Two Goddesses, who ceremoniously drink liquor

The liquor-offering ceremony for Mahamaya and Mahalaya in Ujjain is one of its own kind

Ramesh Dikshit
A famous Hindu scripture Srimad Bhagwat Mahapurana relates the story of adventurously churning of the Kshirsagar by gods and demons for their common ends. In all 14 things were discovered from the sea, the fiercest of them being the fiery and lethal poison which could bring total annihilation of the universe by charring it to nothingness. The deadly poison called “Halahal” was contained by Lord Shiva in his throat for existence and well-being of the whole universe. As a result, his throat turned blue and He was henceforth called Neelkantha i.e. one whose throat is blue. The moral of the story is that God have to drink poison to save humanity.

But Ujjain, an ancient city better known as the religious capital of Madhya Pradesh State in the central India, exemplifies that Goddesses can also drink liquor for the well-being and material growth of Their people. Liquor is, understandably, a symbolic form of all worldly evils and ills that man falls prey to in his lifespan.

The nine-day long festival of Navratri is celebrated with great zeal and enthusiasm, fun and frolic, dance and rejoicing by the womanhood in most parts of India, particularly in Gujarat State, where men too join their partner in a large circle of friends in fascinating Garba dances. Attired in resplendently colourful typical costumes, especially sewn and worn on festive occasions, they play Garba in large circles in open fields till midnight as a eulogy to Goddess Durga whose idol is placed in the center. In Ujjain, the festival of Navratri assumes a special significance and culminates with a mystic annual event featuring the District Collector of Ujjain placing a bottle of deshi liquor at the lips of seven feet high images of two sister goddesses, Mahamaya and Mahalaya, at the Chaubis Khamba Temple in the close vicinity of the world famous Temple of Jyotrilinga Mahakal.

On the morning of this year’s Mahashtami, the eighth day of Navratri dated 9th Oct., 2016 the Collector of Ujjain conventionally offered liquor, a ritualistic act of worship, to the two sister deities. The Collector placed the mouth of the bottle at Their lips and looked intently as the devis drank liquor to the chanting and clapping of a large number of awe-stricken devotees who had gathered in front of the temple to witness the bewitching spectacle and to have a palmful of liquor as Prasad. Puri, sabzi, bhajiya and a few traditional food items for worshipping the deities were offered by the District Administration with a view to seeking devis’ blessings for welfare, happiness and prosperity of city-dwellers.

The liquor-offering heralds a day-long weird course of “Nagar Pooja”, a procession of a few district Collectorate officers, employees and chowkidars of nearby villages which starts from Chaubis Khambha Temple and reaches about 40 temples of Devis, Bhairavas and Hanumanji in and around the holy city of Ujjain en route a 27 km. long way. As a tradition they have to cover this route on foot. In the procession a chowkidar, in blue uniform,  holds an earthen pitcher containing deshi liquor which dribbles on to the earth from a cloth strip hanging from it throughout the procession. Particular care is taken that the wine drips uninterruptedly during the twelve hour walk from 8 a.m. till 8 p.m.

The party reaches listed temples where gods and goddesses enshrined therein are worshipped and offered food items as mentioned earlier. The procession eventually terminates at Handiphod Bhairava near the Ankpat Dwar where the idol of Bhairava is anointed with oily vermilion, garlanded and worshipped. It is in front of Bhairava, the fifth incarnation of Mahakal (Skandapurana), that the earthen pitcher is broken on the road and a small bit of the cotton strip drenched to the core with liquor is distributed among the devotees present as Prasad to mark the end of a mystically hectic and awe-inspiring eventful day.
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