Saturday, August 21, 2010

Gnostic Embrace of Warkaris in the Monsoon Season around Pune: II Khandoba Mandir (Warwadi) and the mystery of a Stone Pillar

Gnostic Embrace of Warkaris in the Monsoon Season around Pune: II Khandoba Mandir (Warwadi) and the mystery of a Stone Pillar

In the first part of this series we were exploring the country side around Pune during the monsoon season when the palkhi procession of warkaris take place. We had wondered off from Khed Shivapur into the hinterlands of Pune going towards Saswad from the NH4 highway. In the first part we discussed stone worship at the Marimmai temple next to the Marimmai ghat and then went off to see a “60,000” year old Brahma Mandir, which the local people thought to be truly that old. We discussed worship of stones and the seeming independence given to a worshipper to identify a deity with the stone. This nature of worship of a stone where the identity of the deity is dependent on the worshipper is, what I think, the very basis of Gnosticism before syncretic growth into establishing the rituals of theocratic religion takes place.

In this blog we will discuss the Khandoba Mandir near the village of Warwadi, where a find a stone pillar. The way a worship stone may evolve into a mandir (temple) caught my attention and I made an interpretation of the way a pile of stones become a stone pillar and the way it may revert to a pile of stone. This is part of a natural process when a seemingly theocratic religious structure may yield, when unattended, to the Gnosticism of the local people.

Khandobai Mandir and the Stone Pillar

The drive back was through a very sparsely populated idyllic grren countryside (Fig 9, the figure numbering continues from Fig 8 in the first part of the blog). There was evidence for considerable work on a road leading to a college being set up on the hills. These colleges would set up the populace for English-wielding information-technology requirement of computer clerks to be followed by billboards and other junk foods that will do away with the warkari life and other benevolent resources. Who are we to say no? We can only be wise after the event, after the horses have bolted the stables, and wait at best for kaliyug to end. Just be patient. It is all ordained on us?

I dare say the basic motivation of the herd or swarm of people has not changed. They still remain warkaris at heart. Its just the pace at which changes are taking place does not give time to assimilate and be at peace like the warkari. Change must occur, even as we record and perceive change; we think it progressive to change and change fast. Yet in some other scientific things where change is a necessity, the benefits of orthodoxy far outweighs the perils of essaying even thought or gedanken experiments … …

Die Gedanken sind frei” . The laws of increasing entropy demands there be increased incoherence or disorder if change is to be spontaneous … Civilized entropy-consuming warkari behavior can only slow down such changes.

One of the surprises on the road we took to Saswad is the appearance of a stone pillar in front of a stone structure. If you search the wikimapia you will recognize the structure as a khandoba mandir (if you had not already read the writing on top of the structure, that is) of Warwadi, the village nearby.

A pillar associated with a temple is usual in this land and perhaps elsewhere.

The nature and interpretation of the role of the pillar is another matter. This pillar (Fig 10 left) is not very massive and has elegant proportions and looks wonderful by itself in its own background. The pillar is made up of five loosely placed cylindrical rocks. You first wonder how such a loose assembly could be so stable. Then you wonder what the little knob on the top of the pillar could mean. Is the knob symbolizing a head? Is it some kind of a totem?

There are tribals of the Deccan (including Gonds, Kurumbas and Morias) who worship stone or wooden pillars with a rounded projection at the top to represent the human head. The worship of such pillar … the veneration of the wooden and stone pillars --- is evident in the practices of the Marias (or Morias, probably from the same community as the poet Tukaram) who apply turmeric and oil.

In popular tribal folklore these pillars sometimes are thought to pin the spirit of the dead to the place and prevent it from wandering around; instead the pillar helps locally in bringing rain (much like marimmai?) and driving away spirits.

Usually the boundary stone is marked by a heap of stones piled together by passing worshippers (reminiscent of piles of worship stones in Tibet?). The boundary-stone may also represent the totem animal being slain such that its blood is shed and thereby secure the presence of the totem deity at a particular spot, which then becomes tabu. To prevent violation the place is marked by a simple heap of stones, or by a stone pillar. In such cases the stone pillar would sometime be sprinkled with the blood (there is some evidence for dried blood on the pillar at Warwadi, if one looks and/or imagines hard enough).

Or, is the stone pillar a dwaja-stamba (flag staff)? In this case it should be in a line with the deity and it’s vamana (vehicle). The temple is marked by a rectangular wall which show a later attempt to regularize the temple plan to recent standards. The dwaja stamba should be between the vamana and the deity and it should be towards the east (which it is). The dwaja-stamba should also be typically made of metal or covered with a long-lasting metal (gold) foil. This pillar would probably have to do better to be a dwaja stamba.

