The folk god known as “Khandoba’ in Maharashtra and ‘Mailar’ in Karnataka is an open and distinct symbol of the rich cultural linkages between Maharashtra and Karnatak. From the nomad pastoral tribes like Dhangar – Ramoshis to Deshastha Brahimns, he enjoys an equivocal popularity. In both these states, his fairs and ceremonies still draw huge crowds. This unique symbolism common to both the states, according to the author definitely serves as a resource to unveil the social life in both the regions – in fact that’s what has prompted the author to study these topics.
Before studying the ‘form’ of this demi-god with a resercher’s view point, the author familiarize the readers with the myth associated with its origin, in the folklore. This myth is essentially narrated in a Sanskirt volume ‘ Mallari - Mahatmayam’. The story is translated in Marathi and given in the elaborated form in this chapter. After narrating the story, the author puts forth some peculiarities which he observes in the fable and which lead to further studies. He also discusses the etymological origin of the word ‘mailar’.
He cites various evidences, which ascertain the period in which this volume must have been composed. These evidences are from the myth ‘Mallarimahatymam’ as well as from some external sources as well.
He very accurately decides the co-ordinates, with which the period of this ‘Mahatmya’ can be ascertained. They are as follows.
- ‘Mailar’ as an incarnation of Shiva as described in the volume can not be more ancient than eleventh century.
- From the date of Mailars’ descendence to this earth- which is mentioned in this volume, and from the fact that an important volume ‘ Chaturvargachintamani’ by Hemadripandit, which discusses various rituals doesn’t mention it, the period can be ascertained.
‘Chaturvargachintamani’ was composed between 1260 – 1271. So, period of composing ‘Mallarimahatyma’ has to be later than this period.
In the verses and compositions of Eknath (life till 1599) there are gross references to the biographical details of Khandoba.
So from these and a few more evidences, Dr. Dhere concludes, that ‘Mallari-mahatmya’ was composed somewhere in between the centuries 1260-1540 C.E. Sidhahpal, a poet has translated this work in 1595 C.E.
From some indirect mentions, the author, Dr. Dhere feels that some unknown Maharashtraiyan must have composed this volume.
The ancient nature of demi –god ‘Mailar’
Two researchers, namely Mr. Pandurang Desai and Mr. G.H. Khare have unmasked the mystery of the exact period when ‘Mailar’ – the original demigod would have been prevalent. Dr. Dhere cites many of these evidences – only those which before the period, when ‘Mallarimahatmya’ was composed, that is, the evidences dating before C.E. 1400.
He also touches upon certain evidences mentioning Mailar and his consort ‘Malavva’ (Kannada name) – two stone inscriptions in 1063 C.E. and 1148 C.E. They indicate that in this period, these folk-deities had started gaining popularity in Karnatak – Kings where granting sums for their worships, few other royal families were arecting their temples.
As Khandoba / Mailar’s popularity and devotion rose amongst the masses, the elite upper stratun of socio-religions life started denouncing and opposing this form of god. The demi-god who was firstly hailed as an incarnation of Shiva, was negated even from the ardent Shiva-devotees. Veershaivas. Many verses of Basaveshvar, the founder - propagator of Veershaiva sect (1160 C.E.) are seen to curse and denigrate ‘Mailar’.
Another Veershaiva poet Harihar (13th century C.E.) described an episode where in a devotee of Shiva has defeated the Mailardev.
Jains were another equally strong community in Karnataka. In their scriptures – ‘Samaya - Pariksha’ (12th Century C.E.) and ‘Dharmamrut’ (before 1592 C.E.) Mailar - Khanderao forms have been mentioned in a derogatory fashion.
Few other saints and seges, who are seen to denounce Mailar allied names /forms are enlisted by Dr. Dhere. These include Sri Chakradharswami – founder of the Mahanubhav’ cult, Sri Vidyaranyaswami, Shekh Mahamad Srigondekar etc?
After Eknath, however no saints and poets seem to have criticized ‘Khandoba’ openly. In fact, despite being aware of his primitive, primordial nature. They seem to have composed verses, which involve Khandoba. Of course, they have simultaneously negated the barbaric practices associated with its worship, for sure.
There is criticism seen, but not that of the exalled form Khandoba, but of ‘Mailar’ and its aboriginal form.
Another stream of thought, mentioned by Dr. Dhere in the chapter is that, the ‘God’ Khandoba must have been some living valiant human being, who because of the valiant teats, must have assumed a god’s form. This opinion has been echoed in ‘devotee’ researcher L.R. Pangarkar, also by another researcher Mr. T.G. Dhaneshwar in his volume ‘Verul chai leni’.
Another Jain Scripture also has a similar mention and this is possible, says Dr. Dhere. He opines that there are many such demigods, deities in the Indian pantheon – who by displaying valour, left an impression on the sands of time – and later assumed the form of ‘God’. This, is a well defined process in Theogony, opines Dr. Dhere. However, for Mailar, he propounds that this can’t be the case.
Another thought originates Khandoba from the sun – luminary. Many researchers by taking a cue from the ‘Martand’ term in Khandoba’s name ‘Malhari-martand’ have believed that some kind of Sun-worship must have been associated with Khandoba, Mr. B.A. Gupte in his volume ‘Hindu holidays and ceremonies’ seem to have expressed this opinion.
(original text is quoted in the chapter.) He seems to have given astronomical maturing basis for the same. (Dr. Dhere doesn’t agree to it.)
Mr. S.B. Joshi, one more researcher also seems to have echoed this opinion by his volume ‘Marhathi Sanskruit’, one more claim, regarding Khandobas origin, is given in the chapter. This one relates Khandoba to the ‘Saptakotishwar’ in Goa, and its propounder is G.H. Khare again.
Dr. Dhere while cross - examining and negating this elaborate opinion, presents many historical, anthropological, etymological facts, which do not support this argument. He also doesn’t seem to agree with the researchers Bhondarkar and Rajwade, that ‘Skand- the god of thieves and Khandoba are related. He (Dr. Dhere) refutes these claims, which seem to have made only on the etymological basis. He also presents many reasons for this refute.
He also denounces the theories that Khandoba originated from the Indra, God of kings, or from a deity in Konkan - Ravalnath, or Jyotiba, or from the eighth century demigod ‘Moolsthandev’.
He discards all such theories – and presents concrete evidences for denouncing each of them.
Finally, while discussing the etynological – anthropological origins of the word cluster Mallari –Martand – Bhairav, he suggests that ‘Bharav’ and ‘Martand’ both originate from Kanada corrupt forms. His detailed analysis is given in the chapter.
Thereafter in the chapter – Dr. Dhere goes on exploring the origins of names –or rather synonyms of god Khandoba, and also offers his own explanation as to why that particular name became prevalent. These name forms include Mailar, Khandoba, Menganath, Mallukhan, Ajamtkhan etc.
There is a separate discussion on the symbols/ emblems of Khandoba which are prevalent and are recognized in the daily worship of Khandoba. These include the ‘Linga’s, the ‘Taandala’s, the idols (murtis) , ‘Taanks’, poses in which the god appears in different forms etc. These theogonical descriptions, elaboratively given in the chapter form an important resource for researchers exploring the tradition.
A separate discussion in the chapter also includes the ‘members’ of Khandoba family which include Mhalsa, Banai, Hegde Pradhan, the dog and the horse.
Most of these associations are also discussed later in other chapters, but this completes the overview of the original form of ‘Khandoba’ – the demigod.