Sunday, 7 July 2019

Vetoba – King of the ghosts!





Almost every year I visit Shiroda in Konkan region to attend the padva - Bapu Mama utsav either during May or June as per the tithi in the Hindu calendar. And nearby is Aravali, famous for the Shri Dev Vetoba Devasthan, a popular old temple and a tourist attraction in the area. A close connection between the Kamat family of Shiroda and the Vetoba temple goes back to hundreds of years, which makes it all the more necessary for me to visit the temple when ever I visit Shiroda. The cool and spiritual environment inside the temple makes your visit a pleasant one.
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Shri Dev Vetoba Devasthan in Aravali is situated on the Shiroda-Vengurla main road. Aravali in taluka Vengurle, district Sindhudurg, Maharashtra. Shri Dev Vetoba Devasthan is one of the most famous 'jagrut' (Lord who fulfills the wishes of devotees). Shri Dev Vetoba is the God of Aravali village. Natives of this picturesque, tranquil village straddling the Arabian Sea worship Shri Dev Vetoba as their protector. They believe He brings prosperity to the village. Devotees worship Him as a loving and compassionate God who answers their prayers, fulfills their wishes and comes to their aid in times of crisis and difficulties. Locals and devotees lovingly call their God, simply – Vetoba. 

Thanks to Vetoba’s blessings, Aravali has today blossomed into a significant pilgrimage centre in Konkan. Devotees in thousands pour into the village from far and wide to seek Vetoba’s darshan and blessings during His two big annual festivals: on Margshirshya shuddha pratipada (Devdipavali) and His investiture-day festival on Vaishakh shuddha panchami. The festivals are celebrated with great devotion, enthusiasm and fanfare. The temple is decorated with flowers and lights. Dazzling fireworks light up the sky. 

Vetoba’s elegant  and prominent idol is fashioned out of ‘panchdhatu’ (5 metals). It is bigger than the life-size, 9’.2” tall, and faces north. Vetoba is standing, in all his glory and power, with a sword in his right hand and an agnipatra (small utensil) in his left. In the temple's sanctum sanctorum, Vetoba's idol is flanked by idols of Shri Dev Bhummaiyya, Shri Dev Purwas, Shri Dev Rampurush, Shri Dev Baracha Purwas (Nirakari) and Shri Dev Bhavkai.

It is a common practice and a long tradition to seek Vetoba’s consent and blessing before undertaking any new work, project, repair or construction of a house  or when obstacles come in a devotee's routine life. Devotees and villagers seek His blessings during times of difficulties, disasters or before undertaking any new job, business or venture, including marriage or any local disputes. They have full faith on Vetoba's judgement.


Vetoba’s ‘Kaul’ - In Konkan region, there is a tradition of asking for Vetoba’s ‘prasad’, a worship ritual popularly known as ‘kaul’. In essence, ‘kaul’ is designed to seek specific answers from Vetoba for varied personal problems. So, in a ‘kaul’ 33 leaves of ‘salai’ tree are stuck to various specified parts of Vetoba’s idol, each one imbued with certain meaning. And an experienced villager, well-versed in this practice interprets the answer from the leaves that Vetoba drops down. And then they guide the answer-seekers accordingly, either yes or no or not presently or its not the appropriate time. From the time Vetoba’s temple was first established in early part of 17th century, this age-old tradition has continued till date. Devotees say Vetoba is known to give answers to all queries or problems that normally is considered correct and come true, and devotees abide by these pronouncements.


Another age-old tradition,  is offering of bananas or banana bunch (ghad), sweets such as sugar, pedhe, laddus, a pair of dhoti, uparana as naivedya to Vetoba. There is also a peculiar tradition of offering Him a pair of new chappals made from special leather which is available only in Aravali. Locals believe that Vetoba acts as the caretaker and protector (rakshankarta) of their beautiful village, walking the paths in the night wearing the chappals offered to him. The next day when you check the chappals, it has marks as if somebody has worn and walked the paths and terrain.

Vetoba's temple is basically the temple of Vetal, the King of ghosts, pishacchas, demons and other evil entities. The word ‘Vetal’ itself is imbued with profound meaning. If the word’s first alphabet is omitted, the remaining two, ‘Taal’ in Marathi mean balance, buddhi or wisdom. If the second one is omitted, the remaining two, 'Vel' mean 'time'. And if the third one is omitted, the remaining two, 'Vet' mean to bring forth. 

Humans are prone to doing negative, evil things or bad karma. This usually happens when they fall prey to negative, selfish thoughts.  In other words, when their buddhi or wisdom goes haywire, the power that brings forth or restores buddhi or wisdom in time is Vetal. Vetal is the God who reins in evil, negative thoughts or tendencies in humans, and guides them on the righteous path. 


In Indian culture, there is a tradition to affix the suffix 'ba' to proper names. 'Ba' denotes respect and reverence. In Gujarat too, mother is called 'ba.' . So, in Vetal's name the replacing of the last alphabet by ‘ba’ is indicative of respect and reverence for the deity. So he is called Vetoba in reverence and respect.


Manifestation of Shiva - Vetoba is offered satvik (pure) naivedya like sugar, bananas pedhe, laddus etc. Vetoba is a God that observes the purity and rigours of Brahma worship. He is the manifestation of Lord Shiva. He is a King. He is the King of the ghosts, who controls evil entities like demons, pishacchas etc. Ghosts make up his army, but he is not a ghost himself. He is their King. This is well collaborated by many sources, including Srimad Bhagwad and Matsyapurana. The 5th adhyaya of Navnath Bhaktisaar Granth describes how Macchindranath harassed the ghost kingdom and challenged the king Vetal, to a fight.  And how Vetal organised his army of ghosts, summoning them from different regions.

In the temples of Maharashtra, devotees meditate on Vetoba with the mantra: || Om Namah Paraay Shivatmane Vetalay Namah ||

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Yogiraj Bapumama Keni – The connection between Vetoba temple & Kamat family in Shiroda.
Any discription of Aravali’s Shri Dev Vetoba is incomplete without reference to Yogiraj Bapumama Keni. 

The Story
As the story goes, he was hailed as Sidhpurush, Bapumama, etc. He was also called Yogiraj Bapumama Keni. Around 1730, Bapumama a spiritually inclined saintly person arrived in Shiroda and stayed at Harbanna Kamat’s house for 40 years. He worshipped Vetoba as Vitthal, the avatar of Lord Krishna. It is believed that while standing in front of Vetoba with folded hands, a small flame emerged from the deity’s heart, floated through the air and stopped in front of Bapumama’s heart. It was as if saying that he and Bapumama were one. This incident has been widely reported. Hence any description of Aravali’s Vetoba is incomplete without reference to Bapumama.

It is said that hrough his pravachanaas (lectures), Bapumama sang the glories of Vetoba and preached about His power and compassion to the devotees, turning hundreds of people into Vetoba’s  staunch devotees. Due to his presence in the region, Aravali soon blossomed into a holy pilgrimage place, where devotees thronged, and still do for Vetoba’s darshan and blessings.

Since Bapumama was very close to Vetoba that his anniversary programme is called ‘Bapumamacha Padwa,’ and is celebrated every year. It takes place on Jeshtha shuddha pratipada at the residence of Gajanan Pandurang Kamat at Shiroda. In honour of the occasion, it is the tradition to send from Aravali’s Shri Dev Vetoba Devasthan members of Joshi, Haridas, Puranik families, together with vajantri (troupe with instruments) and the temple gurav to Kamat’s residence at Shiroda.









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Picture Post

Sateri temple close to Vetoba in Aravali



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