In Bekkalale, cats are worshipped as gods

Mandya: A cat is a favoured pet or a bad omen if it crosses your path, but in Bekkalale village, it is literally put on a pedestal. Bekkalale, around 35km from Mandya, worships the cat as a form of goddess Mangamma and has no less than three temples dedicated to felines.

The practice is said to have originated some 1,000 years ago. Residents believe their main deity, goddess Mangamma, entered the village in the form of a cat and stayed on as their protector, shielding the village from all evils. Legend has it that an anthill emerged in the place where Mangamma appeared as a cat.

“Goddess Mangamma had appeared as a cat to our forefathers. She disappeared after showing them her divine powers and an anthill grew there instantly,” said R Basavaradhya, a priest. “After that moment, our forefathers felt the divinity in and around the village and began worshipping goddess Mangamma in the form of a cat. For us, cats are living godesses and we revere them.”

No cat can be harmed in any way in Bekkalale and those caught doing so will not be spared, say villagers. Whoever finds the carcass of a cat anywhere, be it in the village or outside, must not leave the place without burying the animal. “We will not tolerate cats being tortured and killed. If we find the perpetrators, we will thrash them and throw them out of the village,” said Mangegowda who owns a tea stall.
The village also celebrates a Mangamma festival whenever the astrologers conclude on an auspicious time. The celebrations go on for three or four days. The last festival was held three years ago and residents believe it is time for another. “We celebrate the festival of goddess Mangamma with our friends and relatives. It is a grand festival for us where we worship cats during the festivities,” said Mangegowda.

Bekkalale is, in fact, named after ‘bekku’ (cat) in Kannada. It is a simplification of its earlier name, Marjalapura: Marjala (Sanskrit) meaning cat and pura for town.