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Book Review: True Story of Kanakapala by Raja Rao

True Story of Kanakapala by Raja Rao reads like a folk tale and conjures up a world of superstitions and faith. Wherein Kanakapala – a huge three-striped cobra – acts as an agent of justice and protects the virtuous and punishes the vile and wicked, convincingly explains the role of snake.

The story is woven around three generations. Rangappa, being left alone and orphan, accepts to be a pontifical Brahmin and cherished a strong and staunch desire to have the Darshana of Kashi Vishweshwara. Hence, he refuses girl after girl with enough dowry. Being a pontifical Brahmin he is given enough dakshina which he saves in a sealed sacred copper pot. When the pot is full, he sets out on a pilgrimage to the holy city Kashi. On the way he is offered rice and money, and even he is given the clothes by many. One day he arrives on the banks of river Hemavathy and after the evening ablutions and meditation decides to sojourn there only for the night. The moon comes in all splendor and everything around is laved in the white light. Being tired after a continuous and strenuous journey, he slowly ambles into the realms of somnolence and sees a beautiful dream wherein Lord Vishweshwara and Vishalakshi appear and ask him to stop his pilgrimage. They order him that he is hallowed by their holy presence and he must raise a temple for them on the top of the hill before him, and his duty is to look after the temple and his clan would be the subject of their love.

Ordering him so, they disappear. The morning after his litany he clambers the hill. There on the top, he finds the Udbhavamurthy and meditates for twenty one days and also gets the temple built with the help of villagers. He places his holy pot of gold by the holy couple as it belonged to them. The town rejoices and is renamed as Kashipura its former name was Subbehalli. Rangappa marries the third daughter of Pandit Shivaramayya, and settles down in the village. Then the war begins. Rangappa, to protect the gold from the redmen brings it to the home and hides it underground beneath the family sanctum. Soon, a huge three-stripped cobra encroaches the spot. He is called the Kanakapala.

After a century or so things change. There are so many unrighteous activities that the people indulge in. There are elopements and epidemics, and people become perfidious and brothers grow pugnacious. The three grand children of Rangappa are no exception to this. After their father Ramakrishnayya’s death two of them propose to dig out the gold, the gold of Kanakapala, but Seetharamu, the middle one, opposes this. At this point their mayhem motivates them to conspire his murder. Their father, when alive, had sensed their avaricious nature and hence protected Seetharamu very carefully. Sata, a widowed daughter, poisons Seetharamu and during the same week Kanakapala is seen for the first time. Then the gold is reported to be moving from place to place within the house. Therefore, the serpent sleeps at the same place where it moves. Once Surappa even enters the lumber room where the serpent uses to sleep, for there the gold is said to be. Fortunately, Surappa does so when the serpent is being fed with milk by Sata. However, the serpent senses this and forth with runs back into the room and hisses and spreads his hood and bites him of course without injecting any venom. At this Surappa yells out and Seetharamu on coming finds out what happened. He then scolds Kanakapala, who lies curled quietly thereafter.

Then we witness the quarrel among the brothers about the division of the property. Surappa and Ranganna quarrel fiercely and even proceed to the blows. And when Seetharamu introduces to separate the fighters the two brothers fall on him and beat him mortally. Soon Kanakapala appears and slips between the fighters and tries to separate them. When they continue to attack Seetharamu, he coils himself round the foot of Surappa and threatens Ranganna with his spread hood. That is the last scuffle in the family. Further, after a fortnight Seetharamu’s dead body is found in the Hemavathy. As to how it happened everyone has his own opinion. The narrator Venkamma growing a little serious at this point avers that she knows better than anybody else because she is the neighbour and third cousin. She also avers that it is done by the two brothers; they were waiting for an opportunity which they get when Seetharamu goes to Kanthapura to supervise the rice sowing peasants. The narrator says that she has heard Surrappa and Ranganna talking with Sidda, the boatman, the evening before Seetharamu’s death. Therefore, it is quite obvious that Sidda must have pushed Seetharamu into the river and for this turpitude he must have been bribed enough by the two brothers. She further professes that she has even seen the police inspector, visiting the vision house frequently and staying there day after day, who also, she says, is bribed. But nobody believes it.

After this, one day when Sata was feeding Kanakapala in the kitchen, the two brothers close the sanctum door and begin to dig. Kanakapala feels it and refusing the feeding dashes against the door and hisses in vain. With all the anger, he clambers the roof to find all the seams in the eves closed. Then he comes down and finds none in the home. Then frantic, helpless, repentant he rushed out of the door and scampered up the hill. Entering the temple he went round the god and goddess, once, twice, thrice, and curling himself at the foot of the divine couple, swallowed his tail and died.


The vision house people don’t find the gold. But they incur the curse of the Naga on them. The children of the family meet with mysterious untimely deaths. And no women in their family can ever bear a baby for nine months and bring it forth, for the malediction of Naga is upon them. 

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