Jejuri and the 'Taak' tradition of Maharashtra

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    As you ascend the winding lanes of Jejuri, a temple town in western Maharashtra, the air grows thick with the scent of turmeric and the sound of fervent devotion. Here, on a high hill, lies the revered temple of Khandoba, one of the most important temples in Maharashtra. Pilgrims, clad in vibrant hues, make their way through narrow pathways, which reverberate with the chants of "Jai Malhar." The path to the temple is lined with stalls brimming with metal objects known as ‘Taaks’. These intricately crafted pieces, are cherished symbols of faith and tradition, in many Marathi households.

    Jejuri, located about 50 kilometers southeast of Pune, is a popular pilgrimage site known for its devotion to Khandoba, a beloved deity. The town sits atop a hill in a dry, grassy valley surrounded by farmlands irrigated by the river Karha. This region has long been home to farmers and pastoralists. Its presiding deity, Khandoba, also called Malhari, Mailar, Mallanna, and Mallayya in the Deccan region, is worshipped by people from multiple castes. As per popular belief, he is considered an avatar of Shiva.

    In this land of Khandoba, The Taak is a symbol of faith. Itis a small, palm-sized, rectangular or pentagonal-shaped metal plaque with one or more deities engraved on it in bas-relief. The word taak is related to the Marathi or Sanskrit verb tank, meaning to engrave. Taaks are usually found in Marathi households, placed as a set of seven in a home shrine called a Devghar, which means "house for deities."

    Typically, the set of seven taaks are worshipped in the Devghar and include depictions of deities Khandoba, Bhairi, Bhavani, Gavdevi, Kalkai, Cheda, and Rakshak. As the names indicate, some of them are gods and some are goddesses, of Puranic or folk origin. Deities like Khandoba and Bhavani are usually worshipped as familial tutelary deities, while deities like Gavdevi are supposed to represent the deities protecting the village.

    The early origins of the tradition of taak-making can be traced back to the flat, multi-figured terracotta plaques and metal coinage attributed to the early historic cultures in the Deccan region around the 2nd century CE, which have evolved with time.

    There are several goldsmith shops at the foothill of Jejuri hill specialising in making taaks. In a typical goldsmith shop, several shiny taaks of all major deities in Western and Central Maharashtra are displayed in the glass cabinet outside, boasting variety. These vendors sell not just the taaks of Khandoba, but also of other lesser-known deities such as Sati-asra, the seven sisters worshipped near water bodies. The shops usually house their own workshop space. Customers may purchase the taak of their tutelary deity, but the usual practice is to purchase a set of seven taaks.

    These taaks are typically made of either copper or silver. Unlike three-dimensional metal figurines, these flat plaques require less metal to make, making them easier to manufacture, cheaper, lighter in weight, and easy to carry.

    The goldsmiths prepare the taak by cutting silver and copper sheets to the appropriate size and thickness. They emboss the design on the silver sheet by putting it against a steel die under a press. Then the concave side of the silver sheet is filled with sawdust and lac, and heated slowly to let it melt and fill the cavities. Finally, the embossed silver sheet is covered with a copper sheet from behind, and the edges are crimped by hand. The goldsmith also instructs the customers on how the taaks should be worshipped and how to take care of them. Each deity has its own story, explaining its origin, importance, and rituals.

    From the bustling lanes of Jejuri to the family shrines in countless homes, taaks continue to play a vital role in the daily lives of devotees, embodying their faith and connecting them to age-old traditions. As we admire the intricate craftsmanship and profound symbolism of these sacred objects, we are reminded of the deep-rooted connections between past and present.

    Cover Image: PKharote, Wikimedia Commons

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