It could be a victory pillar (kirti stamba).

Or does it serve another purpose such as holding a lamp?.

Does it have anything to do with khandoba?

The most important khandoba mandir is at Jejuri. It is famous for its deepmalas (light towers), there being, it is said, 350 of them along the hill path road to the temple. They are not very elegant looking but they are there. So if the tower was built after the temple was called a Khandoba temple then the pillar could as well be a deepmala although there seems to be only one place where a deep could be kept---on the top. So, the pillar will be a deep sthamba instead of a deep mala.

Maybe, we should start from inside the temple.

Who is khandoba? Khandoba as a god has existed from time immemeorial (depending on the memory), which is quite as it should be for a true god. The deity probably took shape in the mind of the worshipper as a stone was worshipped. In this case there is no point in figuring out the nature of the deity by looking at a stone. The prominent feature that strikes one is the red stone (Fig 10 middle and right) that seemed to have a pair of eyes and was similar in shape to that in the Marimmai temple in Part I, Fig 3, left , except that there was a socket for the eyes. There is, what seems to be, a small bull in front as the vamana which would make the deity Siva.

There does not seem to be a siva lingam.

The only indication of it being a Khandoba temple is the small copper plate (enlarged in Fig 10 middle, inset at right bottom) with the impression of man riding a horse, branding a sword along with his wife. A Ravi Varma press print has a similar scene depicting khandoba, except that khandoba and his wife (Mhalsa?) were slaughtering attackers with caste marks that ran parallel across the forehead, much like shaivites.

Legend has it that Mhalsa was helped by her dog. The temple tower at Jejuri has at least one dog among the Gods. We were allowed to take Bruno right into the heart of the temple at Jejuri and many worshippers would touch Bruno in reverence.

The copper plate does not make the red stone a khandoba figure but it is easier to associated the red stone with Khandoba in the minds of the worshipper. The figure of Khandoba in the Jejuri temple seems to have been elevated from a red stone to a man in red with an exaggerated moustache. In this case it is Siva because siva is red in tamil (so we must believe, since it has been repeated more than three times in the literature?)

There is a small pillar inside the khandoba temple of Warwadi on which a vessel (probably for an oil lamp) is kept and now (Fig 10 right) having some burning incense sticks. The wall had a knotted snake skin (Fig 10 middle, left inset) hanging from a nail. The knot in the snake indicates a deliberate act as it would be difficult for a snake to wiggle out of its skin in a knotted position even if it was a yogi and then hangs its skin on a nail. Some worshipper may have thought that the snake would be necessary for a Siva temple.

There is a rounded stone (fig 10 middle top right inset) of the kind found near the chaturmukh place mentioned above (Part I, Fig 8 left). It was covered with yellow (probably turmeric in oil). The Khandoba temple at Jejuri is always bathed in yellow with turmeric powder. Turmeric is the sole offering for the gods. So the yellow stone in the temple at Warwadi is consistent with a khandoba worshipper,

There are two pairs of feet sculpted on a stone inside our small khandoba temple (Fig 10 right).These feet are obviously not swayambhu. They could be representing the feet of a couple as one pair is larger than the other. The khandoba temple is sometimes the first place where newly married couples go for a blessing. This stone is apparently added later. After the wedding when the wife has entered her husband’s home (gṛiha pravesam), a fire ritual (homam) is performed by the couple seeking the blessings of the fire god, for a long married life. Here the couple is seated to the west side of the agni (sacred fire, in the centre) after which the bride is positioned on the left hand side. The position of the two pairs of feet (Fig 10, right) is consistent with this ceremony that blesses the couple to success in their house-holding life.

There seems to be a mini shivalingam carved by the side of the pair of feet on the stone. Maybe the person who placed the stone also placed the mini nandi (bull) in front.

The most famous khandoba temple is in Jejuri and the structure is thought to have been built around the middle of the eighteenth century, when Shivaji was no more.

The more mogul-friendly Peshawas and Wodeyars (most likely) shared the rule with the deccan sultanates in friendly persuasion. The influence of Islamic architecture is easily seen in the Jejuri temple on the top as well as the main temple. However, there is a strong resemblance to the Bhuleshwar temple (see my two blogs on Bhuleshwar on a hill) on a hill which was built in earlier times (I am told; not to be dimissed as hearsay). This does not mean that khandoba was not previously worshipped at the same spot as red worship stones before the main temple was built and identified by a worshipper as a khandoba temple.

