Monday 4 February 2013

The portable temples of Rajasthan

There is a saying that there are as many temples in India as there are people. In fact, the total number of Gods in Hinduism is 33 crores and this is more than the total number of people in our country at present (Anyway, this aspect will be dealt with in a later article).
Though there cannot be any exact estimates, it would not be way of the mark if we say that at least 10 per cent of the population goes to temples every day. If we take the population of India as 121 crores, that would mean 1.21 crores visit temples every day.
Mind you, this number does not include lakhs of people who visit more than one temple every day. So the total number could be much much more. Howeever, this post is not about the total number of people visiting temples.
This post deals with the query as to what happens if the temple comes to us instead of people going to the temple. Can you imagine such a scenario.  
But did you know that such temples exist in Rajasthan and they are very popular. These portable temples, as I would like to call them, move from place to place and even from one house to another and enable a devotee to worship his favourite deity at his or her doorstep.
These deities are carried by a group of priests known as Bhopas. They are priest-singers and they sing and chant mantras in front of a scroll which in Rajasthan is known as the Phad or Phar.    
The Bhopas are singers of the folk deities and the Phads generally depict episodes of the narrative of the folk deity and functions as a portable temple.
The Bhopas carry this Phad traditionally and they are invited by villagers to perform in their localities. The Phads are kept rolled up during travel.
These Phads are unfurled and tied between two poles at the place where the portable temple comes up. Generally, the Bhopas time their travel in such a way that they reach their destination well before nightfall.
Once the Phads are set up  and certain rituals performed, the portable temple opens its “doors”  for the villagers. The place where the Phad is placed is thoroughly cleaned, swept and water sprinkled. Incense stocks are lit. Grains and money are offered to the deities.
The performance which begins goes on throughout the night and ends only towards  early morning.
The performances mainly are tales from the epics or deal with heroic and miraculous incidents of the deity that is being worshipped on that day. The performances follow a certain sequence.
When the rituals begin, the Bhopas are expected to wear a specially designed costume called the Baga. When the narrative begins, the Bhopa points to each relevant scene or painting on the Phad with a stick.
There are many intervals during the narration and it is at such times that donations are collected, prayers offered to the deities and the name of each donor is announced by the Bhopa. A conch is blown every time a donor comes forward.
When the performance ends, the Bhopa conducts arti and pooja. The rolling up of the Phad signifies the end of the performance.
The Bhopas generally belong to the Nayak community.
The most similar type of  such a performance in Karnataka is the Yakshagana. Troupes of Yakshagana perform at villages and even in houses of people who have to do Harike. These Yakshangana performance go on all night and end only in the morning.
The Yakshagana was first encouraged by Madhwacharya. During his time, Yakshagana mainly drew inspiration from the Mahabharata and Ramayana and these scenes were played out before the disciples of Madhwacharya when they were resting at a place.
Yakshagana then spread to neighbouring Kerala where it became a distinct form called Kathakali which is a highly stylized dance form.      


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