We had to be appropriately dressed for a visit to the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum. I had to be clad in a saree and my husband in a dhoti – both legs covered – that was the requirement. No, salwars and trousers would not do – we were sternly told.
The temple is a spectacular sight and to those who may balk at the sartorial requirements, let me tell you it is well worth the effort. It looks like a city — with huge pillars, neatly laid pathways and exquisite sculptures – of mythic proportions.
The idol of Vishnu inside the temple is massive – 18 feet long, we were told. He is resting on the serpent Ananta Naga and has a lotus rising from his navel on which sits Brahma. The idol is breathtaking but this story that I heard at the temple was just as fascinating…
Somewhere in Mangalore there lived a rishi called Divakar. He was a Vishnu bhakt. One day as he finished his daily prayers and was walking back home, he saw a small boy playing under a tree. Divakar was drawn towards him for some strange reason. He walked up to him and after a brief moment of hesitation, he asked the boy to come home with him. The boy agreed easily but he had one condition: none could question his ways. He said that if Divakar raised his voice or asked him to explain his actions, he would leave. Divakar agreed but the condition had him worried. Soon after the boy came home he would worry about where the boy had lived before coming to his house and who his parents were and such other things. Also Divakar was on tenterhooks all the time, afraid that the boy would vanish just as suddenly as he had appeared.
One day as Divakar was busy with his prayers, the boy came and sat beside him and began playing with the shaligram (a black stone believed to be a symbol of Vishnu). He then looked at Divakar and bit the stone. Divakar flew into a rage. He shouted at the boy who reminded him that he had broken his word. The boy would have to leave but before he disappeared, he told Divakar that the sage would find him at Ananthan Kadu (the spot at which the temple stands today in Trivandrum), a dense forest where the snakes lived.
Divakar rushed to the spot and saw the boy getting into the trunk of a large tree. Before he could reach out and grab the child, the tree crashed to the ground in the form of the sleeping Vishnu. He lay on the Anantha Naga and from his navel emerged a lotus on which sat Brahma the creator. This is the idol that is worshipped even today in the Padmanabhaswamy temple.
Alauddin Khilji was on his way to India and busy demolishing all the temples en route. He reached Siddhpur, close to the village of Becharaji. The Brahmans of Siddhpur were disturbed and annoyed with the sultan’s destructive ways and decided to fast to please lord NilkanthMahadev. The sultan asked them to prove their God and failing which, they would have to adopt Islam as their religion. Bahucharaji appeared in the dream of a Brahmin named Budar. “You need not be afraid, bring the king to Chuwala and I will show them a ‘chamatkar’, a miracle, which the Sultan would have never seen”. The Brahmins got together and got him to Chuwala, but night had fallen by then, so they decided to set up camp and wait for daybreak.
Meanwhile the sultan’s soldiers were tired and hungry. They came across a number of roosters and Khilji ordered that the soldiers make a meal out of the birds . The rooster is considered to be a holy bird, but Khilji would not listen. All the roosters were killed and eaten, except one who hid behind a rock.
The next morning, the rooster did not crow. When Bahucharaji asked the rooster as to why it did not crow, the rooster said that all his friends were killed, so who will crow back in his support. Bahucharaji told him to do his work and see. So the rooster crowed. As soon as he did, all the dead roosters came out of the soldiers stomachs and joined the chorus, killing all the soldiers who had eaten roosters the previous night.
Needless to say that Khilji did not demolish the Bahucharaji temple.
As a mark of respect it is said that till date, in all the 44 villages in and around Becharaji, the Muslims do not kill/eat the Rooster. This is considered something unique in India and also the only place in India where the Muslims do not kill/eat the rooster.
Some of the soldiers who had not eaten the roosters and were thus saved, decided to stay back and did not join the army. These soldiers who stayed back became firm believers of Bahucharaji and were thereafter referred to as ‘Kamariya’ and are said to be serving the goddess even today. This community of kamariya’s are not found anywhere in the country, proving that they did not leave Becharaji and are still serving the goddess. We did come across a person who told us that he was a kamariya and begged for alms.
Some say that as a sign of respect to the goddess, the Muslim soldiers decided to dress up as women and men simultaneously. They used to be clean shaven on one side and had a moustache on the other, wore a bangle in one hand and kept a trishul in the other and wore both the ghagra and a dhoti. We could not have anybody vouch for this as it is said that this tradition continued till two decades ago, but now stopped and not many recollect having seen any of them like this, but their belief system makes them believe in this practice.
Story collected by: Utkarsh Patel
Location: Mehsana, Gujarat
Image: The above is a painting in the premises of Bahucharaji Temple, at Bahucharaji or Becharaji as it is popularly known. The temple is in a taluka of the same name in Mehsana district in North Gujaratand is one of the Shaktipeeths in Gujarat.
Deep in the rolling hills outlying the Great Rann of Kutch, some 65 odd kilometres from Bhuj, is a centuries old Hindu monastery steeped in medieval traditions and customs, its actual age disputable. There is not another soul for miles; the only sound heard being that of the peacocks singing in the surrounding forests. Within the monastery’s thick limestone whitewashed walls a sole yogi, with a handful of companions, keeps an exclusive tantric monastic order alive—the Kanphata (slit ears) sect founded by the sage Dhoramnath.
The traditional founder of the Indian sect of slit eared yogis is Gorakhnath but in Western India, Dhoramnath, his fellow disciple introduced the Kanphata doctrines into Kutch at the end of the 14th Century. Legend claims that Dhoramnath stood on his head for 12 years on top of Dinodhar Hill, an inactive volcano behind the monastery, in self-imposed penance for a curse he inadvertently made. Upon being urged by the gods to cease his penance he agreed on condition that whatever his eyes first saw would turn barren. And thus the Rann of Kutch was created. A temple dedicated to him stands on the hill.
Shrines and vermillion smeared stones dedicated to yogis having taken samadhi dot the monastery grounds. While the monastery exteriors are plain, clad in limestone with vermillion marks, its interiors in contrast are a riot of colour. Walking through corridors, arches and rooms, I enter the inner sanctum of the main temple around which I circumambulate in pitch darkness. My exploration ends on the roof overlooking a sea of domes topping the shrines, listening to the birds sing to each other in a beautiful, almost eerie, surreal world. 🙂
The monastery, however, is unfortunately also derelict and falling apart. Which is sad, taking into consideration the colossal amount of heritage it holds in its midst, including an eclectic collection of colourful 18th Century Kamangari wall paintings and intricate jaali work on its walls.
Kanphata yogis worship the Hindu god Shiva and are distinguished by the large earrings they wear cutting through the hollow of their ears, hence the name “slit ears”. Seated cross-legged chatting with the resident yogi, he and his companions explain the sect’s emphasis on acquiring supernatural powers instead of following orthodox practices of prayers and meditation. Referred to as Maharaj, the yogi, I am told, is renowned in the region and community for his uninterrupted meditation during the full nine days of navratri. Apart from slitting their ears, the ideology of the Kanphata Yogis incorporates elements of mysticism, magic, and alchemy absorbed from both Shaivite (devotees of Shiva) and Buddhist esoteric systems, as well as from Hatha Yoga.
Dusk is starting to fall. As I stand amid the old, desolate, Prussian blue hills and flame smeared sky with silence for company, the magic of Kutch, today replete with tantric traditions and ancient fossils, the stark beauty of the place envelops me within its fold. Did I just say it was beautiful? Let me repeat it nevertheless, for words and images are not always sufficient in capturing or chronicling such moments. These are instead etched in our memories to turn our eyes dewy when we remember certain days gone by.