The huge, brightly painted statues are hard to miss, sitting tall on a slab of concrete in an agriculture field in Madhya Pradesh’s Rajgarh district, just off the busy National Highway 3.
A closer look throws up a surprising fact – they are idols of the mythological demon king Ravana and his brother Kumbhakarna. And it also becomes obvious that the idols are there for a reason, the spot neat and clean with religious flags blowing in the gentle wind.
Welcome to Bhatkhedi village where Ravana and Kumbhakarna are worshipped with as much devotion as other Hindu deities by the local populace.
Residents of the village, around 120km from Bhopal, explained how they came to worship two characters from the epic Ramayana, normally shunned by the Hindu devout as evil incarnate.
“Our elders told us that Ravana and Kumbhakarna showered blessings on the village and should not be considered evil,” Kaluram Yadav, a Bhatkhedi resident said.
No one remembers the year when the idols were placed at the spot, villagers said it could be “decades ago”.
In fact, no one even knows the exact benefit the ancestors received from the blessings but the village has dutifully carried on the reverse tradition of not burning the effigies of Ravana and Kumbhakarna on Dussehra.
“Rather, after Ram Lila (a religious play based on Ramayana) is staged and the demon brothers are slain as part of the act, the villagers gather before the idols and worship them,” said Bhagwan Singh Yadav, sarpanch of Bhatkhedi.
And the revering isn’t restricted to Dussehra.
Locals and those from surrounding places are regular visitors to the idols, seeking fulfillment of their wishes. When the wishes are fulfilled, the devotees also organise community feast and contribute for upkeep of the idols, the sarpanch said.
However, Bhatkhedi is not the only village in the state to worship Ravana. Another village in Vidisha district, named Ravana, also worships the demon king and also has a temple with his idol.?
Another Bhatkhedi villager, Shivnarayan Yadav, said that according to Hindu mythology, Ravana and Kumbhakarna are none but the reincarnations of Jaya-Vijaya, the guards of Lord Vishnu’s abode who were cursed to be born as mortals.
“The two brothers were mere parts of the divine game of the Lord. How can we consider them evil and they have always proven to be good for us,” Shivnarayan said.