Renuka is mostly worshipped in South India which includes Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Here the deity is known by many names: Mahankali, Jogamma, Somalamma, Gundamma, Pochamma, Mysamma, Jagadambika, Holiyamma, Renukamata, Yellu aai, and Renuka Devi.
Legends of Goddess Renuka have been mentioned in the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa and in the Bhagavata Purana. Renuka raja was the father of Renuka performed a yajna to maintain peace and good health. From the fire of this yajna his daughter originated. When she was eight, sage Agastya, who was the guru of the Renuka Raja, advised him to have his daughter married to Jamadagni when she would be mature. Jamadagni was the son of sage Ruchika and Satyavathi and had obtained the blessings of the gods by performing penance. The couple lived in the Ramshrung Mountains. She was very dedicated to her husband.
Renuka gave birth to Vasu, Viswa Vasu, Brihudyanu, Brutwakanwa and Rambhadra. Rambhadra gained the favour of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati and was called Parashurama. One day when Goddess Renuka went to the river, she saw Gandharva spirits playing among themselves. She lost her concentration and fantasized about playing in the river with her husband. After coming to her senses she cursed herself. She bathed and tried to create the pot but was unable to do as she lost her concentration. She returned to the ashram empty handed. When her husband saw her returning empty-handed, he became furious and ordered her to go away.
Thereafter she went east and sat in the forest in order to meditate. She met saints Eknath and Joginath and prayed to them and asked them to help her to gain her husband's mercy. They told her to purify herself and then to worship a Shiva linga. Thereafter she was told to go to the nearby town and beg for rice from the houses. After collecting rice she was to give half to the saints and cook the remaining half with jaggery. If she would be able to perform these for three days she would be able to visit her husband on the fourth day.
They did warn her that she may not be fully pardoned by him and that she would have to experience tough situation for some time. Jamadagni was still angry and ordered his sons to punish their mother. All of them refused. Jamadagni turned four of his sons into four piles of ashes. Parashurama who was not there during the incident found his mother weeping by the piles of ashes and his father was still furious. Jamadagni told him what happened and ordered him to behead his mother. Parashurama obeyed his father using his axe.
His father offered a boon to Parushurama who asked for his mother and brothers to be brought back to life. Renuka's spirit multiplied and shifted to different regions and she was back as a whole too. This inspired her sons and others to become her followers thereby worshipping her.