After visiting the shrine of the fiery ulka, accompanied by his two shaktI-s, we were filled with the urge to pay a visit to the shrine atop the massif of Jejuri. It houses khaNDobA, a pastoral deity, an evolute of the ancient revanta, in Andhra, Karnataka and Maharashtra. A Sanskrit tale is narrated in association with this shrine:
-The brAhmaNa-s inform rudra that the world was being tormented by the demons maNi and malla.
-They go to rudra to ask him to save them from the demons. From his locks he produces a fierce shakti named ghR^itamArI
-He himself manifests as mArtANDa bhairava. He is described as having golden flaming robes, with teeth like flashing rubies and he was surrounded by a troop of fierce dogs.
-mArtANDa bhairava appointed kumAra as the commander of his forces with a horde of skandagraha-s mounted on peacocks.
-kumAra further partitioned his division under indra, agni, yama, nirR^iti, varuNa, kubera, brahmA and viShNu. There was also a horde of vinAyakas mounted on rodent-faced horses led by the fiery ulka.
-The forces of mArtANDa bhairava and those of maNi and malla fought a fierce battle.
-In the final fierce battle the horse-faced maNi fought mArtANDa bhairava riding a white horse. Finally, he was struck by an arrow of the bhairava and thrown into a lake termed maNichal along with his horse. mArtANDa bhairava then stamps him underfoot, when he pleased the god with a hymn, and asks for a boon to be stationed at the door-step of his temple. He also gives his white horse as a vAhana to the bhairava.
-Then malla attacked the deva army with his own personal force by uttering so loud a roar that it caused pArvatI-s crown to fall in kailAsha. mArtANDa bhairava dispatched ghR^itamArI to attack his hordes.
-ghR^itamArI swooping down on them like a kR^ityA swallowed all of them and ground them the dust.
-Then ghR^itamArI and malla fought a terrible battle. He pierced her head with 100 arrows, her breasts with 27 arrows each and another 100 to immobilize her shoulders and neck.
-Then mArtANDa bhairava entered the field riding his white horse. With a cresent-headed arrow he cut off the demon’s bow, but the demon retaliated by hurling his axe to cut the bow of the bhairava. The then two joined a hand-to-hand fight with swords.
-Finally the bhairava struck him down and placed his foot on him. Before he was beheaded, he asked the flaming bhairava that his head should be placed outside the temple of the god and that he should be given sacrifices of goats or sheep. He also asked that his name be mentioned before that of his conqueror. mArtANDa bhairava conferred these boons and dispatched him — he took the name mallAri to satisfy the point of the the asura’s name coming first.
This is the canonized Sanskrit work. However, the shUdra-s of maharAShTra and Andhra also narrate a colloquial version. Several shUdra-s I have spoken to were well aware of the connection between mArtANDa bhairava and khaNDobA, and also generally know the Sanskrit version of the story. The colloquial version is usually narrated by a pious shUdra bard called a vAghyA or in the midst of the shepherds by a sooth-sayer termed the “devarShi”. The Andhra and marAThA version differ in minor points, mainly place names. Some Andhras seem to have located the tale to Mallikarjuna or shrIshailam; in the kaNNaDa country I have noticed some say that it was malleshvaraM, now within Bangalore city. Clearly these places were there in the marAThA mind too, because shivAjI bhosle and his clan, great worshipers of khaNDobA, associated him with shrIshailaM and malleshvaraM. shivAjI even wanted to renounce the world and become a mendicant at shrIshailaM, but his men reminded him of his great role to play for svarAjya. This grandson emperor shAhu himself, like a vAghyA came to his court along with his dog on which he placed the royal crown thinking of khaNDoba. But I supply below the story as narrated in the frame of the marAThA country, for that is where I have explored the many shrines of the deity:
The brAhmaNa-s asked shiva to help the people from the depredations of the two demons on earth. shiva told umA that he was leaving kailasa to deal with two asuras.
umA:” You are always taking avatara-s leaving me alone here. I want to come along this time.”
shiva: “Alright, after I kill the asuras you can come along. We will settle there and live for a while. You incarnate as mhALsA the daughter of a tima-sheTTi, a li~NgAyata shopkeeper. After killing the asura-s I will come marry you and take you to my palace atop the hill of jejuri.”
ga~NgA who saw all this, held in the coils of rudra’s hair said: “This time I want to come too”.
shiva: “OK- you take the incarnation of a shepherd girl bAnU among the shUdra-s known as the dhangar (cattle herders). I will come to your hamlet and bring you over to my palace.”
umA: “Alright, but why can’t we come now? You may need us for battle.”
ga~NgA: “You will need us! see when the time comes, you will need us.”
shiva: “OK ladies go and take your incarnations, I really need to be doing this man’s work of fighting asura-s.”
rudra took some haridra and sprinkled it on his snake — it became a metal chain that he wore around his neck. In due course rudra incarnated as mallaNNa or khaNDobA starts a war on maNi and malla. viShNu also incarnates as IThobA or hegaDi pradhAn as bAnU’s brother.
In the fight maNi on being wounded starts spawning new maNi-s from his blood- like raktabIja or andhaka. khaNDobA seeing the trouble sends for the ladies mhALsA and bAnU to come an join him in the battle. mhAlsa taking up a sword and spear rushed to the field. bAnU picked up a magic bow and arrows and ran to the field. Behind bAnU came their dog. First the two ladies try to drink up the blood. But seeing it to be too much they used skulls of beheaded asuras to catch the blood. When even that did not suffice they ran around shouting in consternation and were hit by the arrows of the asuras. Then their dog seeing the predicament came and lapped up all the blood. With his blood drying up maNi was losing strength. Then IThobA also came to the field and gave khaNDobA a chakra, with which he killed maNi.
bAnU and IThobhA killed many demons in malla’s army. Then khaNDobA attacked malla, with mhAlsA mounting his horse and wielding a spear. After a prolonged fight, malla finally rushed on khaNDobA and seized his horse’s reins. But the horse reared and allowed mhALsA to spike him on his flank, even as khaNDobA struck off his head with his sword. The day of victory was a bright ShaShThI day in mArgashIrSha. Then khaNDobA married mhALsA and also brought bAnU along, and settled down with the two ladies in his hill-top palace at jejuri [kaNNaDa-s explicitly call bAnU a concubine].
In jejurI, the shrine of viShNu as IThobA or hegaDI pradhan is half-way up the hill. In front of his shrine goat sacrifices are made- he is suppose to convey the goat sacrifices to the recipients. khaNDoba himself only takes vegetarian offerings in the main shrine on the top of the hill. There, on one side in the courtyard, there is a large image of maNi and one of the steps has the image of the head of malla. mhALsA has her own shrine, while bAnU has a little platform on which her image is placed. In the smaller, but venerated, dhamankeL shrine in Junnar near Pune, khaNDobA is seated on a muNDa mancha with the two demons’ heads as the foot-rests. mhALsA is seated next to him, while bAnU is peeping from behind his shoulder. In his hands he has a sword, trident and shield. Besides the 3-peaked tryaMbaka li~Nga, IThobA or viShNu stands with a sword and shield.