Bizarre temples feed Indian faith

Odd shrines abound where motorcycles and "English Language" are worshipped and toy aeroplanes are given as offerings.

Last updated: 07 Feb 2014 09:13
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The English Devi temple is meant to encourage people to learn the language [Supplied/Chandra Bhan Prasad]

Many around the world are known to be obsessed with their motorcycles. They dust, clean and keep them well oiled - taking much pride in the machines as their ultimate symbols of machismo.

But some residents of the western Indian state of Rajasthan have taken the obsession with a bike a step further. They worship a Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle, literally.

A shrine built on the highway connecting Pali district to the city of Jodhpur in the state has a Bullet bike as its presiding deity.

The tale goes like this: One Om Singh Rathore, alias Om Banna, was riding his Royal Enfield in 1988 when he hit a tree and died. The police brought the bike to the police station, but the next day the bike was spotted at the accident site. They brought it back to the police station and emptied the fuel, but again the next day, the bike surfaced at the accident spot.

The bike has continued to stand undisturbed at the site since then, with its mysterious prowess prompting locals to convert the place into a shrine. It is now called the Bullet Baba temple.

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"People worship the bike, seeking the blessings of Bullet Baba," says Poonam Giri, the temple priest.

Both the bike and the tree against which it crashed have assumed divine status in the eyes of the locals.

Now, travellers come here to pray before the bike for their road safety. They also tie threads and scarves to the tree, seeking protections from road accidents.

India has always been a land of superstitions, where beliefs - however outlandish - find fertile ground to grow. The faith in Bullet Baba has also exponentially grown over the years, and now there is even a dedicated Facebook page on it.

"Since two decades, I am conducting puja in the Bullet Baba Mandir [temple]. I have noticed that mostly youths come to worship him. They believe that praying at the temple will make their journey safe and believe it or not, prayers have been answered at this temple," adds Giri.

Faith often defies logic and it is more so in India - a country bursting at the seams with people of diverse backgrounds and caste, creed and religion.

It is on display even in Deshnoke, a small town in the same state of Rajasthan. Here, rats - hundreds of them - jostle with the presiding deity of the Karni Mata Temple for devotees’ attention. Because of some unexplained tradition, worshippers first offer Laddoos (ball-shaped sweets) to the rats that have made the temple their home.

Auspicious white rats

If a white rat is spotted among the many black ones first nibbling the sweet, it's considered very auspicious.

Patrons seek blessings to bear children at Karni Mata Temple [Tabeenah Anjum Qureishi/Al Jazeera]

The devotees' faith in the divine powers of the rats is strong and deep-rooted, and the temple authorities have actually cordoned the temple with iron nets so that eagles cannot harm the rats. If any rat gets killed by visitors even by mistake, they are required to make amends by offering some gold to appease the goddess.

Newly married women mostly come to the Karni Mata temple, seeking blessings to bear a child.

"Our family has great faith in the goddess, so after my marriage, they sent me there to pray for a child. I hope I will be blessed with baby soon,” Priti Sharma, a worshipper at the temple, said.

Elsewhere, in the province of Punjab, faith actually has taken wings in the shape of aeroplanes.

Predominantly Sikh, Punjab is the state from where thousands migrate every year to countries like the US and Canada for a better future.

Hundreds of thousands are waiting to follow suit, and there is now an aeroplane-shaped Gurudwara (Sikh holy shrine) in the city of Jalandhar, where they come to offer toy aeroplanes and pray for their wish to migrate to be fulfilled.

Temple to worship English 

It is collective aspiration that has also driven the people of Uttar Pradesh to attempt building a temple for English language in the rustic Lakshmipur Khiri district.

A society which is living in anxiety does such things. And you have to allow people for it

Shiv Vishvanathan, Social Scientist

Work for constructing the temple dedicated to English Devi (Goddess English) began in 2010. Chandra Bhan Prasad, a writer, is the man behind it, and the idea is to popularise English learning among members of the community.

"People used to talk about every kind of inequality but not about the inequality prevailing in the language of education. The elite classes send their kids to English medium schools but the Dalits [suppressed community] and the downtrodden cannot afford to master English," said Prasad.

Proficiency in English is largely seen as a passport to professional success in India, and that the people would come to worship the language has not come as a surprise.

As a matter of fact, social scientists feel there is nothing wrong in it.

"A society which is living in anxiety does such things. And you have to allow people for it," says Shiv Vishvanathan, one of India's best known social scientists.

"If it works, it helps and if it does not, then it doesn't actually harm," he adds.


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