The Mother And The Sword: A Visit To Tulja Bhavani Temple In Maharashtra

Swati Goel Sharma and Mayur BhonsaleThursday, June 1, 2023 6:15 am IST
A picture from a shop in the temple premises
A picture from a shop in the temple premises

Vikas Dattu Jadhav has travelled 500 kilometres in trains and buses from Kolhapur to meet his ‘mother’ who resides as a self-manifested murti in Tuljapur Bhavani Temple. 

Of the four gates built to enter the holy premises, he chose Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Rajdwar. 

“Our greatest icon, Shivaji Maharaj, would enter through this gate,” he beams. 

Two other gates are named after Shivaji Maharaj’s parents Shahaji and Jijabai. A fourth one is named after Sardar Nimbalkar Raje, a Maratha nobleman.

For Jadhav, his bi-annual visits to the revered temple in Dharashiv (earlier Osmanabad) district in Maharashtra are as much about praying to his deity as about paying respects to his hero and icon, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. 

The seventeenth century warrior-king was a devotee of TuljaBhavani, and famously sought divine blessings from the goddess before his combat with Afzal Khan, the general of the Adil Shahi dynasty, in which Shivaji slew Khan. 

The temple is one of the 51 Shakti peethas in the Indian subcontinent. 

The goddess, Sri Tulja Bhavani, is the ‘kuladevi’ or ‘kulaswamini’ (patron deity) of several gotras and clans residing in Maharashtra — including of the Bhosale Maratha clan to which Shivaji Maharaj belonged — as well of those in the bordering areas of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.  Even Nepal has some families which regard her as the kuladevi.  

Devotees offer a new sari to the goddess on their visits, and those who can afford, do it on the sounds of dhol and sambhal

As offerings are carried to the goddess, a group performs a traditional dance called Gondhal, which is a dramatic narration of legends associated with Ma Bhavani and other deities. 

Kishore Sonawane, a man from the Gondhali community, tells Swarajya that we missed such a sight by a week. “One such offering was made last week. You should have been here,” he says cheerfully, but with a tinge of regret.

Asked more about his community, the man says that many Gondhalis were used by Shivaji Maharaj as his spies, and even today, that association brings a great honour to its members.

Signboards across the temple premises are in Marathi as well as Kannada. 

Bai Chavhan has come from Bijapur in Karnataka. She says it’s her second visit this year, and she would make at least three visits more. Chavhan believes someone from her family must see their mother at least five times a year. 

The sari and blouse that Chavhan is wearing is distinct from other visitors in that it’s a burst of colours, is heavily embellished with 25 paise coins and further accessorised with long earrings, a nose-ring and a necklace, all made of brass. 

She has stitched the dress herself. 

Chavhan says it’s a custom in her clan to stitch a new dress before undertaking the religious journey to Tuljapur. The dresses she stiches for herself for the temple visits, are what she wears the rest of the year.

A large chunk of the nearly 10,000 daily footfall at the temple is to seek divine answers for dilemmas the devotees faceAt the back of the temple is a round stone called Chintamani. 

When devotees place both their hands on it, thinking of a question that is troubling them, they sense the stone moving either in the clockwise or anti-clockwise direction, signifying the deity telling ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for an answer. 

If they sense no movement, they understand it to be the deity’s call to wait.

Vikas Dattu
Vikas Dattu
Shivaji Dwar
Shivaji Dwar
A picture of sari offering with dhol
A picture of sari offering with dhol
Bai Chavan
Bai Chavan
A woman devotee touching the Chintamani stone
A woman devotee touching the Chintamani stone

Devotees believe the murti of the goddess Parvati here is ‘swayambhu’, that is, a self-manifested one, as the high granite structure appears to have a face and eight hands holding weapons. (Many devotees also consider the goddess to be a form of Devi Lakshmi)

As per the Skanda Puranas, the goddess killed Mahishasura during Krita Yuga. She appeared as the slayer as soon as an ardent devotee made a call to her, earning her the title of ‘Twarita Bhavani’, where twarita means ‘prompt’. The word twarita gradually became popular as ‘Tulja’.

