India, the land of colors and festivals presents its golden avatar in a small district of Maharashtra. Bhandara or the turmeric festival of the Jejuri region is an extraordinary celebration of undying faith and devotion for Lord Khandoba. He is also praised with the name of Malhar for the infinite power he possesses.
The Dhangar community who live in southern Maharashtra and Northern Karnataka largely celebrate the Bhandara festival. Dhangars believe that Lord Khandoba of Jejuri, Birudev of Pattankodoli, and Huljanti are their household deity and the gold. Lord Khandoba is also said to be the God of fertility which is why many couples with the wish of having a baby reach this temple from distant places. Many believe that the God of Jejuri is a non-vegetarian, and therefore makes an offering of goat flesh.
The holy town, Jejuri, and its temple premises are popularly referred to as “Sonyachi Jejuri” (meaning: Golden Jejuri) because of the heavenly golden shades that cover the sky and decorate Jejuri like a golden city of Gods.
Out of the 600+ temples devoted, the Khandoba temple of Jejuri is the most popular because the Somvati Utsav is organized here. Although it is a popular religious place crowded with devotees throughout the year, visiting during the Utsav offers a never seen before view.
Another interesting detail about this festival is its varying dates. Bhandara Festival has no fixed dates, it celebrated on three occasions each year on Somvati Amavasya (meaning: a new moon’s day on Monday). This year, it is today (July 20, 2020) that the small town, Jejuri, will participate in this golden celebration. The next it will be celebrated on December 14, 2020.
On the morning of the auspicious festival, thousands of devotees flock to the Khandoba temple (Gad-kot Temple). By throwing turmeric on each other they paint the sky and the environment with golden hues. Dancing and chanting hymns like, 'Sadanandacha Yelkot,' 'Yelkot Yelkot Jai Malhar' in praise of their deity immersed in Bhakti. This event is clearly visible from the roof-top of the temple.
Waghyas (meaning: tigers) are the musicians who gather to sing religious songs during the festivity. Earlier, they were responsible for singing folklores of the legends of Khandoba.
There are devotees who perform harming activities of self-torture like lashing and still remain uninjured. They invoke the God of strength with these rituals. It is said to be the miracle of God as the devotees are in His saintly ‘trance’ which immunes them against any aggression.
The Palki or palanquin, in which the idols of Lord Khandoba and his wife Malsha is placed, is the center of everyone’s attention. All the devotees gather to touch the palki to seek the blessing of their God. The palki is carried by devotees from the main temple on a hilltop to river Karha for the holy bath of Lord Khandoba. It is a recreation of Khandoba’s wedding.
The idols are carried back to the main shrine. On the return of their God of Jejuri, thousands of lamps are lighted forming beautiful Deep Malas.
Significance of Turmeric
Turmeric remains the main attraction of this festival because there are many reasons behind it. Bhandara is the Marathi word for turmeric. For the devotees who gather in Jejuri, turmeric symbolizes gold. Throwing turmeric signifies their prayers to be answered with gold and riches by Lord Khandoba.
Traditionally, turmeric is applied to brides and grooms before weddings. This makes many believe, that the source of this tradition is from the ritual of turmeric before the wedding as the festival is a wedding celebration of Lord Khandoba and Mhalsa.
Khandoba is considered as one of the descendants of Surya, God of Sun who has the immense power of brightness. Many old Indian paintings depict him holding a bowl of turmeric and riding a horse that resembles the portrayal of Surya.