When Smoking is…

Religious to health

The entire caption was devised to create intrigue. I mean, why not right! But after the temple with alcohol offering, which should definitely reevaluate all the things that have been deemed as sinful.

Toward the south end was the colonial town of Bombay, which was built predominantly by the British and came to be the symbol of colonial elegance and prestige. The ‘native town’ was named as such by the British, who considered the area north of the Victoria Railway Station (now known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) to be dirty, disorganized, old and full of natives. Stepping into the maze of urban maze of Bhuleshwar, always reveals a hidden insight to the cultural side of what made the Native town so unique. The folk lore that also seem to migrate in tune with inter-city migration, also adds layers to the cosmopolitan that Mumbai is. India’s temple towns have a clear distinction – cows, incense sticks and flowers govern a lane leading up to a shrine. And then there is this particular niche where the vendors located in and around the famous Swaminarayan temple of Bhuleshwar precinct, also sell packets of cigarettes along with incense sticks, flowers and sweets. Why? Because Mamadev prefer it over rest of the offerings.

Mamadev is said to be a friendly ghost, like Casper, and is surprisingly well known all over Saurashtra, mainly in the Junagadh district. Mamadev is said to be a pretaatma (~ ghost), which subsequently became a devaatma (~ a divine spirit) because of its pure soul. It’s job is to make the impossible happen. Mama is actually a ghost who comes down in the middle of the night to walk the lonely deserted streets. His presence is also found in shops that stock wood used for building and construction. There is a belief that Mamadev’s ghost is at home in these shops and he takes care of the wood throughout the night and keeps robbers away. Rumors of ghostly sighting have been reported where people have seen Mamadev sitting atop the highest plank or on terraces of houses smoking a cigarette.

According to local stories and beliefs, if you happen to walk into him on a deserted night, be prepared; he might ask you for a cigarette. The best thing to do the local people say is to give him a cigarette and start walking without stopping, never looking back. And if you do not have a cigarette, do not say a word, but using hand gestures indicate that you do not have one. But make sure that the very next day you go to his shrine (irrespective of whether you smoke or not) and offer him two cigarettes. Nightly strolls are already a limited luxury for a woman, on top of it, add the pressure of a cigarette-trolling friendly ghost.

The shrines dedicated to Mamadev are unique—beside the photograph or statue of Mamadev, the presiding priests accept only cigarettes as donations. One cigarette the priests light up and offer to Mamadev and another, they take a few puffs from. A few drags and then the priest places the half-smoked cigarette on the altar. The altar is also very different from the one’s you would see in regular temples. Apart from Mamadev, it has flower pots with plastic flowers and huge steel plates that hold the cigarette butts. You are not supposed to offer bidis or any cheap cigarettes.

Legend of smokey smokerson…what next?

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