I cycled into the charming Maharashtrian village of Aravali on a January evening, en route to Goa via the coastal state highway. The beautiful beach and greenery make the village worth a visit – but it is Aravali’s resident deity who makes it even more special.
I had planned to spend the night at the Shri Dev Vetoba temple, which provides shelter for devotees. But I hadn’t anticipated the beauty of the temple, its deity Vetoba and the fascinating stories around him.
Vetoba is not your average deity. He is the king of demons, and a manifestation of Shiva. The leader of an army of ghosts, he is not a ghost himself. He is kind, and a generous guardian of the region around Aravali. Devotees believe that Vetoba protects Aravali by walking around its pathways at night. Inside the temple, you will notice innumerable pairs of large Kolhapuri chappals, leather sandals crafted especially for their god.
The majority of the villagers belong to the charmakar samaj (leather cobblers). They have been gifting sandals to Vetoba for over three centuries. Vetoba is also said to make his way on foot to meet a goddess in Belgaum, Karnataka. No wonder then that the sandals offered by the villagers start wearing off in a few months! The countless pairs of footwear in the temple have inadvertently made it a unique showcase of the evolution of the Kolhapuri chappal. The styling of the straps seems to have undergone a lot of change over time.
Another interesting story is that of Vetoba’s statue. With piercing eyes and a larger-than-life presence, he is seen holding a sword in one hand and a utensil in another. It is said that the original statue was brought and installed from the hills nearby, in the early part of the 17th century. Since then, the statue has been carved out of jackfruit wood, and hence had to be reinstalled every 100 years. The current beautiful, black statue however, was made by a local artist out of panchdhatu (mixture of five metals) for ease of maintenance, and was installed in 1996.
But the most intriguing nugget revealed itself with the beat of the drums at sundown. The nagaras or drums are struck every evening in praise of the demon king. The gurav (a type of priest) of the temple told me that the Muslims from the village played the drums as a mark of respect for the local god.
As darkness slowly spread its blanket, I could sense that Vetoba was getting ready to take the ritualistic walk around his kingdom in his leather chappals. This could well have been my imagination, but the king of demons does cast a spell on you, which plays on your mind long after you have left his kingdom.
Getting there The closest railway station to Aravali is Sawantwadi, Maharashtra. The nearest airport is in Dabolim, Goa.
Sachin Bhandary quit a career in public relations for The 12 Project. It involves him travelling the world and taking on monthly challenges. When he is not busy keep himself alive, he tweets as @theoddtraveller.