baby girl wondered out into the
 garden where Gora was ecstatically dancing and reciting Vitthal's name.
 Engrossed in his dancing, Gora trampled his child to death under his feet.
 His wife came out and saw what Gora had done.  She yelled at him, but he
 told her not to disturb his repetition of God's name.  She told him to swear
 never to touch her again with his hands.  He swore he wouldn't.  Gora's wife
 then arranged for Gora to marry her younger sister so that she might get
 away from him.  One night as the three slept together, Gora's two wives put
 his hands on their breasts.  When he woke up and discovered that he had
 touched them both, he fastened a sword to a tree and cut off both his hands.
 Later, Gora and his wives were attending a kirtan of Namdev's at Pandharpur.
 Namdev had incited the crowd to wave their hands back and forth in the air
 in praise of Vitthal.  Gora the Handless Potter now, couldn't join in and
 cried to Vitthal.  Suddenly hands sprouted from the stumps at the end of his
 arms.  And to top it all off his infant daughter came crawling out of the
 crowd toward him, alive and untrampled.

 So Gora and Namdev have a history.

 Hope this was helpful. >>

Thanks very much for the interesting information.

If I remember my childhood experience of going to village markets well, when
you check for quality of a clay pot, you tap it with your finger and if it
makes ringing noise, it means it is well-made. The lack of sound being a sign
of well-baked pot in this story seems to be strange. Or are my impressions
wrong? Any comments from people experienced in buying clay pots?

Among the 63 individual zaivite saints of Tamilnadu, the first one mentioned
in hagiographical accounts is tirunIlakaNTar, a potter. Do the Maharashtra
potters have any special association with bhakti movements?

Irawathi Karve says that in Karwar and Kanara districts there are certain
temples in which the worshippers belong to the caste of Konkani Kumbhars. In
Thana district, among lower classes, these Kumbhars are favourite media and
are used for consulting the spirits of the dead. When a Kunbi dies at a
distance from his family and kin group a Kumbhar is supposed to perform his
funeral. Apparently Marathas eat food cooked by Kumbhars.

Does Maharashtra have a history of potter-priest tradition?

S. Palaniappan

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