Mythical tales from Jejuri

Religious F lavour

As the hotel we were staying was in the heart of Pune, we took a taxi to the place.  As we left Pune behind, we rattled through the dry rugged terrain interspersed with a few picture pretty villages of rural Maharashtra.

Having left our place early morning with just a cup of tea, we were eagerly looking forward for a repast of some kind. Sensing our need for a hot cuppa, our driver Jagadish pulled alongside a small, unimpressive but clean wayside eatery, which was just gearing up to begin with the day’s business.

We asked the boy, who plonked glasses of water on our table, for suggestions on something hot to eat. He replied that they had only one item on the menu — misal, a popular Maharashtrian snack.

After replenishing ourselves, we headed to Jejuri in Purandhar district, located to the southeast of the Pune city in Maharashtra. The town is known for being the venue for one of the most revered temples in Maharashtra. It is dedicated to Khandoba, also known as Mhalsakant or Malhari Martand.

Shopping : Artefacts at a local market in  Jejuri. Photo Mira Giridhar  Being just over 55 kms from Pune, we reached Jejuri town in a short span of two hours. Luckily for us, the weather being salubrious that morning, we climbed the hill without any difficulty. On our way up, we could see stone cutters chiseling at the steps to make tiny pits so that they do not get too slippery for pilgrims in the rainy season.

Today, Jejuri is a sprawling settlement, its survival depending wholly on pilgrims who come to the place in huge numbers. It is a typical pilgrim centre, the lanes around the hill selling everything one can think of — brass diyas and images of the deity, cassettes and CDs of bhajans and Bollywood music, flowers galore and packets of tiny white sugar sweets offered to the deity.

Regarded as the ‘God of Jejuri’, Khandoba is held in great reverence by the Dhangars, one of the oldest tribes in India. The temple is an ornate structure with little resemblance to other temples of the region. It is on the summit of an unpretentious hillock with a wall running around it like the ramparts of a fort.

A series of over 200 steps of dressed stone lead up to the temple. Flanking the steps on both sides are tall, tapering stone pillars with provisions for lamps.

In the innermost shrine of the temple, Khandoba appears as a linga, but what is strange is that his counterpart, Mhalsa Devi too appears as a linga. The two lingas are covered with silver masks, and dressed colourfully in all finery to symbolise divinity.

Khandoba, above anything else, is acknowledged to be the God who answers prayers, who fulfils every wish. The worshipper, in turn, is counted upon to take a vow before the deity that if the wish were granted, his or her gratitude would be demonstrated through an offering, penance or sacrifice.

The offering may be in various forms, simple gestures like sponsoring a special puja for the God, circumambulating the temple a number of times in obeisance or donating money to erect another deepmala.

A sword competition is held every year at the temple on the occasion of Dusshera. The one who lifts the sword of the temple high up, for the maximum time, is declared the winner. 

After visiting the shrine, our downward climb from the hill was naturally far easier and we shopped for music CDs and other souvenirs to take home. After reaching Pune, we asked the driver to direct us to a hotel serving typical Maharashtrian cuisine.

The lunch was elaborately served in huge thalis with innumerable dishes. Jejuri is
well connected with Pune as frequent buses ply regularly between the city and this temple. However, if you want to enjoy the drive and admire the scenery of the Ghats around the hill, a private vehicle is convenient.

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