Despairing for a drink at the Simhastha Kumbh Mela as a scorching sun glares at you from the sky overhead? Don’t fret. You just have to head to the Kaal Bhairav temple, where the presiding deity will fulfil all your alcohol-related needs.
Ujjain has been declared a dry city by the state government for the duration of the month-long Simhastha Mela, which sees millions of seers and devotees gather on the banks of the Kshipra river for a holy dip. However, an exception has been made for a nearby temple that seeks to appease Kaal Bhairav — a fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva — through offerings of liquor.
Loathe to interfere with the religious habits of Kaal Bhairav’s devotees, the administration has allowed two liquor shops in front of the temple to continue selling alcohol. Besides this, devotees also get a bottle of liquor as part of the ‘phool and prasad’ sold by 14 kiosk owners in the temple premises.
“People line up for hours to offer alcohol to the deity,” said a CISF security personnel at the shrine. In the view of Simhastha Mela, the administration has erected iron barricades in front of the temple to control the crowd’s movement.
Sales at the two liquor stores have reportedly registered 100% growth since the month-long prohibition began. Store staffers said they sold liquor worth over Rs 6 lakh since Saturday morning, as opposed to the usual figure of Rs 3 lakh or less.
“Sales touched Rs 50,000 in just about an hour after we opened (on Sunday morning). We believe it will cross Rs 10 lakh by closing time because there are so many pilgrims and tourists around,” said Mahesh Kachway, a constable posted at a liquor shop in front of the temple.
A kiosk owner said that though the liquor is meant to be offered to the deity, a lot of pilgrims undoubtedly guzzle it themselves. “I myself supplied over thirty litres of liquor to middlemen (who sell it to people outside) since morning. This is Bhairav baba’s abode, and nobody can prohibit liquor here,” he added.
The devotees offer liquor varying from Rs 50 to Rs 4,000 at the Kaal Bhairav temple. “I came from Itarsi along with my friends to offer prayers and alcohol to Baba Bhairavnath. I will offer a bottle worth Rs 2,000 this time,” said Sumit Gupta, a businessman.
The liquor sellers, consequently, end up making a tidy profit. Pointing at a bottle of country-made liquor, kiosk owner Rajesh Bhati said, "This costs just Rs 50, but I sell it for Rs 75 when thousands of devotees queue up by evening.”