By Meenakshi Jain
| A par or narratvie painting, depicting the story of the
Rajasthan folk hero Pabuji
Rajasthan, a land synonymous with chivalry, warrior ethics, valour without regard to consequence, occupies a pivotal place in the history of Hindu resistance to foreign invasions and rule. Well after large parts of northern India succumbed to Turkish aggression, Rajputana held forth as a bastion of Hindu political, religious and cultural independence. The story of that resistance is immortalised in the bardic tradition of Rajasthan, its pre-eminent example being Chand Bardai'sPrithivi Raj Raso, composed in the 12th century AD. Other works in this genre include the Prithviraj Vijaya, which also recounts the struggles of the Chauhan Dynasty against the Turks, and numerous compositions on the Ranthambhor ruler, Raja Hammir Dev'sgallant fight against Alauddin Khilji.
But the kings of larger kingdoms were by no means the only ones to combat the invaders. Kanhadade, the ruler of a small principality in Jalor, took on the Khilji forces returning from a campaign against Somnath and retrieved from them the image they were taking as a trophy to Delhi. The Kanhadade Prabandha, a work commissioned by his descendants, records his historic exploits.
Among such valorous chieftains, Pabuji, who is believed to have lived in the 14th century, has a special place. His endearing tale is preserved as an oral epic in Rajasthani, and continues to enjoy considerable popularity to this day, being routinely celebrated in local dramas. Pabuji was a Rathor member of what subsequently became the ruling line of Jodhpur. He ruled over a single desert village, Kolu. The legend that grew following his death embraced a wide social spectrum of the State and is an eloquent commentary on the inclusivist nature of Hindu society. Pabuji, a Rajput Prince, is revered as a deity by Rebari herdsmen and others in the countryside, while the priests who perform his worship hail from the scheduled caste Nayaks. He thus epitomises the ?common inheritance? of the inhabitants of Rajasthan.
Pabuji is also revered as the upholder of intrinsic values of Hindu culture, such as safeguarding the honour of women, protection of cows, and maintenance of family honour through pursuit of blood feuds (vair). Pabuji was unflinching in his commitment to ahimsa (non-violence) and self-restraint. Though married, a turn of events ensured that he remained a celibate. The women in the family also embodied the ideals of honour of the age, his bride, sister and sister-in-law all becoming satis.
A religious tradition grew up around Pabuji, its principal ritual being the performance of a liturgical epic telling about his life, death and avenging by singer priests (bhopos).
An intrepid warrior, Pabuji worsted the barbaric cow-killing ruler of Patan, Mirza Khan, after which he proceeded to bathe in the holy Pushkar Lake to cleanse himself of the sin of bloodshed. There he slipped while bathing and was saved from drowning by the snake God, Gogo Chauhan, to whom he gave his niece in marriage. As a wedding gift to her, Pabuji promised to ?plunder she-camels of Ravana the demon King of Lanka?. Despite numerous hurdles, Pabuji crossed the sea, rounded up Ravana'sshe-camels, fought and defeated the rakshasa'sarmy and himself killed the Lord of Lanka.
En route to present the she-camels to his niece, he was sighted by the Sodhi Princess of Umarkot (Sindh), who desired to marry him. But before the wedding ceremony could be completed, Pabuji received a call for help from the lady Deval (an incarnation of the Goddess) who had earlier gifted him a black mare, Kesar Kalami, to assist him in his ventures.
The ceremony was abandoned as Pabuji rode with his men to meet Deval'stormentors. When Pabuji was struck, a palanquin appeared from heaven and took him away. His brother, Buro, was also killed. Buro'swife and the Sodhi princess prepared to become satis. Before immolating herself, however, Buro'swife gave birth to a son Rupnath, who avenged the defeat of his father and uncle and thereafter became a holy man, living on a sand hill near Bikaner.
A religious tradition grew up around Pabuji, its principal ritual being the performance of a liturgical epic telling about his life, death and avenging by singer priests (bhopos). The liturgy consists of singing the epic (through the night) in front of a par (temple), a long narrative cloth-painting depicting the main events of the story and also serving as a portable temple to Pabuji, the hero-God. The pars are painted by Josi citeros, but sometimes by the bhopos themselves, or by others. A par is generally about 15 feet long and between four-five feet wide. It is kept rolled rather than folded to prevent the painting from cracking. Since it is regarded as a temple, several rituals are observed before commencing the performance, like cleaning the ground and performing arti to the figure of Pabuji. Devotees also make offerings before the par.
Pabuji is also revered as the upholder of intrinsic values of Hindu culture, such as safeguarding the honour of women, protection of cows, and maintenance of family honour through pursuit of blood feuds (vair).
Itinerant bhopos carry the par/temple with them. They perform to the tune of a fiddle ravanhattho, which they usually make themselves. The bhopos are sometimes accompanied by their wives who hold oil lamps to illuminate the details of the paintings on the par.
Pabuji'svillage contains the two conventional temples devoted to him, where he is worshipped as a deity. There are also several small shrines and commemorative stones to him in the region. However, as most of Pabuji'sdevoted followers are semi-nomads who cannot regularly visit fixed temples, the par temple goes to the worshipers and the valorous tradition of Pabuji continues to enthrall believers through the ages.