the little temple town
with its sixty three priests inside their sixty three houses
huddled at the foot of the hill
with its three hundred pillars,
five hundred steps and eighteen arches.
Jejuri temple is located in the Jejuri town, which lies to the southeast of the Pune city of Maharashtra. The town is known for being the venue of one of the revered temples in the state, known as the Khandobachi Jejuri.
The temple, situated atop a small hill, is dedicated to Khandoba—also known as Khanderao, Khanderaya, Malhari Martand, Malanna, Mailar Malanna, Mailara Linga, and Mallu Khan — regarded as the 'God of Jejuri', held in great reverence by the Dhangars, one of the oldest tribes in India.
Khandoba —Martanda Bhairava —is a combination of the sun god Surya and Shiva, who is associated with the moon. Martanda ("blazing orb") is a name of Surya, while Bhairava is a form of Shiva.
Khandoba is the most popular Kuldevta (family deity) in Maharashtra, who, in the words of Amit Chaudhuri, "began his career as a folk-god, a protector of cattle and sheep, and graduated slowly to Brahminical acceptance as an incarnation of Shiva."
He is worshipped by the vast majority of Marathi Hindu people, as the patron deity of warrior, farming, herding as well as some Brahmin (priest) castes, the hunters and gatherers of the hills and forests, merchants and kings.
The cult of Khandoba in the Deccan principally consists of peasant classes Marathas and Kunabis, shepherd Dhangars, village guards and watchmen Ramoshis — a "denotified tribe", the former "untouchable" Mahars and Mangs, fisher-folk Kolis, balutedar castes like gardeners (Mali) and tailors (Shimpi), though it also includes a few Brahmins and even some Muslims.
In Jejuri, a Muslim family traditionally looks after the horses of the god.
Legends abound. In one an "untouchable" Mang (Matanga) sacrificed himself for the foundation of the temple at Jejuri to persuade Khandoba to stay at Jejuri forever.
Sundays, gold and turmeric, which are culturally associated with the sun, form an important part of the rituals of Khandoba.
Somvati Amavasya, which is a new-moon day that falls on a Monday, is celebrated in Jejuri by the faithful, all smeared in yellow, the colour of Malhari Martand. A palakhi (palanquin) procession of Khandoba and Mhalsa's images are carried from the Gad-kot temple to the Karha river, where the idols are ritually bathed.
Apart from the pilgrim-devotees, of course, the town has a special resonance for those who have read Arun Kolatkar's eponymous sequence of poems:
What is god
and what is stone
the dividing line
if it exists
is very thin
and every other stone
is god or his cousin
there is no crop
other than god
and god is harvested here
around the year
and round the clock
out of the bad earth
and the hard rock
that giant hunk of rock
the size of a bedroom
is khandoba's wife turned to stone
the crack that runs right across
is the scar from his broadsword
he struck her down with
once in a fit of rage
scratch a rock
and a legend springs
There isn't a drop of water
in the great reservoir the Peshwas built.
There is nothing in it.
Except a hundred years of silt