‘Yatra‘ is an integral element of Maharashtra’s rural culture. It provides a bird’s eye view of its rural social, religious and cultural traditions. In today’s world, we read so many instances about religion separating people. But Kumbharli Yatra of Chiplun in Ratnagiri district brings together people from different religions, caste and strata of society.
Kumbharli Yatra is organized in Phalgun month. It is the annual festival and fair held at the common temple of three villages in Kumbharli Ghat region. March 7 is earmarked for 2019 Kumbharli Yatra.
Chiplun is a small town on Mumbai-Goa highway about 288 kms from Mumbai. From Mumbai-Goa highway, once you take a left turn towards Chiplun-Karad state highway, you come across Shirgaon at about 20 kms from Chiplun. From Shirgaon, the road turns windy and narrow as you enter Kumbharli village. The entire region is blessed with the natural beauty of Konkan landscape and Koyna dam valley.
Towards the edge of the village are houses of Gurav clan (Gurav Wadi). The road ends at the gate of the temple. The temple has a majestic entrance door (kamaan in local language). The environs of the temple are part of Kumbharli forest region (Kumbharli ghat) of three villages of Chiplun – Shirgaon, Pophali and Kumbharli. I noticed a children’s park built just outside the temple building. How thoughtful to keep kids engaged!
Of course, this is during normal days. During Yatra, there is so much going on that kids and adults alike are all engaged in the festivities.
Significance of Kumbharli Yatra
The temple is dedicated to Sukhai, Vardayini and Mahakali goddesses, regarded as sisters as per Indian mythology. There are two separate temples. The first temple is dedicated to Sukhai and Vardayini while second is dedicated to Mahakali. Due to bamboo and tarp covering the temple environs, we could not make out difference between two structures.
During Yatra, villagers from all three villages come together to celebrate. Hence it symbolises their spirit of unity. Just as three residing deities, the villagers also treat themselves as brothers. The temple adorned itself with myriad of colors due to pilgrims flocking temple. The devotees were particular about the color of their clothes – hues of white (men) and red, yellow and green (women). Mahakali is the eldest goddess but as per tradition, pilgrims should first offer their prayers to Sukhai and Vardayini. I entered their shrine and offered my prayers. The main hall of the temple was adorned with huge bells which were donated by villagers.
I entered inner sanctum of the temple filled with pilgrims. The two goddesses Sukhai and Vardayini were adorned with golden masks created especially for the Yatra utsav (grand celebration). The female pilgrims offer blouse piece and coconut to the goddesses. Then I headed to Mahakali shrine. The goddess Mahakali is the main deity in this temple. She is regarded as fiercer in her avatar. She was accompanied with another fierce deity – Kaal Bhairav. The temple is often known as Mahakali Temple.
The temple of Mahakali and Sukhai, Vardayini depicts architecture and construction style from different time-periods. One can observe black stone pillar from ancient era supported by wooden ceiling frame of medieval era. The granite flooring in the inner sanctum reflects modern construction. As per records, temple was built in 1209 AD. The oldest statues of deities in the inner sanctum are that of Lord Shiva’s pindi and his bullock. There are idols of these ancient deities which have eroded with time but still preserved in the temple.
The entire main hall is constructed in such a way that villagers can conduct meetings on important matters within the temple itself. In fact, since ancient era, temple main hall has been utilized as a place to resolve all important issues concerning three villages. Also, another peculiarity of the architecture is that although Mahakali and Sukhai, Vardayini preside in different sanctums, they can be viewed together from outside premises through lateral window. One can only marvel at the attention and detail of our ancestors in creating such architectural wonders.
‘Laat’ Ceremony – Kicking off Kumbharli Yatra
There is lot of energy in three villages starting month of Magh per Hindu calendar (January – February). Shivratri falls on the fourteenth day of Magh Krishnapaksha (latter half of Magh). Kumbharli Yatra is observed on Phalgun Shukla Paksha Pratipada Tithi, the day after Shivratri. It is the first day during the waxing phase of moon in Phalgun month as per traditional Hindu lunar calendar followed in Maharashtra. On this day, residents across three villages gather together outside the temple to construct ‘Laat’. Laat is long, straight bamboo pole which is carefully constructed and is brought to temple premises. There is a ritual where Laat is mounted horizontally on the pole at the center of temple premises. Once Laat is mounted, there is another ritual where it is rotated for five times by the pilgrims. The villagers decide who will perform which ritual before the Yatra so that there is no confusion. The laat ritual kick-starts the festivities of Yatra.
Kumbharli Yatra Festivities
Palki, processions, traditional music and dance are part of the rituals and entire atmosphere is quite festive. Villager play traditional musical instruments – dhol tasha which renders unique flavor of the region to the festivities. There are many stalls of local, rural items such as coir baskets, mats and other household items. There are food stalls as well selling local delicacies such as ‘Batata Wada’ (potato tikki), sugar, jaggery and coconut sweets. The kids and adults alike, thoroughly enjoy joyrides such as merry-go-round and giant-wheel. It reminded me of my childhood and visiting Mahalaxmi Yatra in Mumbai.
Another highlight of the festivities is the Kabaddi competition where teams from surrounding villages participate. There is lot of enthusiasm and cheering for this sports event. The Yatra has something for each and every devotee – food, rides, sports!
Spirit of Unity
One interesting aspect of Kumbharli Yatra is that it is not restricted to only Hindu community. In fact, villagers, be it Hindus or Muslims all came together and celebrated while offering their respects to village deities. Such is the power of rural community which spans across all man-made constraints and creates a united India. Indeed, as Gandhiji rightly said, India resides in its villages.
READ ABOUT MHASA YATRA HERE: