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A prayer for drunk rider,shrine for his bike

At any time of the day,there is a traffic jam on the road to Pali from Jodhpur in Rajasthan,near Chotila village....

Written by Apurva | Jaipur |
October 25, 2009 4:27:23 am

At any time of the day,there is a traffic jam on the road to Pali from Jodhpur in Rajasthan,near Chotila village. For here is Om Bana sthan,a shrine where everybody—cabbies,bus and truck drivers and those riding two-wheelers,in particular—stops and pays obeisance,usually with liquor. The deity here,known as motorcycle devta or Bullet baba,is a Royal Enfield 350,on which villager Om Bana met with a fatal accident two decades ago at this very spot. Following a series of supposedly paranormal events after Bana’s death,the locals planted the motorcycle at the scene of the accident and deified Bana.

Bagga Ram,one of the deity’s first followers,has played the harmonium at the shrine ever since it was built. “Om Banaji was the son of a village leader. Twenty years ago,he was riding down this road when his vehicle slammed into a tree and fell into a ditch. Banaji was killed on the spot,” Ram recalls in between singing paeans to Om Bana,now also available on CDs in shops surrounding the shrine. The series of events after the accident secured Bana’s ascension to the realm of gods.

Following the death of Bana,formerly known as Om Singh Rathore,the police registered a case and hauled the ravaged motorcycle to a police station nearby.

Om Singh,a police constable in Jodhpur,remembers what happened in the days following Rathore’s death. “The motorcycle was taken to the station that night,but the next morning,it was found at the accident spot. The police thought it was some kind of prank and after emptying the fuel tank secured the bike with chains,but the next day,the chains were broken and the motorcycle was again at the spot of the accident,” says Singh,who uses a key chain with Om Bana’s picture on it.

When tales of the motorcycle’s ghostly runs spread,the locals decided to station the motorcycle at the accident spot. Mahender Singh,a travel agent from Jodhpur who begins every trip with a salute to Bana,says,“Back then,only a few people would visit the temple. After tales of Om Bana riding his motorcycle on this road began to spread,his followers increased in number.” He recounts the story of one of his drivers whose vehicle skidded and fell into a ditch not far from the spot of Bana’s accident. “The driver was injured and bleeding in the vehicle when he swore that Om Bana came to him and helped him out. Such stories only increased this temple’s reputation,” Mahender Singh adds.

By the wayside on NH-65,50 km from Jodhpur,the shrine,by itself,is isolated,with little or no habitation for 10 km on either side. It has been built on the ditch—filled up by the locals—into which Bana fell. A raised concrete dais has been built for Bana’s motorcycle,planted just a few metres behind the accident-causing tree. It serves as an altar for devotees and is crowded with miniature-to-life-size photographs of Om Bana. Though the cause of his death,the tree itself remains ornamented with offerings of bangles,scarves and rope. The temple even has its own priest,Poonam Giri,who has been incharge of the upkeep of the shrine for two decades.

“There is a steady flow of visitors here. Every single trucker,bus driver and cab driver stops at this spot to offer a small prayer. The shrine has grown these last few years since tourists started visiting the place as well,” Giri says,adding that the morning and evening rituals at the temple include the beating of a set of traditional drums,Bagga Ram’s chants and darshan.

The busy Pali-Jodhpur highway ensures a constant flow of pilgrims,who are easy enough to spot,with their bottles of liquor. Som Singh,who organises pan-Rajasthan travels from Jodhpur,says,“I come here every week to offer prayers to Om Bana. Most devotees offer liquor.” He walks the traditional three circles around the motorcycle,each time pouring some of the contents of a liquor bottle onto its wheels.

A mini-economy has sprouted around the shrine. Over the last few years,at least a dozen shops have come up around its premises,selling everything from religious offerings like flowers,incense sticks,kumkum,turmeric and camphor to memorabilia including VCDs,audio tapes,key chains,necklaces,charms,rings and of course,photographs of Om Bana in all sizes.

Kailash Rathore opened his shop five years ago. “Business here is very good. I operate this shop in shifts and we are open 24 hours a day,” he says. “There are many babas nowadays,but there will only be one motorcycle baba,” Rathore adds,smiling.

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