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ISSN: 0974-892X


January, 2022



Basavaraj Naikar’s A Pontiff of Peacockshire: Historicisation of a Hagiography

Dr. Kh. Kunjo Singh, Professor  of English, Manipur University, Canchipur


Basavaraj Naikar’s A Pontiff of Peacockshire, one of the two novels, the other being Intrigue in Ikkeri, published in 2019 is a successful historicisation of the hagiographical biography of Nagalinga Swami. The author gives a secondary title, A Hagiographical Novel to his work of depicting the interesting life of Nagalinga Swami, an Avadhuta (Sanyasi) of Navilugund (Peacockshire) from his childhood to his death. Born on Salivahana Saka 1774, Srimukha Samvatsara Suklapaksa of Sravana month, Monday, the Full Moon Day (1812 A.D.) at a village called Javalagiri in Sindhanuru taluka of Raichuru District in North Karnataka, as the fourth son of the blacksmith Mounacharya and his wife Nagamma, Nagalinga Swami grew up as a saintly boy and lived a fairly long life of 69 years as he died in 1881. In fact, Nagaling Swami’s individual private life characterized by his innumerable and extraordinary occult powers and miracles like clairaudience, clairvoyance, levitation, pantomorphism, etc. forms a part of Indian national history of the 19th century specially of Karnataka region.

Nagalinga’s life became more disciplined after his initiation ceremony at the age of seven. At the age of twelve, he had grown into a sturdy young boy and all the friends of his mother would predict that he would be a great man in future. Nagalinga started wandering in search of a guru through the countryside. Finally he found his right guru in the person of Nirupadiswara Swami of Talekattu monastery. Becoming a disciple of Nirupadiswara he began to attend his discourses regularly. Instructed and blessed whole-heartedly by his guru, Nagalinga had by now become an Avadhuta, with expertise in spiritual knowledge. Getting permission of his guru, he set out on his spiritual journey across the country. At Bijawad village he went to the temple of Goddess Adisakti and had a darsan of the primal goddess. He sang the praise of the goddess by uttering her thousand variant names “like Lalita, Maheswari, Gauri, Bhavani, Parvai, Durga, Vani, Girija, Rame, Sarvamangale, Gayatri, Nirmala and Muladhara and so on”. [P 35-36]. As a consequence the primal goddess manifested herself before him and addressed him as follows: “My dear child Nagalinga, you have become a perfect devotee by the grace of your guru. I have enshrined myself in you as you have entered my heart.…I shall hold a sword in my hand and settle down in your heart and inspire you to uplift and ennoble the world by your greatness and miracles” [P. 36].

Afterwards, with the blessing of the primal goddess Nagalinga began to perform miracles and wonderful feats day by day. Of the many miraculous activities only a few are picked up here just to illustrate the divine power and spirit in Nagalinga with which he could make his future life a historical account in itself. Once in Vijayapur, Nagalinga jumped into a pond before the eyes of his disciple Sangappa. As he did not return even after a long time, Sangappa felt shocked and returned home desperately. But within a little while he learnt the news that Nagalinga was happily sleeping in his monastery. Once again, in Vijayapur, Nagalinga entered the house of Satyappa who was a chronic leprosy patient. Nagalinga uttered the slogan, Jai Durga, Jai Mahakali and ran his palm all around Satyappa’s body and bound him with sheets of cloth all around him and kept him for three days. After the three days when the clothes were removed there were found no trace of leprosy at all on Satyappa’s body. Satyappa and his kith and kin were surprised beyond measure by Nagalinga’s miraculous power. They all prostrated at his feet and showed reverence.

Nagalinga visited the villages and towns lke Hole-Aluru, Gadag, Gujamagadi, and Varavi, where he exhibited many of his miraculous feats. Once also he snatched away the keys of the treasury office from the clerk. He opened the door of the treasury room, took out a few coins and distributed them to the poor farmers. Then he rushed to the record room and brought out a few files and set fire to them. But when the Mamledar entered the treasury office room and counted the money, he found that no cash was missing and also found that no file was missing. The Mamledar was confounded by the miraculous event and concluded, “This must be a great man of miracles and a compassionate soul, who has come to uplift and ennoble the lives of people ”[P. 72].

