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WHEN GOD ACCEPTS WHISHKY


1.
In Gujarat, where there is prohibition, it is not just errant men who break the law. Gods too are game. Every Sunday evening, devotees carrying liquor bottles queue up at the Bhairav temple in the Manainagar area of Ahmedabad. After a puja at 7.30 pm, an offering of coconuts is made while a junior priest discreetly collects the bottled offerings from waiting devotees. The alcohol is then passed on to the main priest who pours a peg or two on the idol while chanting mantras.

A set of strict rules govern the offering. The deity, who emerged from the third eye of Shiva, does not accept home brewed liquor. “It has to be English daru. You may offer a small quantity, but it has to be of a good quality,” says a priest. “The offering should be brought in a sealed bottle. Devotees have often finished off half a bottle before making the offer. It's not appreciated.” After making a nominal offering of a few pegs to the deity, the main priest keeps the bottle aside, and hands over half a coconut to the devotee. “It's done. May Bhairavnath bless you,” he would say. Those who insist, get a spoonful of liquor as prasad. “I had taken a vow that if I get a child, I will make an offering to Bhairav Dada. Now that my wish is fulfilled, I am here to keep my promise,” says Kirit Solanki who is at the temple with a bottle of whisky.

The Bhairav temple is not the only place of worship where man communes with god through such jolly spirits. According to tradition, a god of darkness like Bhairav, can be offered diet that is usually not fit for a good Hindu. Like meat and alcohol. While the flesh has almost vanished, alcoholic offerings have endured.

Outside the Kaal Bhairav temple in Ujjain, vendors sell offering baskets for Rs 40 each. A typical basket contains coconuts, flowers and a 140 ml bottle of country liquor supplied by the state excise department. Some time ago, there was a curious interest in the fact that the liquor disappears pretty fast into the mouth of the deity. A state-sponsored research into the mystery has not yielded any results yet. While in Bhairav's Ahmedabad abode, the priests do not return liquor bottles to the devotees after the ceremonial bathing of the deity, at Ujjain, they are more considerate. About one-third of the bottle is returned to the devotee as prasad.
2.
At the Bhadrakali Amman temple in Coimbatore, devotees carry liquor, cigars and marijuana for the presiding deity's bodyguard Muniappan who is a being with bulging eyes, a big tummy, long well-trimmed moustache, and stands guard with a sword in one hand and a sickle in another. (He is not a communist though). “He has all the powers. We can't reach Bhadrakali Amman without pleasing him,” says Velumani, a temple regular. So, devotees walk in reverently holding bottles of Old Monk Rum, McDowel Brandy or beer to extort his blessings. It is believed that when he goes into an inebriated state, it is easy to reach the main deity. Unlike the case of Bhairav, liquor is not the only way to get Muniappan's attention. He is open to tobacco and grass as well. Though consumption and sale of marijuana is illegal, the overt offering of that substance to Muniappan suggests that the law enforcement is sympathetic to divine appeasements.

Some shops in the vicinity of the temple sell marijuana for five rupees a pack. Shopkeepers claim they can differentiate between real devotees and pretenders who want the grass for more material concerns. Gauri, who sweeps the temple premises rationalises saying,“It's Lord Shiva's favourite. If that's what God wants, what's wrong in giving it?”

At the Sadguru Shankar Maharaj Mutt in Pune, temple officials offer a lit cigarette to the statue of the Maharaj every day at five in the evening, his tea time. The butt of the cigarette is brushed against Maharaj's lips. The ash is then distributed among devotees. As per rule, cigarettes have to come from a yellow-coloured packet. The Honey Dew brand that used to come in a yellow casing was the Maharaj's favourite. Since it is no longer sold in the market, devotees now offer a yellow packet of Charminar cigarettes. Anil Sardeshmukh, a devotee from Pune, has been offering cigarettes at the temple once every month to overcome family problems and to seek good wishes that would grant him a tourist car business.

The Maharaj, who spent his life spreading the message of Dnyaneshwari, the Marathi translation of the Geeta by Sant Dnyaneshwar, also enjoyed brandy. TNN