PLACES

VAIRAG

Situated in 1800' north latitude and 7545' east longitude, Vairag, on the Barshi-Sholapur road about sixteen miles to the south-east of Barshi, the head-quarters of the taluka in which it is located was an important trade centre as per the old Sholapur District Gazetteer, 1884. Vairag was a place of considerable trade at the beginning of the British rule. In 1840 Sir George Vingate found a considerable though much reduced transit trade at Vairag chiefly in groceries, betelnut and pepper of which about a thousand bullock-loads were yearly imported from Hubli, Harihar and other southern marts. Barshi and Sholapur had drawn away much of the Vairag trade and subsequently it has lost its commercial importance.

The population of the place, as per the Census of 1971, stood at 9,201 souls. It has a post and telegraph office and a police station. The jurisdiction of the police station at Vairag extends over 66 surrounding villages. The primary schools conducted by the Zilla Parishad and the Vidya Mandir High School cater to the educational needs of the populace. The branch of the Sholapur District Central Co-operative Bank is also located at Vairag. It has a Government rest-house too. Wells form the main source of water-supply. However, scarcity of water is very often felt. A weekly market is held at Vairag on every Wednesday.

Though the place has lost its commercial importance it is still of great consequence in the district due to a very big fair held in honour of saint Nath from Shravana Shuddha 11 to Shravana Vadya 1 which is attended by about twenty-five to thirty thousand people on the full-moon day. The following is a description of the fair taken from the Fairs and Festivals in Maharashtra. [Census of India, 1961, Vol. X, Maharashtra, Part VII-B.]

Saint Nath Temple: The fair is held in honour of saint Nath (of Nath sect) for a period of six days from Shravana Shud. 11 (Ekadashi) to Vad. 1 (Pratipada), at village Vairag in Barshi taluka situated at a distance of 14 miles to the south-east of Barshi and 30 miles to the north of Sholapur. The village was a meeting place of saints of Nath sect who have renunciated worldly life for meditation. Because of this particular aspect, the village seems to have been named as " Vairag ". It has its own gram panchayat which takes active part in the fair. About 20 to 25 thousand people attend the fair on the full-moon day which is the main day of the fair. On other days of the fair the attendance is three to five thousand persons.

The village Vairag lies on a district road which connects Barshi to Sholapur. It is also connected by road to Madha, Tuljapur and Osmanabad, the adjoining district head-quarters. State Transport buses ply regularly between these places. The nearest railway station for the village is Barshi. The fair is attended mainly by the people of Sholapur district and the adjoining district of Osmanabad.

The temple of saint Nath is situated to the east of the village. In front of the temple, there is a shrine of Eknath which has been built recently by a rich trader of the village. On the right side of the main gate and in the paved passage there is a disc in floral design, engraved in low relief on stone. This is believed to be Bhairava Chakra named after Bhairava God, who, it is believed wards off all calamities and safeguards the temple and the village. On the paved passage there is an inscription in Modi script on a stone at the left of the main gate, which shows that the temple was built in Shake 1702 (1780 AD). The enclosure of the temple is built in stone and lime and is about 22' to 25' high. The outer wall of the enclosure is further extended by 4' in height in brick and mortar. Due to the lofty outer wall of the enclosure the temple looks like a fort. Two stone platforms are constructed along the front wall of the enclosure on both the sides of the main gate. Six steps from the paved passage lead to the main gate (mahadwar) which is 12' X 8' and has wooden doors. On the front of the lintel is an image of ' Shivalinga' carved on it. A covered verandah is built around the main temple which is 3' high from the ground. On both the sides of the gate there are nine stone pillars on which rest three arches. Large stone blocks are laid on the arches to form the ceiling. The inner and outer arches are filled in to form rooms eight in number on each side of the main gate. On the right side of the gate there is a room without a front wall. A large stone is carved in the shape of a bowl. This bowl is kept in the chamber and used for burning fire. Near the bowl there is a coach which is supposed to be the seat of the saint. In the cloister there are 15 and 14 rooms, constructed respectively, on the right and left side of the main temple. There is a small gate to the left of the main shrine and behind the main shrine, 17 rooms with an area of 15'X10' each are constructed. The main gate faces the east and the other which is a smaller one faces the north. Behind the shrine, some houses are built near the rooms of the verandah. These rooms are now let out for residential and office purposes. On the main gate, a room is built in brick and mortar and is used as a drum house (nagarkhana).

Two steps from the main gate lead down to a paved passage. There is an open place in-between the main temple and the enclosure where there are two lamp pillars at the north and south of the main temple.

From the main gate, after crossing a covered paved passage of about 3' in which, one step leads to the wooden hall which is divided by two rows of four wooden pillars, dividing it into three parts. On both the sides of the hall there is a row of 6 wooden pillars.

It is said that the enclosure, covered verandah and the hall were constructed about 300 years back by a rich merchant in collaboration with other local persons.

Two steps further lead to the Dagadi Mandap which faces east and has three arches resting on four stone pillars, two of which are partly inside the walls. South and north walls of this hall have three arches each. Large stone blocks are laid on the arches and the halls, which form the inner roof. The roof over it is made of brick and mortar. A wall 2' high is constructed on the roof at east, south and north with images of gods and goddesses. There are four minarets, each resting on four pillars, at each corner of the roof. The small wall and all the minarets with pillars are constructed in brick and mortar. The hall is divided into three parts by two rows of four stone pillars each. In the centre of the hall, a figure of tortoise is carved in stone and it is covered with brass plates. The entire hall and the pillars are built in stone and lime. The floor of the hall is of polished stones. The hall admeasures 30' X 32' X 18' approximately.

