Friday, November 05, 2010

Kolatkar’s Jejuri, Now

Arun Kolatkar died on September 25, 2004. But the reclusive artist-poet is not dead. He will live as long as the name Jejuri remains on the map. Kolatkar achieved in a collection of 31 short poems, what every travel writer, every travel magazine/show aspires. He turned a small, provincial temple-town into a myth. In 1974, after the slim volume, titled ‘Jejuri’, was published by a small-time press Clearing House, the flow of Indian poetry in English took a sharp, unexpected turn, and a local deity of the Dhangar community in the state of Maharashtra became a legend. Such was the power of those 31 short poems.

You cannot enter the town of Jejuri without remembering Kolatkar. Much has changed in 2010. The population has grown, there’s more affluence than seen by Kolatkar:

When you hear her say,
‘What else can an old woman do
on hills as wretched as these?’

You look right at the sky.
Clear through the bullet holes
she has for her eyes. (An Old Woman)

There are more curio shops than you can count; feature of any temple town in India. There are more visitors. Khandoba, the deity to whom the temple is dedicated, is the ‘kuldevata’ of a number of communities in Maharashtra. Tradition demands that when a man gets married, the first thing he has to do is to visit the Khandoba temple in Jejuri. Tradition demands that on the way to the top of the hill where the temple is located, the groom must carry the bride; to signify that he’ll take care of his wife for the rest of his life. Now, that’s a difficult task indeed. There are total 450 steps till you reach the fort-like temple. Nowadays, most grooms take two or three steps carrying their wives, and if you want to preserve the precious memory, you have the local photographers who will click your picture and deliver you the prints in 20 minutes flat.

Yet, there’s something timeless about the place. A new century does not make much sense in Jejuri. Things sure look different than it was in Kolatkar’s time, yet some things remain the same. There are still the beggars, yes, and there are old women, selling flowers, leaves and turmeric powder and such; there are stray animals, dogs and goats, there are locals, desirous of your alms, and there’s the shrine of Yeshwant Rao:

Are you looking for a god?
I know a good one.
His name is Yeshwant Rao
and he’s one of the best.
look him up
when you are in Jejuri next.

He’s still there. So are the Muralis, the girls married off to the god, and the Vaghyas, the bard of Khandoba, and the faithful, all smeared in yellow, the colour of Malhari Martand. This is the peculiarity of the Khandoba temple, the yellow turmeric. In India, red, scarlet, the colour of sindoor, is the colour of the God, but not here. Here’s it’s yellow, the colour of the earth. Against the backdrop of the stone stairs and the stone fort in the middle of which stands the temple of Martanda Bhairava, the yellow of the turmeric and green of the Bel fruit-leaves offered to the God create a primal picture. Yes, somewhere time stopped on the top of the hills a long time ago.

You get down at Jejuri and look upwards, from anywhere, and you will notice the huge sign, where written in Marathi, in big, are the words: Jai Malhar. You follow the direction that will lead you to the endless stairs at the end of which awaits Lord Khandoba, and his horse. To give company, there are the damons he killed and Khandoba’s five wives, all turned into hillocks by the ‘kadak’ (fierce) God. From the fort that surrounds the temple, you can see the Jejuri village, now a town. You can also spot the site where stands the original temple, the Kadepathar. It’s a difficult climb, therefore, the current temple was constructed, which is known as Gad-kot.

Yet, none can evoke the impressions of Jejuri like Kolatkar did, in his wry, cynicism, which also betrayed a deep love and understanding of the people he met:

And as you look on,
the cracks that begin around her eyes
spread beyond her skin.

And the hills crack.
And the temples crack.
And the sky falls

With a plate-glass clatter
Around the shatterproof crone
who stands alone

And you are reduced
to so much small change
in her hand (An Old Woman.)

Biography of a God:
Khandoba, also known as Khanderao, Khanderaya, Malhari Martand and Mallu Khan is a regional Hindu deity, worshipped as Martanda Bhairava, a form of Shiva, mainly in the Deccan plateau of India. He is the most popular family deity in Maharashtra. He is also the patron deity of warrior, farming, herding as well as some Brahmin (priest) castes, the hunters and gatherers of the hills and forests. The cult of Khandoba has linkages with Vaishnava and Jain traditions, and also assimilates all communities irrespective of caste, including Muslims. Khandoba is sometimes identified with Mallanna of Andhra Pradesh and Mailara of Karnataka. The worship of Khandoba developed during the 9th and 10th centuries from a folk deity into a composite god possessing the attributes of Shiva, Bhairava, Surya and Karttikeya (Skanda). He is depicted either in the form of a Lingam, or as an image riding on a bull or a horse. The foremost centre of Khandoba worship is Jejuri in Maharashtra. The legends of Khandoba, found in the text Malhari Mahatmya and also narrated in folk songs, revolve around his victory over demons Mani-malla and his marriages. (From Wikipedia. More Here.)

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