brown and white cow on green grass field


(Author: Ki. Rajanarayanan Translation: Radha Soundar & R.S. Saha Editor: Suchitra)

(Original Novel : கோபல்ல கிராமம்)

On a similar day, Astrologer Enkatrayalu and Akkayya were returning home. It had become very dark. With some perseverance, they could have made it home but Enkatrayalu was not up for it. The two laid down on the outer veranda of a house and went to sleep. After midnight, they were woken up by the drumming of a melam.

Akkayya got up and looked. A marriage procession was coming along with the bride being escorted to the wedding venue. Akkayya turned to Enkatrayalu. “Brother. Take a look at this.”

When Enkatrayalu saw the bride in the palanquin, his face fell. “What kind of life is this?”

With that, he returned to the veranda and sat down.

“What happened? What are you talking about?” Akkayya asked.

Enkatrayalu shook his head but, after Akkayya insisted, he answered, “A corpse is coming.”

He refused to say more.

On the third day, the bride who was not even fully married – marriages were five day long events back then – died. She had been bitten by a snake that was in the flowers meant for her hair. The news spread far and wide. 

Enkatrayalu ended certain marriage ceremonies in a strange way.

The wife of a villager died. They had a seventeen year old son. As they had no one to help run the house, the boy’s father came to Enkatrayalu with his son’s birth-chart and asked for the astrologer’s help.

Rayalu looked at the chart while stroking his beard and thinking. He asked, “Why don’t you get married?”

“With a son as old as mine, how can I get married?” the man asked.

“The signs aren’t right for your son,” Enkatrayalu answered. “But there’s something you can do to fix it. If you do, your family will be happy.”

“Tell me,” the man said. “You’ll guide us well.”

On the day of the marriage, Enkatrayalu told the father to tie the thaali first around the bride. Then, the son was told to so. This was known as the ‘Twin Thaali’ tradition.

Many days after the marriage, Govindappa Nayakkar talked to Enkatrayalu. “In that marriage, the father and son both treat the girl as their bride. What is this?”

“What do you think I should have done?” Enkatrayalu asked.

“Why didn’t you marry the girl to the father?”

Rayalu laughed sympathetically. “Whether the father or the son married her, the result would have been what’s happening now. So the signs said. Father and son would have fought over it. That’s why I did this.”

Vaagadam Bullaya was next. While talking to Enkatrayalu, he was drawing a cow in the dirt with his finger and explaining which part of the cow had to be branded for its corresponding illness. He was the healer for all the livestock.

If the animal was afflicted by the evil eye, he would rub medicinal leaves on it. On the days he did that, he wouldn’t talk to anyone as it was believed it would reduce the effectiveness of the herbs.

He needed a day’s notice. He would get up at dawn and set off at a fast pace with an unfriendly expression while muttering under his breath. While he was returning with the leaves, his family and friends would intentionally try to get him to talk.

The leaves would be crushed and the juice squeezed onto the cow’s forehead. The liquid would then be rubbed back along the cows spine and down its tail. Then, Bullaya would crack his knuckles. He would do this three times. Then, he would begin speaking again.

His herbal treatments were effective in treating swollen or bleeding udders, loss of appetite, refusal to drink water, and so on.

Vaagadam Bullaya did one more task. He would bond cows that had lost their calves with calves that lost their mother. This was difficult as cows have an excellent sense of smell. Even in complete darkness, a cow would not allow a strange calf to suckle. She would sniff it and kick it away.

The cow and calf that were to be bonded would be taken to a place with no people. The calf would be kept away from the cow’s sight or smell. He would lead the cow and far behind a different man would bring the calf. Bullaya had a special area for this in the forest: A spot with two thick trees next to each other. He would tether the cow to one of the trees so tightly that it couldn’t move.

He would push both his arms, up to his elbows, into the cow’s vagina. This was painful for the cow and any onlookers would wince in sympathy, wishing that this wasn’t needed. The cow would think it’s going through labor.

Bullaya would then signal to the man with the calf. When the calf was close, Bullaya would quickly pull his arms out. He’d then rub the blood and other fluids on his arms onto the calf as the other man untied the cow. The cow would immediately approach the calf she had delivered and begin licking it affectionately.

The calf that had been kicked away the day before due to its foreign smell was now being given love and attention. The calf could survive now that it had gotten a mother.

The sight of the cow licking “its” baby would make the villagers smile and laugh.

Once, a cow gave birth to a dead calf. Bullaya quickly ran to a flock of goats and picked out one that wasn’t getting milk because its mother had given birth to three kids. He put this lamb to the cow’s udder. The sight of a lamb suckling at a cow’s udder and the cow lovingly licking it shocked everyone.