It is also not clear whether the name khandoba evolved from something else. Phonetically it could have emerged from the name, cairns (a celtic word that could have evolved from a Sanskrit word, kona; celtic and Sanskrit have common words, I am told) for a conical pile of stones. From cairns to skanda a name for the tamil precursor to murugan or siva is a small phonetic step. The change from skanda to khandoba is an accepted version.

A possible transformation from a stone to an image is shown in Fig 11. On the left of Fig 11 is a stone I picked up from the river bed at the bhima-bhama sangam where I had immersed my ´late elder brother’s ashes. I picked it up because of its resemblance to ganesha and as an easy example of a swayambhu ganapathi stone. Such a stone with a pair of eyes embedded and covered with vermilion paint could even get to resemble the Kasbapeth ganapathi (Fig 11 middle) which, legend has it, that Sivaji's mother got as swyambhu from boys playing the river near her house.

The further evolution to skanda is shown in Fig 11 rght, from a small temple at the centre of virach talim chowk near present day Ramanbag school. It is easy to imagine that this temple once marked a boundary of Pune gaon near the river. On the right (click to enlarge) the gradual transformation to ganapathi, hanuman or skanda (in black, as non-dravidian images) takes place, with the fixed staring eyes being the common feature. Such staring eyes have been seen in the early pre-Egyptian carvings, for example (see inset on left of Part I, Fig 3).

It is difficult to obtain a coherent or consistent interpretation of stone worship and why they should be in red. Perhaps red colour is seen from farthest, like red traffic signals? Or because red is the colour of blood besides other things. One of my searches in the internet led me to a book A general collection of the best and most interesting voyages and travels in all parts of the world many of which are now first translated into English:….volume 10 by one.James Pinkerton. In Chapter CXLIX Antiquities of the Isle of Elephanta (the author apparently went from Arabia to Bombay and Surat) we find the following (an old print where what looks like 'f' is actually 's'):-

The comments of the author about modern Indians having “almost lost all knowledge of the fine arts” is interesting and revealing. The people who carved the Elephanta caves were different from the later people who piled the stones who were probably least influenced by the striking (to an outsider) nature of the caves and the sculptures. Maybe the local indigenous people (adivasi) felt that a fixed image removed their freedom of worship. May be the place was an original stone worship mound which was interfered with by the “’fine-arts’-refined” visitors. It is like witnessing the transformation to the natural state, much as a highly bred plant or animal reverts to its wild state when left free in nature and has to fend for itself.

So it seems has happened to the stone pillar at our khandoba mandir at village Warwadi. It must have been difficult for the worshippers to commit a particular stone to a particular deity for worship. It is possible that the refinements introduced by making a stone pillar is slowly being done away and the stone pillar is slowly being reverting back to the pile of stones which is accumulating at the bottom much as the well bred flowers reverts to its natural wild state.

One can find more complications. Is there a reason for five stones being used to make the pillar.

There is a pile of five stones at the base of the pillar (Fig 10 left, near Lalitha’s feet). There is evidence for other piles of five stones which have been dismantled or fallen down, all around the pillar. In James Hastings’ “Enclyclopedia of Reigion and Ethics” we find “Among the Bhils, after a birth, the mother smears a spot outside her hut with cowdung marked with lines of turmeric. In the midst of the figure thus made she places five stones, corresponding to the number of days which have elapsed since the birth, and, laying round them pieces of coco-kernel, she sprinkles them with turmeric, millet, red powder, and spirits --- possibly a magical charm to bring good luck to the child…”.

The number five, panch, comes in several ways: The five hooded snake guarding over Buddha, the festivals associated with panchami the fifth lunar day (nag panchami for snake, vasanth panchami for spring), there are five stones in a zen balance, not to mention five fingers on our hands for example. A five-fold point group also sustains growth without repetition (as in Penrose tiles) since repetition in space and time without change, as in a crystal, will be death (I guess).

So the interpretation of five stones piled in the pillar and elsewhere can vary and would depend on the worshipper and the way five is interpreted. (?)

Since finding the five-stone pillar, I have looked around in my memory/experience. in the internet as well around the Pune-Saswad-Jejuri region. I have not found anything like that as yet. But then my experience in this field is limited. I may be totally wrong. But then I will chalk it up to the way the teaching of history of India avoids what has not already been trodden upon.

No comments: