Maa Bhandara Gharani: The presiding deity of Dharamgarh

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Dharamgarh, a subdivisional headquarter of Kalahandi district of Odisha, happens to be a glorious site for history, heritage, art, culture, flora, and fauna. Formerly, with a handful of inhabitants in today’s ‘Bastipara’, the town was known as Dhanramal or Dhanrakuta as there used to be abounding Dhanra trees across the length and breadth of the locality. With the passage of time, the place evolved to be known as Dharamgarh.

The tradition of Shakti puja in Kalahandi dates back to the inception of human civilization. Dharamgarh is of no exception to it. The local people are naturally religious to their core. The fads and fashion of the contemporary materialistically glamorous life, even amid the virtual era, have hardly shaken people’s faith in Gods and Goddesses. The epitome of an example of this effect is Maa Bandara Gharani, the presiding deity of Dharamgarh.

The origin and manifestation of Maa Bhandara Gharani at Dharamgarh encompass many a fascinating tale, story and legend as well. According to one popular legend, the deity had her divine manifestation at the root of a Dhanra tree, the most predominant plant species of the locality. By and by, the deity appeared in the dream of a certain young man of the ‘Gonda’ tribe and directed him to start HER rituals under the same Dhanra tree.

In another folk tale, the deity was said to have been seen come riding on a horse, carrying a pitcher in her hand, at night to Tentulipara, the adjacent hamlet of  Dharamgarh. The priest, Rudra Pujhari followed her. It is believed that the deity herself had consecrated the holy pitcher in her own divine hands on the Southern end of Tentulipara and ordered the priest to enshrine Lord Buddha Raja therein. She even directed the priest to settle himself at Tentulipara.

Since then the priest and his descendants have been rendering rituals to Buddha Raja at Tentulipara and MaaBhandaraGharuni at Dharamgarh. It is heard from the folk tales that the deity, in a bid to expand the territory of her site and to look after the well-being of the people therein, used to tour the entire locality.

The uniqueness of MaaBhandaraGharani lies in the fact that she is worshipped as a virgin deity. A fascinating legend to this context delineates that the deity used to play Boria,a traditional game-oriented folk singing rendered between two groups of unmarried girls on village yards with competitive pursuits, in the guise of an unmarried girl along with the girls of Bastipara. Incidentally, there intruded an aggressive deity named ‘Sata baheni Jala kamini’ from Kankeri, a neighbouring village of Dharamgarh and continued playing Boria in the guise of a girl with them.

Meanwhile, some girls of Bastipara were noticed to have disappeared mysteriously. Some of them had even died quite strangely. Eventually, Jalakamini was found to be the real culprit behind the missing and tragic mishaps of the girls.

In a bid to get rid of Jala Kamini, the populace of Bastipara prayed to Maa Bhandara Gharani to come to their rescue. In no time, the deity, infusing her spirit in a physical body of Kalisi (A virgin girl who carries HER charmed pitcher) crushed Jalakamini by pushing her deep down the Tel River into neither world.

The ebb and flows of time transitioned the shrine of the deity from the root of the Dhanra tree to a thatched structure and then to the present beautiful concrete temple are all thanks to the lavish contributions of the innumerable devotees. The deity is worshipped in the shrine every day. However, on Tuesday and Saturday, she is offered elaborate rituals by the chief priest. On these two days, the temple is jam-packed with devotees from far and wide.

Though varieties of religious festivals of the deity are celebrated around the year, nevertheless the devotees await fervently for the Chaitra and Dusserah festivals. The Chaitra festival starts on the first Tuesday of the month with offerings of berry and Mango fruits to the deity with traditional rituals and assumes its spiritual splendor with the GhataYatra that lasts for five days.

During the course of the Ghata Yatra, two virgin girls from the priest’s family each carrying a pitcher on their respective head go on a procession around the town with the company of the priest, musical troupes, and thousands of devotees. The two girls embodying the spirit of the deity visit each and every door of the households. Beholding their presiding deity at their doors, the devotees turn ecstatically devotional.

Tears of joy roll down from their eyes. They devotionally and emotionally say their gratitude like this: “My mother has come to my door to bless me and my family, my problems and predicaments will be subsided hereafter.”

How the two tender-aged girls who carry heavy pitchers, containing charmed water, who walk round the clock for five days long procession in scorching Sun without a trace of fatigue is still a mystery and puzzle. Even non-believers attribute it to the sheer blessings of Maa Bhandara Gharuni.

People’s religious fervor and devotional enthusiasm reach the climax during The Chhatar Jatra of the deity. It is celebrated on the pious Bijaya Dashmi, the culminating day of Dusserah. On this day some devotees even get possessed by the spirits of some peripheral deities of Maa Bhandara Gharani. As a result, by virtue of the supernatural power, they pierce their youngest, ears, lips, and cheeks with iron nails and engage themselves in wild dance to the wild thumping of the drums.

Meanwhile, hundreds of devotees prostrate on the ground so that the deity along with her companies would go stepping over them in the course of the Chhatar procession. The devotees look upon such practice as an omen of good fortune. Nevertheless, such sights bring home the fathomless faith of the devotees upon the deity.

People seek the pious blessings of Maa Bandar Gharuni for the successful accomplishment of any grand event or occasion. As such KalahandiUtsav, a mass festival of the locality begins with the ‘Kalasa Yatra’ of the deity.

Adhering to the tradition, two virgin girls carrying charmed pitchers of the deity go on a colourful procession around the town amid a sea of people accompanied by drums beats and firecrackers. Thereafter, the priest consecrates the divine pitchers on the stage of the mega event. The stage of the Utsavseems like a  temple on that day.

Even in this IT-oriented virtual era tinged with material pursuits, people initiate every good work with the pious evocations of Maa Bandar Gharani. They look upon the deity as their saviour& protector in every walk of their life. They express their vivacious veneration towards the tutelary deity as “Living goddess of Dharamgarh”.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own)

Bankim Mund 

Lecturer in English

Dharmgarh Women’s Jr. College, Dharamgrh, Kalahandi Mob 8327717672

You can reach to him : [email protected]

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