The local vestiges of bhairavAchara: Sonari and Kandari

We had earlier described the remnants of bhairava worship in Mhasvad and the local sthalAkhyAna, which to our knowledge is not found in any saMskR^ita source. In that note we had allude to another place to the east of the city of our youth, the hamlet of Sonari where another great shrine of 8 bhairava-s exists. Now we shall take up the narrative of that expedition. In the days of our childhood, we had once gone with our pItAshrI to perform the visarjana of the son of rudra on the banks of the river gomUtraka. On the opposite bank of the river we sighted an octagonal temple and expressed our desire to go there. We crossed the bridge and reached that shrine. Upon entering it, a deep fear gripped both our sire and us, as in the dim light of evening hour the fierce face of bhairava peered through the smoke of burning aguru, with the eerie noise of a daMaru beaten by a local DavryA [a Damaru-beating ascetic in the mahArATTi language] filling the place. It was our first encounter with the essential presence of the bhairava who had been worshiped in these regions at least since the age of the vAkATaka-s. Much later, in the year of unbridled sahaja pleasure, during the extended strike of the peons on account of which our college suspended classes for good, Mis-creant came up to us and showed us some remarkable pteridophytes she had collected. We too wished to acquire them and upon inquiry she mentioned to us her trip with her gang of “higher society friends” (as the kR^iShNashUdra called them) to the Malhargad fort. She was willing to go there again with us but refused when we suggested that we should take kR^iShNa-shUdra and chira-shUdra along for their knowledge of the local vernacular and their skill with Ayudha-s. She then left us to our alignments of the Ig domain and moved to join the “higher society” gang.

Just then a new chaturtha brought along by kR^iShNa-shUdra came to make conversation with us. He stated that he hailed from a hamlet south of the great train route by which made our yearly journeys to the karnATa country to the city of our birth. On further discussion, this shUdra of pleasant speech informed us that his hamlet was several miles to the west of the Malhargad fort and that he often went to the village of Sonari near the fort to see some of his clansmen. Soon with him, chira-shUdra and kR^iShNa-shUdra we were planning an expedition to these regions. Mild though he was in conversation, he was no slouch with Ayudha-s as others from those rude regions of the mahArATTa country. He brought a deshIya nAlIka itself loaded with gola-s, while the other two merely carried vR^ishchika-s for protection. Thus, with my fellow-travelers we headed to the east, having a raucous conversation in hindi on the “disputable” structure at Ayodhya and whether the founder of the mahArATTa nation was a brigand or a national hero (not that we differed much in our opinions on these issues). After more than a couple of hours we reached the hamlet of Karmala, where our mahAraTTa landlords held one of their sprawling ancestral possessions. From there, by the occasional bus we reached the Sonari hamlet and proceeded to the fort where the temples and the pteridophytes lay. The fort was one of the last built by the mahArATTa-s and was constructed by a brAhmaNa artillery officer of the peshvA mAdhavarao-I to guard a pass that could be used by the Ghazi of Hyderabad to attack Pune. Lower down there is the fortified palace of this artillery officer along with temples of vinAyaka and viShNu constructed by him. On the way to the citadel amidst a clump of several tall tamarind, mango and rain trees lie two temples – one of the khaNDobA(to which the officer had endowed a huge sword as a part of the vrata to build the fort) and another of the aShTa-bhairava. In the latter, there are central icons in relief on the basaltic face of the hill with fierce silver face masks for the bhairava (locally termed bIrobA) and siddha-yogeshvarI (locally termed jogubAi). This garbhAgR^iha is pretty old although there is no indication to say how old. It is certainly older than 1680 CE when the only surviving inscription from the region states that a mahAraTTa chieftain under shivAjI had built the sabhA-gR^iha for the shrine. Tradition states that nAtha ascetics have been visiting the shrine since the days of the brother of j~nAneshvara (a mahArATTi ascetic) who was initiated as a nAtha yogin. In support of this contention we see a samAdhi of one his brothers some 6-7 kilometers away from these shrine from late 1200 CE.