Some people once wanted to test the virginity and potency of Nagalinga, so they suggested to the prostitute Kamaksi to seduce him in the bed. Accordingly she tried to stimulate him by touching the sensitive spots of his body. Nagalinga told her to take his member and satisfy herself by removing his scanty robe. Kamaksi hugged the totally naked body of Nagalinga and tried to arouse him. But she was not successful in her attempt and so she could not have sex with him. Then she felt ashamed of herself and apologized, “I made a mistake in inviting you for sex, because you are a conqueror of your senses” [P. 96]. Those who instigated the prostitute to seduce Nagalinga came to know of their own mistake and begged pardon from him by saying: “Holy Guru, kindly forgive us our mistake.  … You are man divine whereas we are mere mortals” [P. 97].

While rambling without any particular destination, Nagalinga entered Garag village where he met Madiwala Swami, the blind fellow. Madiwala Swami asked him to lick his eyes and give him his eyesight. Nagalinga compassionately licked the eyes of Madiwala. Instantly, Madiwala Swami got his eyesight. The people of Garag were astonished by the miraculous powers of Nagalinga Swami. Then both of them made pilgrimage to Kashi, Varanasi. They visited places like Pancaganga Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Dasasva Ghat and Harischandra Ghat, etc. and felt overjoyed. Soon they came back to the village of Garag in Karnataka and people received them reverentially.

After some time Nagalinga took leave of Madiwala Swami and left Garag for Uppina – Betagiri village. He chanced to meet Budiswami Sadhu on horseback. But his horse was very wild and adamant. It never tolerated anyone except its master. It was such an intransigent horse that it would either bite or kick any stranger comong near it. But Nagalinga tamed it easily by advising it to behave gently. Very soon it became gentle like other domesticated animals. Seeing his feat people’s devotion to Nagalinga increased enormously.

Once, Nagalinga went to Sirasangi village where he went to the temple of Goddess Kalika. He had the darsan of the goddess from outside as the grill door was locked. As he was very hungry he prayed to the goddess to give him something to eat. Then by a miraculous feat the goddess made her gold nose-stud drop on the right palm of Nagalinga who took it to Krisnappa and bartered it for a bowl of milk. Krisnappa and the temple manager went to the temple and asked the priest to verify the nose-stud whether it was of the goddess. To their surprise they found the original nose-stud on the nose of the goddess. Then they realized the miraculous power of Nagalinga and praised him.

Nagalinga rambled in the city of Dharwad like a mischievous boy pelting stones. As his stone hit the hat worn by the wife of the Collector, he was put behind the bars. But while Collector Wellesley sat attending to his files in the office Nagalinga manifested himself there and ordered the Collector to bring all his files before Nagalinga to be examined by him. The Collector asked the jailor how Nagalinga escaped from the jail. The jailor replied that he did not know how Nagalinga escaped while the lock was still there and the sentinels were still guarding him there. As per the order of the Collector once again Nagalnga was taken into the prison. But the same evening Nagalinga manifested before the Collector. Simultaneously the jailor rushed there and requested the Collector to come and inspect the jail personally. The Collector went there and found that the lock was intact on the latch, but the prisoner was not inside it. The Collector knew that the man was not an ordinary one but a man of miracles. He suddenly called a photographer to take two snapshots of Nagalinga. The photographer came there and took two snapshots of Nagalinga. After a couple of days the photographer washed the negative reel and printed the photos. He found that the first photo was full of mere lines and no picture of Nagalinga while the second one contained the picture of the photographer himself. The photographer was astonished beyond his power of understanding. After the lapse of a few days Collector Wellesley wrote to the Queen of England seeking advice how to deal with this extraordinary man. The Queen’s personal secretary wrote back the reply that Her Highness informed them not to take any serious or drastic action against Nagalinga, but to be very cautious and tactful and forgive him and let him free. Consequently the British officers did as ordered. Thus Nagalinga’s miraculous activities formed a historical event of exchanging correspondences between the British officers in India and Her Highness in Britain.