The temple is said to be standing on the site where the demon’s head fell. 

The priests and visitors share with enthusiasm how the temple is so significant that when Lord Ram went out in search of his wife Sita, the goddess blessed him, and when Shivaji Maharaj set out for his expeditions, the goddess gifted him a sword. It’s called ‘Bhavani talwar’ and it is said to be one of three precious swords in Shivaji Maharaj’s possession, the others being Tuljaand Jagdamba

For several years, a precious stone-studded sword part of the Royal Collection Trust at Saint James’s Palace in London has been believed to be the Bhavani talwar.

Dashrath Madhavrao Chopdar, one of the 250-odd priests at the temple, narrates with much pride how Shivaji avenged Khan, who is said to have desecrated the murti of the goddess in his hate for Hindu gods and beliefs. 

Khan, in all versions presented by the temple priests and staff, is spoken of as a savage. 

Madhavrao recites a couplet allegedly spoken by Afzal Khan when he attacked the temple — “Ai bute kaafra, bata teri karamat”. 

“Afzal insulted the goddess by calling her a false god worshipped by kaafirs, and challenged her to show miracles,” says Madhavrao, and adds, “Our great Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj killed him. He then reinstated the murti and rebuilt the temple.”

As per various biographies of Shivaji Maharaj, when Afzal Khan’s army set out to conquer Wai, a town in Satara district he previously governed, he smashed the murti of Tulja Bhavani on his way and taunted the goddess as being powerless. 

He further desecrated the temple by slaughtering a cow in front of it. 

He went on to damage more temples on the way including the famous temple in Pandharpur. Goddess Bhavani then appeared in Shivaji Maharaj’s dream. She warned him of Khan’s treachery but assured him of victory against him. 

Resolved to fight Khan, Shivaji Maharaj fixed a meeting with Khan in Javli, where he went with weapons, a thin chain mail and an iron cap concealed under his dress. 

The rivals met in November 1659 at a place near the foot of Pratapgarh Fort. Trading insults, Khan called Shivaji a ‘peasant boy’ while Shivaji retorted by calling Khan ‘son of a fry cook’. 

During the conversation, Khan feigned that he wished to embrace Shivaji, but while doing so, Khan tried to stab him. 

In a quick reaction, Shivaji dealt Khan a fatal blow and sliced off Khan’s head with his sword. 

The head was later taken to the goddess, and to Shivaji’s mother Jijabai. It is believed that the head is buried under Abdullah Tower of the Pratapgarh Fort while Khan’s body is buried in his tomb in Javli. 

Shivaji Maharaj is believed to have built a temple of Bhavani on the spot where the head lies (Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India by James W Laine (Oxford University Press, 2003, Page 22).

The elimination of Afzal Khan—in 1659—a prominent general of the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur Sultanate, is considered to be one of the most significant events in the life of Shivaji Maharaj as his Maratha troops routed the Adil Shahi army and he quickly expanded his territory. He was coronated in June 1674.

Dashrath Madhavrao Chopdar
Dashrath Madhavrao Chopdar
Flower necklaces that are offered to the deity
Flower necklaces that are offered to the deity
Green bangles sold at the temple premises that are offered to the deity
Green bangles sold at the temple premises that are offered to the deity

This June would mark the beginning of the 350th year since Shivaji Maharaj’s coronation. A series of events are planned across Maharashtra for a grand celebration in June.

The temple, however, would greet devotees like on any other month of the year. 

Nagesh Shitole, public coordinator of the Shri Tuljapur Bhavani Temple Trust that manages the sacred shrine, told Swarajya that no special activity was planned in June. He said the temple witnesses heavy footfall on any regular day, and arrangements are already in place for a possible surge in the number of visitors that month.

Shitole said the temple sees the heaviest footfall on Diwali for Lakshmi Pujan ritual when the crowd swelled to 15 lakh last year.

Swati Goel Sharma is Senior Editor, Swarajya. 

Mayur Bhosale is an undergraduate student at Jamia Millia Islamia University and an intern with Swarajya.

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