He is 90 years old and has never had a haircut in his life. His nearly 20 ft long white mane, makes Palaiah, a Myasa Beda tribal, stand out in any crowd. But neither the attention nor the discomfort seem to bother him and he wears the holy title of “Ettina Kilari,” given to a Myasa Beda tribal rearing the “Devara Ettugalu” or God’s oxen, with great humility and reverence.
Indigenous to Challakere and Molakalmuru taluk of Chitradurga, the Myasa Beda tribals are hunters and cattle grazers, who have led a life of seclusion in the vast grasslands of the district since time immemorial. But their way of life is about to be nuked by a Science City or a giant military complex which the Union government has planned here. Of the 15,000 acres of grasslands in Challakere, almost 10,000 acres have already been given away to various establishments, including scientific and defence institutions.
Palaiah’s face is creased with worry as he ponders his people’s future in his village of Muttigarahalli in Challakere taluk. Seated under a neem tree and looking out at his holy bulls in the fields, he sighs, “May be I’m the last of the Kilaris.”
As many as 12 sub-sects of the Myasa Bedas rear the oxen in a ‘roppa’ or open field fenced with thorns, believing they are the reincarnation of their dead ancestors. According to tribal norms, the Kilaris must live a rigorous holy life, wearing only a small piece of white cloth around their waist, a Kambli (woollen blanket) on their shoulders and a white cloth turban. They go barefoot and eat only the food they have cooked in a pot.
“My long hair has never seemed a burden to me. When I’m completely dedicated to my God Mallaiah, how can I see it as a discomfort?” asks Palaiah. Not caring whether he stands a chance at entering the Guinness Book of World Records for a man with the longest mane of hair, he says, “It’s our family custom. My father and grandfather too never cut their hair.”
Dr Virupaksha Poojarahalli, a professor at Hampi Kannada University, who has done research on the Myasa Bedas, says Muttigarahalli and its surroundings are a cradle of their rich tribal culture and the tribe once formed the personal army of the kings of the Vijayanagar empire.
“Kilaris live a very sacred and pious religious life that is hard imagine in today’s world,” he says.