One step from the stone hall leads to the altar, 15'X15'. Every side of this altar has three arches, each resting on two separate pillars. Space between the pillars of the central arch and those of the adjacent arches on the front side are filled in with stone and lime. The main shrine is built in stone and lime and it can be reached through the central arch from the east. A covered passage of 3' breadth around the altar and the shrine is left out for holy circuit. The entire altar is covered with a stone roof. Windows of the fret cutting designs are carved in both the side walls of the shrine. The shrine has only one silver-plated wooden door which is the entrance to the shrine, facing the east. In the centre of the lintel, a figure of god Ganapati with a peacock on both sides is engraved in stone. Figures of Jay and Vijay as also a creeper with flowers are carved on the door-posts. The lintel, threshold and the door-posts are plated with silver. The inscription on the right hand post indicates that the silver-plating was done in Shake 1878 (1956 A.D.). The spire of the temple is constructed on the main shrine in stone and it is plastered. On all the corners of the main spire, over each group of four pillars, there is a spire in minaret style. On the main spire the tiers have niches, with figures of gods and goddesses. According to the inscription on the main spire the renovation was made during Shake 1849 to 1856 (1927 to 1934 A.D.). The brass pinnacle, plated with gold, is mounted on the dome of the spire. At the base of the spire and on the stone railings of the roof figures of monkeys are carved.

In the centre of the shrine, there is a pedestal 3' high from the ground, in the shape of a vertical rattle. This square stone altar is broad at the top and at the base. On this plain surface and in the centre of it, another round altar is carved, having two circles engraved in low relief on its surface. This is the symbol of the saint of Nath sect. The round altar is 6" high and about a foot in circumference. The entire pedestal and the round altar is made of one stone and is the samadhi of the saint. On the altar a brass mask of human face is kept facing the east.

The puja is performed twice a day at 9-00 a.m. and 8-00 p.m. by the pujari, the only person allowed to enter the main shrine. The morning worship includes offerings of water and a mixture of five nectars (i.e., milk, curds, clarified butter, sugar and honey). The mask and the samadhi are then washed with water copiously. Sandalwood paste is applied to the forehead of the mask. A robe or kafani is put around the samadhi. A small dhoti is put around the neck of the mask and a turban is put on it. Flowers and garlands are then put across and around the mask and the samadhi. Lighted incense sticks are waved. Offering of cooked food and waving of light complete the puja. In the evening the mask is removed and kept in a niche in the back wall of the shrine. The samadhi is worshipped in a humble way. Instead of cooked food, sugar is offered.

Monday is supposed to be the favourite day of the saint. All the Hindu festivals are also observed as special days. The period of the fair, i.e., Shravana Shud. 11 to Shravana Vad. 1 is also treated as a special occasion.

The devotees can perform puja through the priest at any time during the day. People believe that this deity is capable of warding off all kinds of evils and can bless them. They, therefore, make vows before the deity in order to get a child, success in business, etc., and in return they promise offerings. Some devotees come to the temple falling prostrate right from their house to the temple.

There are four households of the priests who belong to Gurav caste. They worship the deity by turn every Monday morning.

The main fair of saint Nath is celebrated from Shravana Shud. 11 (Ekadashi) to Shravana Vad. 1 (Pratipada). The principal day of the fair is full-moon day as the saint immolated himself on that day. On every day during the fair, a palanquin with the foot-prints kept in it, is taken out in procession at about 6-00 p.m. Every day, there is a kirtan and devotional songs are sung. On Shravana Shud. 11 (Ekadashi) clothes are offered to the deity by the fair committee. On Shravana Shud. 12 (Dwadashi), a feast is given to Brahmins. On Shravana Shud. 13 (Trayodashi) meals are offered to the visitors and all pilgrims. On Shravana Shud. 14 a kirtan is performed by a descendant of saint Mankoji Bawa Bodhale who was a disciple of god Vithoba. The mythological story of king Gopichand, who was a great follower of Nath sect, is narrated and after mid-night, the performer of the kirtan wears clothes similar to those of a yogi of this sect and the pilgrims bow their heads to him. This programme ends at 6-00 in the morning of Shravana Shud. 15, i.e., the full-moon day. On the full-moon day at about 3-00 p.m. the procession of palanquin with footprints starts. In the procession there are two bullock-carts carrying figures of elephants and human beings made of rice straw. The palanquin is first taken to the lake which is on the outskirts of the village where fire-works are lit. The palanquin then moves through the village and is then brought near the temple. Entertainment programmes including dramas are held at this place. The palanquin is then carried on to the chauk (cross roads) at about 10-00 a.m. and different cultural programmes are held there. These comprise different kinds of games and mock fights. The palanquin re-starts from this place at about 12 noon and after the games are over it reaches the temple. This procession of the palanquin is locally known as chhabina and is the main attraction for the pilgrims. The fair committee makes arrangements for shelter of the pilgrims who need them. There are three dharmashalas in the village which are also used for lodging of the pilgrims. Pilgrims from surrounding areas generally reside with their relatives at Vairag.

The river water is stored in a reservoir and distributed through pipes after chlorination. Temporary pipe lines are laid for supplying water to the pilgrims. There are besides 125 to 150 small wells in the village site but the water is brackish and is not used for drinking purposes.

The devasthan committee is entirely responsible for the management of the fair. The expenditure on the fair is generally met from donations.

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