The thesis presents, compares and interprets different versions of the myth of Reṇukā’s decapitation, a matricide performed by her son Paraśurāma after provoking her husband’s anger by transgressing a sexual norm. Two of the myths presented are classical Sanskrit versions from the epic-Purāṇic tradition, the others from the Kanchipuram area in northern Tamil Nadu, namely two oral Tamil versions and one Sanskrit version from the Kāñcīmāhātmyam. In contrast to the epic-Purāṇic texts, Reṇukā becomes an ambivalent village goddess in the local myths when revived after her decapitation. According to the local myths, Reṇukā is revived as the better-known South Indian goddess Māriyammaṉ and associated with pox and disease, but other goddesses are also connected to the story. Because of the decapitation, the goddesses connected with this myth are worshipped in temples in the form of a disembodied head.
While the thesis highlights differences and commonalities between the epic-Purāṇic and local versions of the Reṇukā tale, the analysis is centered on what I distinguish as the most important motifs in the myth, namely the chastity of Reṇukā, her beheading and subsequent revival as a pox goddess. These motifs are exactly what provide the local versions with a distinct Tamil character. For instance, the chastity motif reflects the strict sexual norms imposed on women in Tamil Nadu, however, as I argue, without speaking in favor of them. In the oral myths Reṇukā is revived as half Brahmin-half outcaste, half pure and half impure, since her body was exchanged with that of another decapitated woman of lower caste. In this form she becomes an ambivalent and powerful village goddess.