Walking through the shrine
1 Brahmadeva 7 Main sanctuary
2 Graves 8 Cradle
3 Neem tree 9 Trustee meeting room
4 Platform 10 Hubli-Sholapur road
5 Pujari’s house 11 Pillar-lamps (dipa-stambha)
6 Kettledrum 12 Surrounding wall
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As you enter from the Hubli-Sholapur road (10 on the sketch) you walk between two pillar-lamps (11) and down the alley leading to the temple.
As is the custom with many places of worship in South Asia, the approach is lined with stalls where you can buy items needed for worship.
Incense sticks Jaggery (crystallised sugar cane juice) Channa dal
If you are from a Muslim family, you might well take some jaggery with you to offer to the deity Brahmadev (1 on the sketch) on your way into the shrine proper, in the hope he will quieten your crying children. If you are Hindu, you might prefer to take salt or oil or channa dal for the same purpose.
Opposite the image of Brahmadev, you will pay your respects at the tombs of the first priest of the shrine, Kshetroji Rao Burge, and his wife Narasubai (2). The tombs are in Islamic style, known as mazars by Muslims. The mazar of a pir, or Sufi Muslim saint, is often regarded as the place where he is ‘married’ to Allah in death. Hindus who come to the Yamanur shrine prefer to call these tombs samadhis, the place where a saint takes their enlightenment, freeing them from the world of rebirth.
[? pictures of a mazar from elsewhere?]
From Narasubai’s tomb a tulasi plant grows. Vaishnava Hindus will offer worship to the tulasi as Lakshmi, the wife of Vishnu and goddess of good fortune. At Yamanur, the story is told of how Lord Vishnu was changed into a shaligrama by Vrinda (the tulasi). A faithful wife, she was shocked by Vishnu’s attempt to seduce her. Shaligramas are black ammonite stones found in certain rivers and worshipped as a form of Vishnu. In Yamanur, a shaligrama, found in the nearby Bennihalla river, is buried under the temple, connected by the story to the tomb.
Vishnu is normally regarded as a vegetarian god and offerings at the main Vaishnava temples will certainly not include aninal sacrifices. Yet the next place you will come to underneath a huge neem tree is the place where animals are sacrificed (3). Hindu and Muslim worshippers alike may bring an animal, Hindus feeding them a wheat cake before they are killed. The animals, usually sheep or cocks, are sacrificed by local mullahs, who recite Islamic prayers before chopping of the head (rather than slitting the throat in an Islamic way). The meat is cooked with rice and given first to the deity and then to the Muslim and Hindu officiants at the shrine who each have different roles. Under this tree too, people who come to the shrine possessed by a spirit, a bhut or a djinn, may seek release. A Muslim ghādi will try to force the spirit to leave the possessed person, talking to the spirit, striking the person with a fly-whisk of peacock feathers or giving the person handfuls of ash or holy water to drink.
In the courtyard, white flags and green flags flutter alongside each other, white signifying a place of Hindu worship, green the colour of Islam. From it rises the temple platform and the mandapa (hall) through which you will go to the room which contains the garbha griha (the inner shrine where the deity resides) (7). On the side walls of the room are life-size paintings.
On one side is a white-clad figure, writing a book. This is Jnanadeva, one of the main teachers of the Vithoba-worshipping Varkari tradition popular in Maharashtra and Karnataka. The book he is writing is the Jnaneshvari, his thirteenth century commentary on the Bhagavadgita.
A picture of Jnanadeva
from the Ravi Varma Press
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[photo from cover page of Assayag’s book
At the Confluence of Two Rivers]
On the other side is a bearded bare-chested ascetic, hair tied on his head, wearing a white loin-cloth and sitting astride a tiger. In his hand is a snake with which he whips his steed. This is the Rajabag Savar to whom the temple is dedicated, regarded by Muslims as a pir of great power; Hindu devotees prefer to call him Changadeva, identifying him as Jnanadeva’s nephew.
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The central focus of the shrine itself is the wooden sandals of Changadev – the form in which Varkari teachers are frequently worshipped. On either side of the sandals flicker oil-lamps and the paraphernalia of worship can be seen in the interior. Behind the sandals stands a metal statue of a tiger, Changadev’s mount, though Hindus may also refer to it as Narasimha-Vishnu, one of Vishnu’s avatars (descents) who took man-lion form to save the cosmos. Silver horses (duldul) have been left as offerings around the tiger-lion, probably at the ‘urs, the annual festival celebrating the pir’s ‘wedding’ to Allah at his death. In Yamanur, the ‘urs is for Rajabag Savar, even though strictly this place is not his tomb. Above the shrine, a red-clothed canopy is supported by five silver hands (panjahs), often used in Shia Islam, and here reminding worshippers of the story of how Rajabag Savar gave a panjah to Kshetroji, the first priest of the shrine.
Now that you have ‘walked through’ the shrine in your imagination, you might want to go back to that initial question and explore some further ones too.