Shri Dev Vetoba Devasthan of Aravali is one of the most famous ‘jagrut’ (Lord who fulfills the wishes of devotees) temples in Vengurle taluka of Sindhudurg district in Maharashtra, India.
Shri Dev Vetoba is the God of Aravali village in Konkan. Natives of this picturesque, tranquil village straddling the Arabian Sea worship Shri Dev Vetoba as their protector. They believe He brings prosperity to the village. Devotees worship Him as a loving and compassionate God who answers their prayers, fulfills their wishes and comes to their aid in times of crisis and difficulties. Natives and devotees lovingly call their God, simply – Vetoba.
Thanks to Vetoba’s blessings, Aravali has today blossomed into a significant pilgrimage centre in Konkan. Devotees in thousands pour into the village from far and wide to seek Vetoba’s darshan and blessings during His 2 big annual festivals: on Margshirshya shuddha pratipada (Devdipavali) and His investiture-day festival on Vaishakh shuddha panchami.
The festivals are celebrated with great devotion, enthusiasm and fanfare. The temple is decorated with flowers and lights. Dazzling fireworks light up the sky.
Shri Dev Vetoba Devasthan is Aravali’s main temple and its chief tourist attraction. It is situated on the main Shiroda-Vengurle thoroughfare.
Vetoba’s magnificent idol is fashioned out of ‘panchdhatu’ (5 metals). It is bigger than life-size, 9 feet 2 inches tall, and faces north. Vetoba is standing, in all his glory and power, with a sword in his right hand and an agnipatra (small utensil) in his left.
In the temple’s sanctum sanctorum, Vetoba’s idol is flanked by idols of Shri Dev Bhummaiyya, Shri Dev Purwas, Shri Dev Rampurush, Shri Dev Baracha Purwas (Nirakari) and Shri Dev Bhavkai.
It is a tradition to seek Vetoba’s consent and blessing before undertaking any new work in the temple, or when impediments come in its routine work. Devotees and village people seek His blessings during times of difficulties or before undertaking any new work.
In Konkan, there is a tradition of asking for Vetoba’s ‘prasad’, a worship ritual popularly known as ‘kaul’. In essence, ‘kaul’ is designed to seek specific answers from Vetoba for varied personal problems. So, in a ‘kaul’ 33 leaves of ‘salai’ tree are stuck to various specified parts of Vetoba’s idol, each one imbued with certain meaning. And village mavens interpret the answer from the leaves that Vetoba drops down. And then they guide the answer-seekers accordingly. From the time Vetoba’s temple was first established in early part of 17th century, this age-old tradition has continued till date. Vetoba is known to give exact answers that come unfailingly true.
Vetoba is offered bananas or banana bunch (ghad), sweets such as sugar, pedhe, laddus, a pair of dhoti, uparana as naivedya. There is also a tradition of offering Him a pair of new chappals made from special leather which is available only in Aravali. Natives believe that Vetoba acts as the caretaker and protector (rakshankarta) of their beautiful village, perambulating its paths in the night wearing the chappals.
King of Ghosts
Vetoba’s temple at Aravali is basically the temple of Vetal, the King of ghosts, pishacchas, poltergeists, daemons, apparitions and other evil entities. The word ‘Vetal’ itself is imbued with profound meaning. If the word’s first alphabet is omitted, the remaining two, ‘Taal’ in Marathi mean balance, buddhi or wisdom. If the second one is omitted, the remaining two, ‘Vel’ mean ‘time’. And if the third one is omitted, the remaining two, ‘Vet’ mean to bring forth.
Human beings are prone to doing negative, evil things or bad karma. This usually happens when they fall prey to negative, selfish thinking. In other words, when their buddhi or wisdom leaves them. Thus, the power that brings forth or restores buddhi or wisdom in time is Vetal. Vetal is the God who reins in evil, negative thinking or tendencies in human beings and steers them on the righteous path.
In Indian culture, there is a tradition to affix the suffix ‘ba’ to proper names. ‘Ba’ denotes respect and reverence. In Japan, too, there is a similar tradition. In Gujarat, the mother is called ‘ba.’ So, in Vetal’s name the replacing of the last alphabet by ‘ba’ is indicative of respect and reverence for the Deity.
In North India, too, there are many temples of Vetal, but there is a vast difference in the perception of the Deity there and in Konkan. In North India, there is a tradition of offering Vetal things like marijuana, weeds etc as naivedya, which is totally perverse.
Manifestation of Shiva
Whereas in Konkan Vetoba is offered pure, satvik (pure) naivedya like sugar, bananas pedhe, laddus etc. Moreover, Konkan’s Vetoba doesn’t like or approve of killing of animals as part of religious rituals.
Konkan’s Vetoba is a God that observes the purity and rigours of Brahma worship. He is the manifestation of Lord Shiva. He is a King. He is the King of ghosts, who controls evil entities like daemons, apparitions, pishacchas etc. Ghosts make up his army, but he is not a ghost himself. He is their King.
This is well collaborated by many sources, including Srimad Bhagwad and Matsyapurana. The 5th adhyaya of Navnath Bhaktisaar Granth describes how Macchindranath harassed the ghost kingdom and challenged its king, Vetal, to a fight, and how, for the fight, Vetal organised his army of ghosts, summoning them from different regions like Afghanistan, Bengal, Rajasthan and other areas.
In the temples of Maharashtra, devotees meditate on Vetoba with the mantra: || Om Namah Paraay Shivatmane Vetalay Namah ||
Yogiraj Bapumama Keni
Any record of Aravali’s Shri Dev Vetoba is incomplete without reference to Yogiraj Bapumama Keni.
In 1730, Bapumama Keni, a spiritually advanced saint, arrived in Shiroda, and stayed at Harbanna Kamat’s house for 40 years. He used to worship Vetoba as Vitthal, the avatar of Lord Krishna. One day when he was standing in front of Vetoba with folded hands, a small bright flame emerged from the Deity’s heart, moved through the air and stood still in front of Bapumama Keni’s heart. It was as if Vetoba was signifying that He and Bapumama Keni were one. This is a true incident that has been widely reported.
Through his pravachanaas (lectures), Bapumama Keni sang the glories of Vetoba and preached about His power and compassion to the public, turning hundreds of people into Vetoba’s devotees. Because of his long stay in the region, Aravali soon blossomed into a holy pilgrimage place, where devotees thronged – and still do – for Vetoba’s darshan and blessings.
So spiritually close was Yogiraj Bapumama Keni to Vetoba that his anniversary programme called ‘Bapumamacha Padwa” is celebrated every year. It takes place on Jeshtha shuddha pratipada at the residence of Gajanan Pandurang Kamat at Shiroda. In honour of the occasion, it is the tradition to send from Aravali’s Shri Dev Vetoba Devasthan members of Joshi, Haridas, Puranik families, together with vajantri (troupe with instruments) and the temple gurav to Kamat’s residence at Shiroda.