Omens and Superstitions of Southern India

4. Fishes

It is recorded39 that “Matsya gundam (fish pool) is a curious pool in the Machēru (fish river) near the village of Matam, close under the great Yendrika hill. [101]The pool is crowded with mahseer (Barbus tor) of all sizes. These are wonderfully tame, the bigger ones feeding fearlessly from one’s hand, and even allowing their backs to be stroked. They are protected by the Mādgole zamindars, who on several grounds venerate all fish. Once, the story goes, a Brinjāri caught one, and turned it into curry, whereon the king of the fish solemnly cursed him, and he and all his pack-bullocks were turned into rocks, which may be seen there to the present day. At Sivarātri, a festival occurs at the little thatched shrine near by, the priest at which is a Bagata (Telugu freshwater fisher), and part of the ritual consists in feeding the sacred fish. The Mādgole zamindars claim to be descended from the rulers of Matsya Dēsa. They are installed on a stone throne shaped like a fish, display a fish on their banners, and use a figure of a fish as a signature. Some of their dependents wear ear-rings shaped like a fish.”

A tank at Coondapoor contained a species of fish locally known as the flower-fish, which was especially reserved for the table of Tīpu Sultan, being fat and full of blood.40 The sacred fish at Tirupparankunram near Madura are said to have been sages in a bygone age, and it is believed to be very meritorious to look at them. They are said to appear on the surface of the water only if you call out “Kāsi Visvanātha.” But it is said that a handful of peas thrown into the pool is more effective. The Ambalakkārans (Tamil cultivators) admit that they are called Valaiyans, but repudiate any connection with the caste of that name. They explain the appellation by a story that, when Siva’s ring was swallowed by a fish in the Ganges, one of their ancestors invented the first net (valai) made in the world. [102]

Some Natives will not eat the murrel fish (Ophiocephalus striatus), owing to its resemblance to a snake. Some Halēpaiks (Canarese toddy-drawers) avoid eating a fish called Srinivāsa, because they fancy that the streaks on the body bear a resemblance to the Vaishnavite sectarian mark (nāmam). Members of the Vamma gōtra of the Janappans (Telugu traders) abstain from eating the bombadai fish, because, when some of their ancestors went to fetch water in a marriage pot, they found a number of this fish in the water collected in the pot.

When a new net is used for the first time by the Besthas of Mysore, the first fish which is caught is cut, and the net is smeared with its blood. One of the meshes of the net is burnt, after incense has been thrown into the fire.


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