A jolly peg for Shiva incarnation on his birthday

January 5th, 2009 - 3:42 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 5 (IANS) It seemed an unusual religious celebration all right. The deity, an angry incarnation of Hindu god Shiva, was plied with whiskey, rum and even an odd bottle of country liquor as sacred offerings by devotees. The venue was the Purana Qila and the occasion Sunday was the birthday of the 5,500-year-old Kilkari Bhairav, a deity associated with the Pandavas in Mahabharata, whose capital Indraprastha is said to have been located at the site.

The Kilkari Bhairav is the only deity in the Indian pantheon, apart from goddess Kali, who is invoked with liquor. He is known for his penchant for alcohol, accompanied by a platter of his favourite sweets - rota (a sweet baked bread made of wheat flour), imarti (an Indian sweet) and urhaad dal ke bhalle (lentil dumplings).

The temple, nestled amid the outer ramparts of the fort, was a hive of activity and lights as more 50,000 devotees trudged up the narrow track adjacent to the fort clutching bottles of alcohol and sweets.

The cornerstone of the celebrations was amity as devotees - cutting across faith and creed - jostled for space inside the sanctum to offer Bhairav Baba their share of the peg, and carry the bottle home as “prasad”.

The road leading to the gates of the shrine made for a strange scene - hundreds of devotees, swathed in blankets, swayed to the cosmic rhythm of the deity intoxicated by the liquor that they had offered as oblation and oblivious of anything else.

“It is a timeless ritual dating back to the rule of the Pandavas at Indraprashtha. Those who believe in the tantric powers of Bhairav Baba, the fifth rudra avatar of Lord Shiva, invoke him with alcohol,” Mahendra Ganganath, the custodian of the temple, told IANS.

The deity can also be offered milk and sweets. A twin temple in the same complex, known as the “Dhudhiya Bhairav”, accepts offerings of milk.

Ganganath personally is not in favour of the ritual of offering liquor as “ahuti (oblation)” to the deity.

“It has become an excuse for drinking. When a devotee offers alcohol to a deity in a shrine and carries the bottle home as is the more, he earns the divine right to drink in the name of the lord. The family usually does not protest.

“But any curbs will amount to hurting religious sentiments of the devotees,” he added.

The devotees treat the liquor offerings as a rite central to the festivities.

“We offer all kinds of liquor to the deity - the alcohol is not specific to his birthday. Sometimes, I visit the shrine on a Sunday, the day when Bhairav Nath is usually invoked and offer him liquor,” Beni Madhav, an automobile dealer, told IANS.

He clutched a bottle of rum in his arms while two of his friends carried bottles of whiskey. “A poor man even offers him country liquor,” Madhav added.

Prashant Chauhan, a government official, visits the temple every Sunday, but does not offer liquor. “I offer sweets to the baba. Liquor is not mandatory,” he said.

Legend cites that the temple was built by Pandava sibling Bheema, who carried seer Baba Bhairav on his shoulder from his abode in Kashi at the behest of Lord Krishna, as protection against the demons disrupting religious rites in the palace.

As part of the rite of passage, Bheema was not allowed to let the seer down till he reached the court.

“But Bhairav Baba realised that it was not possible for him to live in the bustle of the palace as he was a recluse. The seer used his powers on Bheema who set him down on the hillside outside Indraprastha and went to relieve himself. Upon his return, the seer refused to leave the place saying Bheema had violated the vow,” Ganganath said, adding the Pandavas then built a shrine at the site where the temple is located outside the Purana Quila.

The seer would bellow every time the demons invaded the Pandava shrines to chase them away, earning the name ‘Kilkari (screaming) Baba’.

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