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Cults and Local Deities in Bundelkhand

 
  Folk shrines abound in Bundelkhand and are much venerated by SC and ST groups

According anthropologist Ravindra Jain, 'Hindusim has not given a single uniform definition to the various tendencies of folk religion' in Bundelkhand [Jain,  p 136].

Several cults with a following mainly among people of 'lower' castes are found in the region.

The most popular cult is of Lala or Diwan Hardaul, a member of the princely family of Orchha who died an unnatural death. A chabutara or shrine of Hardaul is found outside a number of villages of Bundelkhand. Hardaul is invariably depicted as a warrior riding a horse.

Hardaul was said to have been an ideal brother and dewar (husband's younger brother) who supported his sister-in-law when her husband was away from home. Hence, he has a large following among women.

A large number women, usually from lower-ranked castes, visit Hardaul chabutaras in the month of Baisakh (April-May) and before weddings.

Hardaul is also propitiated at the sign of any calamity like a storm or widespread illness like cholera.

(It seems this aspect of the cult spread like wildfire after 1817, after British troops camping near a grove in Orchha where Hardaul's ashes are enshrined  killed a cow to eat the meat. Immediately cholera broke out in the camp, and the story travelled all over India, as far as Lahore. The enraged spirit of Hardaul is said to have driven a whirlwind of cholera, astride a horse and temples erected to appease him sprung up everywhere).

Apart from Hardaul chabutaras, we see in Bundelkhand villages shrines dedicated to deified personages and deities such as Nat Baba, Gond Baba, Nagdev, Karasdev, Mangatdev, Masan Baba and Guraiya Baba.

Some of these deities, like Karasdev, who is worshipped by traditional cattle-grazers, are caste-specific. Others, such as Mangat or Mangad Dev, were brave warriors.

Deities like Gangamai, Sharda Mai and Sheetala Mai are related to ancient mother cults.

'Budi Mai' is said to protect against small pox and as in the rest of north India, 'Marai Mata' is associated with plague.

Many deities have a tribal origin.

'Thakur' is the village deity of Gonds, but is widely worshipped by people from other backgrounds as well. Chabutaras of 'Thakur dev' are found outside scores of Bundelkhand villages, usually below a marked tree, and is said to be responsible for protecting the village and its people from calamities.

One Dula Dev, the Gonds' lord of the kitchen, has become a deity associated with marriage.

In addition to village or community deities, each clan has its own 'kul devta' or 'kul devi'. The Khangars worship Gajanan Devi, whose main seat is at the fort of Garh Kundar, where she is seen astride a lion. The Bundelas' kul devi is Vindhyavasani. Her temples are found in many places. New ones are also being built. One of them, at Girwan, 20 kilometres from Banda town, attracts a huge crowd every Tuesday.

Reference:

  • Jain K Ravindra, Between History and Legend: Status and Power in Bundelkhand.  New Delhi, Orient Longman: 2002

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