Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Researchers, activists bat for Mhatoba shrine status quo

Ananya Dutta,TNN | Sep 21, 2015, 03.00 AM IST

PUNE: The shrine dedicated to Mhatoba on top of Vetal Tekdi is an important cultural and historical site and should be maintained as it is, instead of obscuring it with a modern structure, feel experts and environmentalists.

"The Mhatoba shrine is important from an archaeological point of view as well as in terms of the folk and cult geography of Pune. Building a modern-style temple on the site would erase the actual ritual association that pastoral communities had with the shrine," said Indologist and researcher Saili K Palande Datar.

As far back as 1962, historian and polymath D D Kosambi had commented on the importance of the site in mapping the cult of Mhatoba. In his book 'Myth and Reality — Studies in the Formation of Indian Culture', Kosambi terms this shrine on the hilltop as "the original locus" of the Mhatoba of Kothrud village. According to him, it came here along with "herdsmen" from Wakad, where there is a temple to Mhatoba and his consort — a structure older than 1678AD.

Kosambi also found prehistoric artefacts in the vicinity of the shrine, including what may be megaliths (large stones) from an ancient burial site.

"I have been visiting the site from the 1960s. It used to be as Kosambi has described it, 'a red-daubed boulder' minimally covered with a tin shed. It was revered by Dhangar and Wadar communities, who would offer a sacrifice to the deity when passing through Pune," said environmental activist Vijay Paranjpye.

Palande Datar said the communities that have historical associations with the shrine, such as the Dhangars, don't even pass through the area anymore. "Altering the structure would be an appropriation of their cultural symbols and amount to an erasure of history. Introducing something new will damage the cultural significance of the site," she said.

She said that several hills in and around Pune are associated with similar folk and tribal deities, many of them closely connected with the conservation of biodiversity. The Waghjai and Taljai goddesses on Taljai Tekdi for instance were associated with their own sacred groves on the hill.

"Both these deities are Mother Goddesses worshipped by forest-dwelling communities. Over the years, the land-use pattern of the hill has changed, but they were originally protectors of its environment," she said.

A key aspect of retaining the shrines in their original form is that many of them were not meant to be enclosed by any artificial structure. Kosambi had noted that the "primitive origin and nature" of the cults was shown by the injunction that the stone must be open to the sky. He saw it as a sign that the cults date back to a period "before houses were in fashion, and when the 'village' was on the move".

"The shrine on top of Vetal Tekdi, along with its natural precincts, is a very important cultural heritage site. The shrine as I have known it all these years was always open to the skies. It should be maintained as it is, without disturbing its natural precincts," Paranjpye said.

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