Bullet Baba and a Drive-thru Temple

December 2013. We were on a holiday in Rajasthan and we were cabbing from Udaipur to Jodhpur. When we were about an hour away from Jodhpur our car driver stopped suddenly at what appeared to be a wayside temple.

Wayside temples are common place in India. I remember that time many years ago when I used to take an overnight bus from Mangalore to Bangalore. All the buses used to stop at this little temple just outside Mangalore. Today, the temple has grown into a big place of worship with an annual festival that attracts large crowds and causes traffic jams 🙂

So there we were at this ramshackle of a ‘temple’. A bare tree covered with threads and bangles stood in front of a structure made of wood and reed. While we were unsure what to expect, the driver goaded us to go ‘inside’. We took off our footwear and gingerly made our way past the tree. On a raised platform there was a fire-altar (homa kunda/havan kund), a picture of a strapping young man, there were flowers, bells, a family singing bhajans….just as we were trying to understand the ambience and looking for a representation of ‘God’, we spot, of all things, a motorbike in a glass cage who happened to be the main ‘deity’ of this temple!

Tree outside the temple
At first we didn’t know what to make of this place….

Om Singh Rathore was travelling on a Royal Enfield Bullet bike from Bangdi to Chotilla two small towns in Rajasthan when he lost control, knocked into a tree and died on the spot. Cops hauled the bike to the police station but the bike made it back to the accident spot on its own, every time, even after the fuel tank was emptied out!

The fire-altar – homa kunda – havan kund

Anything without logic or a scientific explanation is a miracle, isn’t it? So the locals decided that there was something spiritual in this unexplainable affair of the bike making it to the accident spot from the police station and started to revere the bike. In India we take the concept of the omnipresent God to new unfathomable levels. Alongside the worship of Gods and Goddesses, we worship nature too and demigods and the dead. The river we take a dip in washes away our sins and bad karma and we pray to the mother river for nourishing us. So there it was the bike who would keep travellers safe if you prayed there before continuing the journey!

A pic of Om Singh Rathore and an eternal flame

If you read old news reports, it seems that our Om Singh Rathore lost control of his bike because of driving under influence. That does not stop us from revering him simply because his bike made its way back to the accident spot every night! Oh the things we are ready to believe!

Songs are sing in praise of Om Banna

The death took place back in 1988, we visited in 2013, I am writing about it in 2021. It would not be surprising if the shrine has grown into a sizeable temple and is a means of livelihood to many today. If any of you reading this has been there since 2013, please share what you have seen. It would be nice to know what’s become of the place.

Bullet Baba

I remembered about this Bullet Bike / Om Banna / Bullet Baba temple (as it is also known) when recently I was at this other equally fascinating place inside Belgaum Fort – the Military Durga Devi Mandir, a drive-thru temple if you will please!

Belgaum fort (in Karnataka, India) has been in existence since about a 100 years before the times of the Adil Shahi kings who were prominent in the region from the 1300s to 1500s. With two entry gates and a moat, even today the fort walls and ramparts are intact (but will fall away soon, it is already covered in heavy undergrowth!). The 115 Infantry Battalion of the Territorial Army has its presence here. The fort is also home to a recently restored Basadi and another one under restoration, two mosques and a dargah, all very quaint and cute.

Belgaum Fort walls

One of the fort entrances is on the west side, while the second one is through a gate at a bastion in the north side of the fort. If you enter through the west gate, then you make a left and drive along the edge of the fort wall and probably what was the ramparts of the fort once upon a time. You come to a fairly wide T-junction and find the Hazrath Sikander Shah Dargah on your right (behind a layer of high walled enclosure) and the Military Durga Devi Mandir on your left, a few tens of metres away. The road through the gate in the bastion on the north leads to another low modest gate. On entering this gate you will find vaulted passages and the temple is in the passage on the right hand side. This very narrow path is open to two way traffic and the cacophony of motor vehicles honking away echos and amplifies in this passage! This, despite a board that says ‘No honking’!!

Belgaum Fort wall and west side entry
The dargah lies behind this gate
North side entry through a bastion
Vehicles moving slowly in front of the temple

Besides Goddess Durga, this ‘open’, ‘wayside’ temple is home to Lord Shiva, Hanuman and Lord Ganesh and they are installed in a sequence in the small niches in the wall. If you look at the ceiling you can see domes – elements from an Islamic past of the fort. A small structure, probably a guard house is fused to the vaulted passage on the left hand side. Today it is an office of the military who keep an eye on every person and vehicle that passes by.

While some worshippers park their vehicles and enter the temple for a closer interaction with the deities, most others stop on the narrow road, fold their hands, pay their obeisance and move on.

Goddess Durga

India is full of quirky temples, more recently, temples have been erected to actors and politicians with daily worship rituals in place. Have you been to one that’s unique and special? Do share your thoughts.

Belgaum also has a Military Mahadev Temple in the Camp area which as the name suggests is an area occupied by offices and housing of the Defence forces. There is something charming about the Camp area too – most roads carry names such as ‘Nathu La road’, ‘High Street’, ‘Lytton Road’, ‘Picket Road’, ‘Saudi Road’ and so on and so forth.

If you find yourself in either of the cities of Hubli/Dharward or Belgaum in Karnataka, this is another place to visit which is well worth your time.

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