Nagalinga Swami came to Mustigeri village where the Christians built a small church in 1877 and distributed copies of the Bible in Kannada. The devotee Kalappa also got a copy and read it secretly. When Nagalinga came to his house he concealed the Bible behind the idol of the goddess Dyamavva. But Nagalinga taught Kalappa the value of reading the Bible for his knowledge and whispered taraka mantra into his right ear. Nagalinga left him by saying that he would meet him (Kalappa) at the last moment of Kalappa’s life and help him have his videha-mukti.

Once Nagalinga snatched a brass panja from some Muslim devotees celebrating Muharram Festivals and kept it inside his cave in the Navilugund monastery. The angry Muslim devotees asked him to give back their panja. At this Nagalinga replied. “Please take away your god if he belongs to you. Otherwise leave him to us if he belongs to us” [P. 128]. Accordingly the Muslim devotees rushed into the cave of the monastery and tried to pick up their panja, but it seemed to grow heavier and heavier. It did not stir even an inch from its spot. They fainted and fell down on the floor there. Then Nagalinga ran his right palms on their inert bodies and enabled them to get up. They stood up and realized their folly and apologized to him.

Once Nagalinga happened to visit Samsi village where he begged alms from a miserly woman called Sankaramma. She gave him a ball of chilly paste. When she entered her kitchen she found her chilly grinding pestle turned into glittering gold. She became a rich woman afterwards. Yet after the lapse of several years Nagalinga came back and begged for alms. Being a miserly woman still Sankaramma gave a chilly paste ball to him. But this time the chilly grinding stone pestle was not turned into gold. From that day onwards she began to suffer from terrible acidity in her stomach. Her family was disturbed by many internal quarrels. In course of time Goddess Laxmi also left her house. Sankaramma had learnt the great lesson of her life.

Nagalinga rambled without a particular destination and once he helped a pregnant woman called Girija in the delivery of a baby boy. He also performed the miraculous feat of restoring the life of Lokappa who died of plague. When Nagalinga blew the vital breath into his right ear, and Lokappa opened his eyes as if waking up from sleep and all his family members were overjoyed. Once also Nagalinga visited Jamakhandi village where he begged something to eat from the goldsmith Chennavirappa. Chennavirappa angrily asked him to drink liquid gold. Nagalinga readily accepted to drink it. So liquid gold was poured down in his cupped palms. Nagalinga drank it without feeling any pain either on his palms or in his mouth. The goldsmith and his men realized their folly in disrespecting him. Within a few minutes Nagalinga pulled out a solid stick of gold from his rectum and gave it to Chennavirappa.

Once also Nagalinga in a challenge against the Nawab of Savanur town came on the back of an intransigent horse near a strong wall and passed through the small hole in the wall along with his horse and jumped across the wide moat with just one leap of the horse and stopped on the other side of the moat. The Nawab and all the people who saw the miraculous feat were dumbfounded with a sense of wonder and inwardly realized the greatness of Nagalinga Swami.

Nagalinga Swami’s miraculous feats go along with great historical events. During 1857 A.D. Nagalinga used to appear in many villages and towns simultaneously in the guise of women, wearing a number of bangles on his wrists, dotting his forehead with vermillion mark. The devotees guessed that it would presage an ominous and tragic event in the life of their land. In the same year in the Sepoy Mutiny innumerable Indian soldiers lost their lives thereby increasing the number of widows enormously. Then only the people came to know the symbolic meaning of Nagalinga’s crazy acts, which predicted the future tragedy.

During his wandering in the lanes of Betageri town he met a funeral procession of the dead body of a rich woman, Saraswatamma, wife of the rich man Brahmayya. The dead body which was on the hearse was fully decorated with gold ornaments. Nagalinga proposed that he could revive the woman if her husband would give him all the gold ornaments on her body. The husband accepted the proposal and accordingly he removed all the ornaments from the dead body of his wife and gave them to Nagalinga. Nagalinga placed his right palm on the head of the dead body of the lady. Instantly, the lady opened her eyes and got up and out of the hearse she walked back to her house unmindful of the gold ornaments missing from her body. Then Nagalinga rushed to the house of the old devout poverty striken lady Lakkamma and gave the gold ornaments to her.

