Being Punjabi, we adore our Bullet motorcycles, we serve them well, we keep them clean and sparkling.. and we love them like our girlfriends. Indeed Bullets are our better half, they are our girlfriends… but we never really consider Bullet as a God.. however, if there is a Motorcycle God, it has to be Bullet 350. And indeed there’s a shrine dedicated to the Motorcycle Devta, also called Bullet Baba. The deity is indeed a motorcycle and such is faith that hundreds of devotees turn up every day to pray for a safe journey. The unlikely shrine near Chotila village, around 20 km away from Pali en route to Jodhpur on the highway, has a Royal Enfield 350 cc motorbike as its deity. It’s hard to miss the din of pilgrims here. Every day nearby villagers and travellers stop and pray to the bike and its late owner Om Singh Rathore. The temple beside the Enfield motorbike has a big picture of Singh, fondly known as Om Banna.
It is said that a person who does not stop to pray at the shrine is in for a dangerous journey. The story goes that back in 1991, on a fateful summer night, Om Bana was returning from Pali to his native Chotila on his Bullet 350 when it skidded and hit a tree, killing him on the spot. The tree stands over the battered vehicle till date. Villagers say after Om Bana’s death, the motorbike was taken to a local police station. But next day morning, it was found at the accident spot.
The Bullet Baaba Shrine at Chotila village
Om Banna – Om Singh Rathore
Police initially thought it was a prank and after emptying the fuel tank they brought the bike back to the station. However, the motorcycle was again at the accident spot the next day. “As soon as the story spread, people in the nearby village built a platform on the spot where the death occurred and started offering prayers,” said Chotu Singh, a resident of the nearby village. Many shops offering incense sticks, flowers, coconut and red thread meant for offering prayers have sprung up near the shrine. Local people sing folk songs in the name of Om Bana who owned the Royal Enfield. The cause of his death, the tree itself remains ornamented with offerings of bangles, scarves and rope. The temple even has its own priest, Poonam Giri, who has been incharge of the upkeep of the shrine for two decades.
Every pass by pays respects here
The Royal Enfield Bullet 350 – motorcycle that is prayed to
Mahender Singh, a travel agent from Jodhpur who begins every trip with a salute to Bana, says, “Back then, only a few people would visit the temple. After tales of Om Bana riding his motorcycle on this road began to spread, his followers increased in number.” He recounts the story of one of his drivers whose vehicle skidded and fell into a ditch not far from the spot of Bana’s accident. “The driver was injured and bleeding in the vehicle when he swore that Om Bana came to him and helped him out. Such stories only increased this temple’s reputation,” Mahender Singh adds.
The busy Pali-Jodhpur highway ensures a constant flow of pilgrims, who are easy enough to spot, with their bottles of liquor. Som Singh, who organises pan-Rajasthan travels from Jodhpur, says, “I come here every week to offer prayers to Om Bana. Most devotees offer liquor.” He walks the traditional three circles around the motorcycle, each time pouring some of the contents of a liquor bottle onto its wheels.
A sight that merges religion and technology
Bullet 350, Bullet Baaba covered with garlands
Travellers, especially drivers of vehicles that pass by, offer prayers at the site, which is almost in the middle of the road. Some drivers also offer a small bottle of country liquor at the site, praying for a safe journey. “Whenever I pass this area, I never forget to light incense sticks, offer liquor and lie prostrate in reverence,” said Jagdish Singh, a taxi driver. Devotees also apply the ’tilak’ mark and tie a red thread on the motorbike. “Villagers here believe Bana’s spirit still hovers around the place and they can hear the Royal Enfield rev up at night,” said Hem Singh Rajput, the resident of a nearby village.
A mini-economy has sprouted around the shrine. Over the last few years, at least a dozen shops have come up around its premises, selling everything from religious offerings like flowers, incense sticks, kumkum, turmeric and camphor to memorabilia including VCDs, audio tapes, key chains, necklaces, charms, rings and of course, photographs of Om Bana in all sizes.
Kailash Rathore opened his shop five years ago. “Business here is very good. I operate this shop in shifts and we are open 24 hours a day,” he says. “There are many babas nowadays, but there will only be one motorcycle baba,” Rathore adds, smiling (23569)