City Secret – Holy Booze at Bhairon Mandir
A temple addicted to whiskey.
[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This temple prohibits devotees from giving prasad to beggars. After all, the pooja thalis here look tempting with their Royal Challenge bottles. The deity, though, is perhaps soft on Johnnie Walker.
Clinging to the stone-red ramparts of Purana Qila, Bhairon Mandir is an alcohol-friendly shrine. The temple accepts liquor as prasad. A signboard that warns not to give it to beggars outside is mostly ignored. The drunken urchins freely run around with half-empty bottles.
“Devotees bring their own bottles, sometimes even cartons,” says beer-bellied Pandit Ram Prasad. The tradition is to offer some of the whiskey (or beer, vodka, rum…) to the deity. The rest is given to the priest or taken home.
Since Bhairon Baba, a demon killed by Durga but absolved of all sins during his dying moments, attracts the biggest crowd on Sundays, the sweeper claims to collect more than thousand bottles the morning after. An offering of meat is also acceptable. According to a priest, it is not unusual to proffer live chickens as well.
This tipsy tradition is traced to Baba’s fondness for alcohol. But an old Mataji, a temple fixture, recalls the time when the surrounding area was a jungle. Picnickers would come from Delhi, in tonga, to picnic here. Since the area was thick with trees, they would chop wood and light bonfires to rustle up elaborate meals. Booze would inevitably be part of the hamper. Considering that the temple priests were never far away, they were often invited to share in the feast. This custom perhaps evolved into the present-day ritual.
“The truth is that meethi roti is prasad enough,” Mataji asserts. But that, as it happens, is not enough for others.
Where Near Pragati Maidan Parking (Opposite Gate No. 2)