Another historical event which goes on with the miraculous feat of Nagalinga is that once in the year 1858 A.D. Nagalinga asked Nagappa of Betagiri town to provide  him a palanquin the next day. The next morning Nagappa brought a palanquin and on which was seated Nagalinga in a sari and blouse like a married woman and made a procession all through the two towns of Betagiri and Gadag. Within a few days after this strange procession of the holy man, the Indians learnt that their nation was taken over by Queen Victoria from the East India Company. This historical event is described by the novelist as:

The photos of Queen Victoria were taken in procession all over India by the subjects. Then the local people of Betagiri and Gadag understood how Nagalinga Swami had predicted the rule of Queen Victoria by his female disguise and symbolic acting [P. 179].

One important miraculous feat which goes parallel to the history of India mentioned in the novel is the birth of a baby boy to Dyamappa and Devamma, the couple in Nagarahalli village on 28 August 1862 A.D. The baby-boy was named Saranabasava. When the boy grew into a youth, once Nagalinga met him and predicted that he would become a great saint in future and blessed him by placing his right palm on the boy’s head. In course of time the boy, Saranabasava became well known as a great saint in the Kannada Land.

Another miraculous feat of Nagalinga Swami was that he took lunch simultaneously in two different houses. One day in the village of Itagi the saintly lady Bhimavva invited Nagalinga Swami to a lunch at their Dharma monastery. Nagalinga accepted the invitation. At the same time his ardent disciple, Basappa Badiger also invited him to a lunch at his house. Nagalinga accepted this invitation also. When the time for lunch approached, Basappa Badiger conducted Nagalinga to his house for lunch. A little later Bhimavva also conducted Nagalinga to her monastery for lunch. Thus Nagalinga Swami took lunch at both the places simultaneously. After the lunch was over, both Basappa and Bhimavva conducted Nagalinga Swami back to the Temple of Goddess Dyamavva. The devotees saw a miraculous sight that as Nagalinga entered the sacred campus of the temple, his two figures merged into one.

Nagalinga Swami learnt from his yogic power that the end of his mortal life was approaching fast. He, therefore, walked from Sirasangi to Navilugund. On a Tuesday of bright moon forthnight in the month of Asadha, Nagalinga wandered about in the lanes of Navilugund and greeting everybody that he met with words, “I am going away. This is our last meeting [P.: 191]. On Thursday Nagalinga Swami got up early in the morning with a decision to die on the same day. Having had his bath and completed his puja he sat in a lotus posture and immersed in meditation. His devotees asked him the reason for the conspicuous changes in his behaviour during the past two or three days. Then Nagalinga replied that he had received the call of Time and he had to give up that mortal body that day.

When the sun was just rising in the eastern horizon on Thursday, the Chaturthi of brighter half of the month Asadha of Virsa Samvatsara 1803 (equivalent to 30 June 1881 Christian era) Nagalinga was ready to die. His devotees requested him to remove their sorrows, solve their problems and guide them along the spiritual path. As a reply Nagalinga advised them to do only good things, speak only truth and follow the dharma. After speaking these last words of advice, Nagalinga Swami breathed his last and his head sagged to his right side. And with all the formal rituals of a great saint his dead body was buried in the evening on the precincts of Mouneswara Monastery. In course of time his devotees built a beautiful shrine for the saint. From that time the Mouneswara Monastery came to be well known as Nagalinga Monastery. There were still many stories about Nagalinga’s meeting people and doing miracles even after his death.

Thus, the novelist Basavaraj Naikar has beautifully and successfully historicized the mysterious and miraculous feats in the life of Nagalinga Swami which spanned for 69 years between 1812 and 1881 A.D. This interesting novel may be easily compared and contrasted with Paramahams Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi and Sudhir Kakar’s Ecstasy. A close reading of Paul Brunton’s works will help the reader to understand and interpret this hagiographical novel in a better manner.



Naikar, Basavaraj. A. Pontiff of Peacockshire. Bengaluru: CVG Books, 2019. (All the page numbers are from this edition.)