In India, if you are a foreign tourist seeking knowledge about Hinduism, there are scores of books, both affordable and expensive, yet most of all concentrate on formal Hindu gods and goddesses, such as Shiva, Vishnu and Durga. Yet there is another side of Hinduism that revolves around folk beliefs and folk heroes, who once lived and had considerable influence over the grassroots communities through their saintly and harmonic acts. The locals in return revered them as incarnation of mainstream gods, such as Shiva.
Rajasthan is a choc-a-bloc of such folk shrines dedicated to local heroes and saints to whom the locals believe having the power to intertwine in the problems of everyday life. For example, if a cow owned by a Rabari family is ill and not capable of giving birth to a calf, neither Lord Krishna or Lord Shiva are likely to be approached for help. Likewise, if there is a family problem, the most common being a woman unable to bear child or mental illness attributed to evil spirit it is assumed that great gods are not likely to solve the problem. At such juncture, communities like Rabari turn to folk gods and goddesses, who are believed to solve everyday problem.
Folk gods and goddesses are located in a number of places, such as under a tree or on a dry river bank. But sometime you see them in natural caves. Earlier these shrines were humble made out of mud and cow dung with a coating of lime. But with the spread of influence from urban areas, now you see them as formal concrete structures with modern amenities.
In my recent travel to Rajasthan I was guided to one such folk temple dedicated to Mallinath Ji, a warrior saint who lived in the 12th century in Barmer region of Western Rajasthan. But the temple I am refereeing here is located in the border of Jalore and Pali Districts in a majestic hill close to the bank of dry Jawai River.
The shrine is located in a natural cave. It’s about 8 km from the farm stay owned by Krishnapal Singh Champawat (http://www.thecountryretreat.in/), a descendent of local ruling family.
The drive was scenic in a rustic countryside filled with lush green mustard fields. For a moment you don’t feel that you are in Rajasthan to what most of travel literature address as a desert kingdom. From the dry river bed the hill looks spectacular travelling back in time to millions of years when Aravali was formed through intensive volcanic activities. The temple is approached through 350 steps, but believe me the climb is not steep. From the top you see a lush green countryside amidst which flows the dry seasonal Jawai River, better known for its leopard story. It was mystic with no signs of urbanization as far as your eyes could stretch.
Mallinath Ji loved horses as any Rajput warrior would do. You see him as a horse rider clad with Rajput attires. On his left there are hundreds of miniatures horses mounted with Rajput warriors in bronze offered as votive deities by the local communities. These are offered as part of thank giving after their problems are shorted out by the deity.
After spending an hour we returned to the farm and on the next day were taken to yet another local temple of folk heroes. Locally known as Vir Mamaji Temple the temple offers yet another mystic setting on a foothill. You see a number of horse rider warriors, who were actual characters once lived and sacrificed their life to protect the pride and life of local communities. The statues are made out of terracotta.
Through this travel I explored a different Rajasthan in a humble setting with no tourism chaos. It was peaceful, stress free and knowledge seeking all with warm hospitality both by its people and the host.