Baneshwar Fair – The Maha Kumbh Of Tribals

During the last five days of the month of Magh, Baneshwar Dham, where the three sacred rivers, Som, Mahi, and Jhakad meet, attracts a huge number of tribal’s not only from Rajasthan but also neighbors states such as Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. It is believed that the fair is about 500 years old; located at a distance of about 123 km from Udaipur, 45 km from Dungarpur and 53 km from Banswara and perched on the top of a hill is the highly revered temple of Lord Shiv. Leaving the main road, one has to go Sabla and then reach Baneshwar. The temple is situated near the delta of the rivers Mahi and Som. It was named Baneshwar after the Vagdi Language word ‘Ben’ for Delta and ‘Ishwar’ for Lord.

Baneshwar Fair – The Maha Kumbh Of Tribals
Image Courtesy: Rahul Soni

The beliefs and rituals of the Bhil tribes

Performing rituals for Moksha

The tribals consider Baneshwar, the ‘trisangam’ of the river as the most sacred place for immersing the ashes of their dead as are Kashi, Prayag, Haridwar, Pushkar etc. They believe in doing ‘tarpan’ of the ashes that results in their ‘moksha’. Right from the morning on Purnima, thousands of tribal coming from different directions gather at the ‘sangam’. The ashes of men are wrapped in white cloth while those of women in red color one and then kept in earthen pots. With the help of their ‘guru’ the tribes perform elaborated rituals on the bank of the rivers. Then with their family, they enter the water and begin wailing. They stand in water and pay the last homage to the dead ones who left them during the previous year. After a cleaning bath, they put on fresh clothes and worship gods and goddesses then it is the turn of those pilgrims who do not bring any ashes to have a holy bath, recite mantras and perform rituals.

The legend of the Shivling at Baneshwar Dham

It is time now for the visitors to go to temples. After climbing up a long flight of steps, they reach the Baneshwar Shiv temple. According to a legend related to this temple, once a cow used to go near the Shivlingam and offer her milk to it. It had no milk when it returned home in the evening. Naturally, it made its master very curious to know the reason for all this. One day he followed the cow and seeing it near the Shivlingam got him infuriated. The frightened cow began to run away and in the process, the 20 cm high Lingam was hit by its hind leg and broke into five pieces. Since this then, this ‘Khandit Lingam’ is being worshipped.

Puja is performed twice during the day. Darshan starts at 4:30 am when the ‘Lingam’ is washed with water and ‘kesar’ is offered. In the evening there is bhasma-aarti with five flames. Darshan is open up to 11:00 pm. Devotes can offer flower, fruits, ghee, coconut etc. On this holy spot was built a beautiful temple by Aashkaranji, the Maharawal of Dungarpur in 1453. A Bhil Meena was appointed as the priest of the temple. A big fair began to be held here. And without any consideration of caste and creed, everyone was allowed to worship here. Pilgrims visit the Radha – Krishna’s Hari Mandir, and also the Brahma Mandir, Panchmukhi Mandir, Gayatri Mandir, Shabri Mandir, Raja Bali Temple, Bhagwan Nishkalank Mandir, Ram Jharikha Asharam, Valmiki Mandir, Hanuman Mandir etc.

The happenings at the fair

On the occasion of the big far, the Peethadheeshwar of Sabla who is a descendant of the saint Mavji comes to Baneshwar in a procession in a palanquin with pomp and show covering a distance of about 5 km. Thousands of devotees join the yatra. Also, brought from Maninda Math at Sabla to Baneshwar Dham is the 16 cm silver idol of Mavji on horseback in a palanquin.

Baneshwar Fair – The Maha Kumbh Of Tribals
Image Courtesy: Rahul Soni

First of all, the Mahant takes a dip in the water at Baneshwar Dham. This makes the water holy, it is believed. Then it is time for pilgrims to have a bath. Devotees get a chance to have the ‘darshan’ of the Mahant in Krishna Mandir for five days. The new devotees are initiated and they wear ‘Kanthi’ on the neck. Rasleela is performed for devotees. With great enthusiasm are sung and heard bhajans about the legends associated with Mavji and his teachings. So also, about Mavji and Mehudi who are believed to be Lord Krishna and Meera Bai. A big number of saints and Mahatmas of different sects also put up their camps in the fair for the benefit of their devotees.

The exhibition at Baneshwar

Visitors to the huge fair not only avail this opportunity to perform rites and have ‘darshan’ of temples and saints but also enjoy themselves. They take advantage of the exhibitions about government beneficial schemes of the govt, awareness programs of the health depts. etc. Many of them take part in various games and sports organized by Tribal Area Development agency culture programs, magic shows, and aerobatic shows and swings etc are some other attractions. Shopaholics get a big chance to shop from a big range of articles including plastic items, cosmetic items, bangles, shoes, clothes, artificial jewelry, trinkets, sickle, scythes, axe-heads etc. Also, on sale are weapons such as spears and swords. As archery has a long tradition, there is a big demand for bows and arrows made of bamboo.

Baneshwar Fair – The Maha Kumbh Of Tribals
Image Courtesy: Rahul Soni

Mavji and the history

Baneshwar Dahm has become a sacred place as the great saint Mavji Maharaj did ‘tapsya’ in this region for a long time. He was born at Sabla village in Dungarpur district. He was the son of Keshar Bai and Dalamji. Since his early childhood, people began to revere him due to his saintly nature and miracles. He lefts home at the age of 12 and performed ‘tapasya’ for twelve years in the cave of Sunaiya hills near Sabla. Then he reappeared at Baneshwar and gave ‘darshan’ on Magh Shukla Ekadashi. In his memory is held the Baneshwar fair. Due to his divine deeds, he established himself as a great saint and came to be revered as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. As the scriptures say the ‘rasleela’ of Lord Krishna and the ‘gopis’ at Vrindravan got interrupted. At the request of the ‘gopis’, the Lord promised that ‘ras’ would recommence when he would appear in the form Mavji at Baneshwar.

Mavji wrote several ‘granths’ that include Gyan Rathmala, Guru Shisya Samwad, Prem Tatra, Prem Gita, Shri Bhagwat Mahapurana, Sehaj Gura, Samras Amrit Sagar and Sudanand. All of them are replete with Govind Geets, Krishna Leela and ‘rasleelas’. He also wrote five chopda’s in 776 pages which describe the past, the present and the future. They are written in Devanagri script and the language is a mix of Hindi, Vagadi, and Gujarati. Some of these forecasts have already come true viz Hindus and Muslims would eat together, there would be inter-caste marriage and the low will become high and the high low. Mavji did a lot for social equality at a time when there was much discriminative. He allowed people of all communities to enter temples and do puja and perform ‘rasleela’. He favored widow marriage and he himself married a widow of Patidar Samaj.

In the fair is showcased the tribal culture of the region in its various aspects. One can watch or participate in dances like Gair and Ghumar that are peculiar to the region and games like Gida Dot, that is like hockey and archery. Indian and foreign tourists take the advantage of witnessing the rich folk culture and also love to participate in some activities.

Baneshwar Fair – The Maha Kumbh Of Tribals
Image Courtesy: Rahul Soni

By Ashok Mathur

Freelance Journalist.
Writes regularly for English daily newspapers.
Is an English Language Teaching Specialist.

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