In a country as large as ours, surely one god isn’t enough to cater to everyone’s demands. No blasphemy intended; India is home to many gods and goddesses, some who were born here and some who have traveled from faraway lands. On one of my visits to Gujarat, into the Saurashtra district, I came across a quaint little street-side temple. Curiosity got the better of me and I stopped my car to get a feel of the divine. In return, I was met with cigarette smoke.
The temple of ‘Mamadev’ is how the local residents fondly refer to it. Mamadev is said to be a ghost and is surprisingly well known all over Saurashtra, mainly in the Junagadh district. Mama is actually a ghost who comes down in the middle of the night to walk the lonely deserted streets. His presence is also found in shops that stock wood used for building and construction. There is a belief that Mamadev’s ghost is at home in these shops and he takes care of the wood throughout the night and keeps robbers away. People say they have seen Mamadev sitting atop the highest plank or on terraces of houses smoking a cigarette. And if you happen to walk into him on a deserted night, be prepared; he might ask you for a cigarette. The best thing to do the local people say is to give him a cigarette and start walking without stopping , never looking back. And if you do not have a cigarette, do not say a word, but using hand gestures indicate that you do not have one.
Mamadev is considered to be a friendly ghost. He does not harm anybody. But if you do not have a cigarette when he asks for it, make sure that the very next day you go to his shrine (irrespective of whether you smoke or not) and offer him two cigarettes. There are many shrines dedicated to Mamadev and these are unique—they have a huge statue of Mamadev and the presiding priests accept only cigarettes as donations. One cigarette the priests light up and offer to Mamadev and another, they take a few puffs from. A few drags and then the priest places the half-smoked cigarette on the altar.
The altar is also very different from the one’s you would see in regular temples. Apart from Mamadev’s statue, it has flower pots with plastic flowers and huge steel plates that hold the cigarette butts. You are not supposed to offer bidis or any cheap cigarettes. The temples are typically named ‘Mama ni mauj’ (Mama’s happiness) and the people believe that he takes care of them and the travellers at night if they can please him. Thus most of the shrines are found on state highways where travelers alight for a brief halt and a cigarette.
‘Do you want to donate cigarettes to him?’–the man in charge of the temple asked me. ‘You can buy them from me,’ he said. So I bought two Marlboro Lights and lit them up while he put them in the holder for incense sticks. ‘Keep enjoying your life’ he grinned and said. I head out of the temple in amazement not sure if I want to recount this story to anyone for I don’t want to sound like a madman.