We then made long trek from the Sonari fort to the ridge of Kandari where a remote, even older bhairava shrine exists. Here the shrine has similar images on the face of the basaltic rock as seen in Sonari. The rock itself is daubed with scarlet sindhUra with metal masks to mark out the faces of saMhAra-bhairava and bhadra-kAlI. This shrine is considered a local equivalent of Kashi by various tribesmen like fierce kohlI-s and shepherds. The flag poles on the courtyard of this shrine are taken to the shrine of Sonari in chitra paurNamAsya and then a ratha yAtra is held there. We are not sure if any of this survives any more. Our chance to learn more of these obscure shrines came from yet another sthalAkhyAna composed by a R^igvedi brAhmaNa of the mudgala gotra from these regions in the mahArATTi language. I have never come across it anywhere else:

There had been a fierce fight between brahmA and rudra, in which the latter had killed brahmA. As atonement for this pApa, rudra was roaming in the form of bhairava from tIrtha to tIrtha observing the kapAlavrata. With rudra no longer around bhadrakAlI decided to observe asceticism. Around that time in the daNDaka forest lived four powerful asura-s by the name bhaumAsura, kandAsura, suvarNAsura and prachaNDAsura who were spreading terror all around. Wandering around bhadrakAlI came to the vicinity of the rocky spur on which the fort of Sonari stands and started performing tapasaya and yoga. When ever she would try to perform a ritual suvarNAsura used to disrupt it and harass her routinely. As suvarNa started making advances towards her, she told him that a being would come who would marry her and kill him. Just then bhairava wandering around reached the daNDaka. Here, bhaumasura challenged him for a fight. The fierce bhairava attacked him with his khaTvA~Nga and killed him. Then taking up a horse he rode deeper into the forest in the form of saMhAra-bhairava until he reached the domain of kandAsura. There he was joined by his assistant the vetAla and the bhairava challenged the asura. In the fierce fight that followed he killed the asura with his trident. He stationed the vetAla at the boundary of the Kandari village and created a stream there by piercing the ground with his trident. Then his horse took a great leap. The mahArATTa-s show some impression in the basalt there and state those are the footprints of the bhairava-s horse during that leap. The horse landed in Sonari where he saw bhadrakAlI and rushed to her and taking her up arranged for their vivAha. She assumed the form of siddha-yogeshvarI upon the marriage. After the marriage suvarNAsura was alarmed and started advancing with a large army. The bhairava told his yogeshvarI that he will not show his face to her again until he had killed the demon and set forth on his horse. As he neared the battle field he summoned the 64 yoginI-s dwelling in various shrines to assist him in the battle and they arrived with several weapons. In the battle that followed the yoginI-s slew the troops of the asura even as the bhairava engage suvarNa in a prolonged bow battle. Finally, resolving to kill him the bhairava asked the 64 yoginI-s to drink up the asura-s blood. Then he brought down the asura with a hail of arrows. Before dying the demon wished that the place where he was killed be known after him and it thus became suvarNArI. Then in a sword battle the bhairava slew prachaNDAsura. After this he went to lohatIrtha (the river near Lohagad?) to wash his weapons. Then he installed he yoginI-s back in their shrines and returned to yogeshvarI.

The legend states that one of the 64 yoginI’s in the above narrative is the yoginI, tvaritA (locally known as tukA-AI) who is enshrined in Tuljapur. This yoginI is supposed to have brought from Rajasthan by nAtha yogin-s. In support of this there are reports that a tvaritA temple also known as tuljA exists in the Chittor fort in Rajasthan. In this context it is of interest to note that the shrine in Maharashtra is one of the family shrines of the clan of shivAjI. One wonders what implications this has for the claims of the shishodia origins of shivAjI. Another yoginI of this narrative, hastimukhA, with an elephantine head, is enshrined much closer to Pune but in the same general eastward direction as the road to Sonari. Several other yoginI-s (locally called jogubAI-s) are in shrines scattered around this region. We invoked two of these during the battle in year following the one in which the above narrative took place.

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