A continuity of history has been erased at the temple of the goddess Bahucharaji. As I walk into the centre of the temple I am surprised to see a dozen or so men busily working at carving and cutting away stone and cement blocks, constructing a new temple where once a classical Indo-Islamic structure had stood. The shrine complex that I had expected to see is no longer.
I remember seeing the original structure in a photograph taken by Professor J.J. Roy Burman. It showed a rather humble yet elegant shrine with arches, domes, cupolas and a beautiful, multi-pillar supported low roof. A large varakhadi tree towards the rear, its branches gently resting on the dome and roof. But no more. The original structure had been torn down and was now being replaced by a classical Nagara (perhaps some Solanki influences can also be seen?) temple structure, complete with a dominating shikara, the likes of which can be seen all across this region.
The shrine of Bahucharaji Mata has always been a contested space, her origins, mythologies, and ritual practices contested by many. A virgin goddess, it was not only her origins that were a source of conflict, but also the various rituals that were practiced here. And this contestation become particularly intense when in 1859 a group of Brahmins were appointed by Sayajirao Gaekwad of Baroda (now Vadodara). As Samira Sheikh, who has done extensive research on the story of the goddess Bahurajai Mata, points out in her essay Lives of Bahuchara Mata in Simpson & Kapadia’s ‘The Idea Of Gujarat’, where she noted that:
It was in 1859 that Sayajirao Gaekwad of Baroda appointed a dakshini or ‘southern’ Brahmin, Narayanarao Madhav, to officiate over the rituals of the temple in place of a ‘Rajput’ offcial. This would seem to be the first time in the record that Brahmins presided over the temple ritual. Six Brahmins were employed to attend the goddess and twenty-one other temple servants of other castes were retained on the Gaekwad’s payroll.
From the essay The Eunuch Goddess by Asim Rafiqui