OM BANNA - THE MOTORBIKE GOD
Folk deities and local heroes abound in Rajasthan, northeast India, so it’s hardly surprising that a crashed 33-year-old Royal Enfield
Bullet motorbike has for many years been the focus of a unique roadside temple just 12 miles from the village of Pali. This bizarre story stars a motorbike, known locally as Bullet Baba. After the crash that killed its young rider, Om Singh Rathore, it was taken to the local police station and later miraculously reappeared again and again on the very spot where it crashed into a tree. Even when it was taken to the house of a local potter, Hukma Rama, it continued to return to the crash site. Om Singh Rathore was only 23 and had a friend on the bike with him. The friend survived but he died instantly. The motorbike is now displayed in a glass case decorated with flower garlands at the shrine that has grown up around this legendary figure.
You could call this place the Indian version of wearing a St Christopher to keep you safe when you travel. No Indian traveller will pass this spot without stopping. My driver, a local man who had grown up with the legend, was no exception and was also an invaluable source of information. A tiny photo of Om Banna on the dashboard of his car was proof of his loyalty. He also wore the red prayer strings around his wrist that are said to bring good luck and are strewn all over the shrine. As he pulled up to let me out to see the shrine, I was struck by the number of pilgrims milling around and the strong smell of incense filling the air. They apply the tilak mark to the motorbike and tie red threads on it. Tilak means mark in Sanskrit and is the traditional way of showing which Hindu religious group a person belongs to. It is done with a paste made of ash, sandalwood, clay or turmeric and is usually worn on the forehead. Indian pipes played and incense wafted through the air. Locals pushed their way through to make offerings and pray to Bullet Baba (baba means saint in Hindi) Bottles of liquor are among the offerings - slightly ironic, as some people believe the young victim had been drinking when he crashed. The tree where Om Banna died is also part of the shrine and a priest has been taking care of this bizarre temple for many years. Devotees can often be seen circumnavigating the tree the bike crashed into. As I stood there, it was hard to take in how a freak motorbike accident 33 years ago could sow the seeds of a new religion.
The Motorbike god’s temple, located in Chotila village, is just a few miles from Jodhpur, known as the Blue City, well worth a visit, and Jaipur, one of India’s most splendid and vibrant cities. Its 16th century Amber Fort, ascent by elephant optional, would be the obvious focal point for a visit, with the added dimension of a glimpse of life through the eyes of locals provided by a visit to Om Banna’s temple, with its quirky religious rituals and bizarre and unique deity.