Veer, a tiny little village near Pune which rarely sees any action round the year, except for the friendly banter on the village squares and the temple courtyard. Come January and the village transforms into red town with villages and folks coming from far away land for a 10 days unusual fair. The Mhaskoba Yatra (fair) of Veer when the town echoes with sounds of “Sawai Sarjacha Chang Bhala”
Located 15 km from Saswad, Pune, the village of Veer is known for two things- Naath Mhaskoba Temple and Veer Dam. While Shri Naath Mhaskoba temple is dedicated to Kaal Bhairava avatar of the Hindu deity Shiva. It is a deity mainly made famous by the Dhangar clan, a sect that traditionally does sheep-herding as their means of livelihood.
A quick Google search for keyword – Naath Mhaskoba will give you enough number of temple locations to confuse you, right from Nandgaon (Nashik district), Sangamner (Ahmednagar district), a few in Daund (Pune district) and others and a big one in Osmanabad, however, the one that has gained popularity among the fellow Dhangar clan is the one at Veer which witness a major celebration of their deity’s marriage celebration which commences on a Somavati Amavasya and ends on the day of Mahashivratri (which is 14 days apart).
My first indirect experience with the festival was when one of friend from Saswad showed me the videos of this festival to which he went as a yearly family tradition. In the video all I could see is thousands of people covered in red amber (or Gulaal, as they call it in Marathi) dancing in unison to the sound of Dhol- Tashaa, all crammed into a small courtyard of this temple and calling their deity’s name in unison- “SAWAI SARJAACHA CHANG BHALA”
A sight like never seen before. This was year 2013 when the festival had just happened while I was in Delhi and the video was shown to me during my quick visit to this friend. The images were so mind-boggling that it kept me bugging for at least a few weeks thereon. A decision was made, once I shift to Maharashtra, I have to track this down and see for myself. I kept bothering my friend for the same for next few months. Fast forward to early 2014, shifted to Maharashtra, got loads of regular office job and completely forgot the festival only to remember it on the last day.
Regret filled me over and over to the extent that I called up anyone who could give atleast some information on when this actually occurs. This was early internet period when not many people outside the Dhangar clan actually knew about the festival, nor were there any professional photos or Youtube videos. At last, found contact details of the trust, called them, got to know the exact dates and planned my day, February 2015 with 3 of my best friends and again in 2018 with more friends.
Long story short- I have been blessed to be able to visit this place to witness the festival with our own eyes. The whole ten days festival is something beyond words (though, I have attempted to put some of it in here) and a sight to see. Thousands of devotees throng to this place from all directions. Not bothering about the distance, scorching heat, no discrimination, but only one motive to celebrate their idol. An unusual gathering of its kind that will take you back in time, where people still use traditional bullock carts to reach here, camp in the open fields for 10 days and return content with the spirituality only to return with double energy the next year.
The festival commences on the full moon day of Maagh month of Hindu Panchang (Calendar). Many people plan their bullock cart journey 3 to 4 days prior, coming from as far as 300 km. They reach in time for the procession on the first day. Many also reach here with tempo and cargo vehicles so as to accommodate entire family.
We came across one such big family from a village Sakora in Nandgaon Taluka of Nashik district. It is a tedious job to carry all the cooking utensils, so the traditional bread is replaced with Baati (a staple bread of the nomadic tribes)
While preparations are going on in full swing inside the temple, more and more people are gathering from across the state for the first day of the celebration which is called Devacha Lagna (Marriage of the gods)
A group of devotees from Sangamner reaching the village of Veer
While the crowd was gathering, I took this opportunity to interact with the visitors and shoot some portraits.
The next important village which needs to be mentioned here is a village Kodit Budruk which is said to be equally blessed by Shri Naath Mhaskoba. On the first day, the entire village walks 15 km to reach in time for this ‘marriage’ in which the respected family of Kodit plays an important role. It is yet another sight to see the dedication of these villagers who show no remorse or pain while taking down this road. Every one is dressed in their best for the occasion.
Devotees walking to Veer from nearby villages
The first day of the festival begins late in the evening and goes on until the next morning 2 to 3 o clock. I haven’t been able to attend the night events due to time constraints; however, the first night witnesses a footfall of ten thousands of people.
Then begins the 13 days festival wherein devotees throw Gulaal on the temple. The festival reaches its peak on the tenth day i.e. Maramari (which in English literally translates to fight) which is actually a full-fledged celebration of Gulaal wherein villages from all nearby places gather in the courtyard.
Having experienced the festival before, I came prepared with full protection for the gear. To be one with the locals, I preferred to wear white shirt and don the khaadi topi (traditional Indian cap) to get good access to the place.
The temple is a said to be a very old construction with a fortress like structure surrounding the temple area forming its courtyard. It is in this area where in next 10 days the devotees take rounds to throw Gulaal and dance on the tunes of Dhol Tashaa.
This was taken on the first day when preparations were on for Devacha Lagna. Below is an image 10 days later.
It is remarkable to see the devotion of the people that is pulling them towards this place and are least bothered by the amount of amber being thrown on them. I have been able to move around the courtyard even in this crowd to capture some of the emotions of the people and event. Below are some of the pictures from the tenth day.
While it was difficult to capture real emotions from the terrace, I decided to venture into the point where real action was happening. So I went into the crowd
The devotees bring in Palkhi which is being taken around the temple a number of times. Every time the palkhi passess by, devotees throw Gulaal onto it. The palkhi brings a wave of cheer among the people. So, people rejoice in unison at the sight of Palkhi and try to reach out to touch it. At times, the amount of Gulaal becomes so much that the entire area becomes dark for a moment.
Looking around in the crowd I could only find happy faces and friends who might be working out of village but are united on this day of the event.
There is hardly any space to keep your foot, at times you are just floating in the crowd, if at all you dare to go in.
I decided to follow the Palkhi to the other side. It was one of the toughest decision of life. It is said that good things often comes to those who dared. I dared and was treated to best part of the whole event. At one point, the crowd goes silent and a there is a dancing duel between two of the villagers over the sound of Dhol and Halgi (yet another traditional instrument). The duel is for sheer entertainment and taken in a good taste by the devotees.
At one point I felt claustrophobic but the crowd was very friendly and made way every time. Some of them even asked me to click them. So, I obliged to their request.
While we were at it, another loud sound of trumpet and Dhol announced arrival of a revered figure who first demonstrates his strength and gives a sermon. We made way for the procession and were treated to a delightful experience. Here is a video link for the same.
I even managed to click some pictures of the procession here.
It is very interesting to be there at the moment, when this revered figure goes into trance and predicts the years climate, water availability and crop cycle. Here we can see the devotees listening to sermon with all ears.
At this very moment, the crowd goes completely silent with not a single word being said or whispered. The feel at that moment is magical and makes it unbelievable how the crowd of thousand can be bound together by a single thread that we call- FAITH.
With this special feeling and content with my tour turned to move out of the temple complex with a promise to self to return next year.
In all this adventure, the trust people have been very helpful to guide us during the first day’s event and hats off to the entire management team who manage such a huge crowd without an untoward situation.
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