The sacred Tulja Bhavani Temple is home to Kulaswamini, Maharashtra’s patron deity.
Before delving into the significance of Tulja Bhavani, it must be mentioned that the temple’s MAHIMA (divine importance) increases manifold because of the legend of Tulja Bhavani herself gifting the sword to Shivaji, who worshipped her as ishta devta (interestingly, the word Devta is a feminine gender in Sanskrit!). With that sword Shivaji won every battle he participated in.
At the risk of sounding outright disdainful, this is a mere legend and this never happened. This form (Bhavani) of the goddess is rather ferocious. She vanquished Mahishasur (Mahish: Buffalo/Asur: Demon) and killed him. The temple now stands where the head of the demon is believed to have fallen. This is also a legend. But astha asthim mithyam na sarvate (when faith reigns supreme, falsehood is believed as truth).
Yet another legend associated with the place is that Shivaji’s arch rival Afzal Khan planned to destroy and desecrate the temple and mata’s idol. She came to the dream of the priest and advised him to shift her idol. So this rare ‘chala moorti’ (moving idol) is not fixed at one place.
Now comes philosophical interpretation of Tulja Bhavani and her raudra roop avtar (ferocious form). Hinduism, in its deity worship, believes that the god/goddess can serve all purposes and they’ve benevolent, benign as well as hard, harsh and harrowing forms. Hindu dharmshastra believes that as per the situation, the deity takes the avatar. Dushtaam nighranam devi asitu raudram (To defeat and punish the wayward, god/goddess takes a fearful avatar) and ‘Madhuram prrtyarthe devam asitu maardav’ (To bless the nice and good ones, god/goddesses becomes benign): In plain Hindi-Jaisa des/Vaisa bhes/Jaisa insaan/Vaisa Bhagwaan.
Tulja Bhavani is Maharashtra’s ishta devta. The historical accounts of the 3rd Battle of Panipat between Ahmadshah Abdali’s force and Marathas suggest that Maratha soldiers were invoking their battle goddess (Bhavani, esp. Tulja Bhavani). Alas, she didn’t come and Abdali’s marauding army just finished the Marathas. It was so one-sided that in Marathi, there’s still a derogatory phrase, ‘Panipat Jhala’ (Panipat happened) because almost every family from Maharashtra at that time, lost at least one male member in that battle that took place in 1761.
Tulja Bhavani somewhere has that image of Benevolent Ma Durga in the consciousness of Bengalis. When during Shaardiya Durgotsav, Ma Durga’s idol is made, she’s seen killing Mahishasur. But in Bengal, this raudra roop is juxtaposed with the daughter’s home-coming. There, she’s a daughter who comes home.
The religious legends, though always false, lend new and interesting dimensions. People with a religious bent of mind when visit Maharashtra, make it a point to visit Tulja Bhavani and seek her blessings. Tuljapur temple timings for visit are 4 am to 09:30 pm.
She’s also known as ‘warriors’ goddess’ (Veeranchi devi). Professor V S Sukhtankar, who edited Vedvyas’ original Mahabharat at Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona, opined that the phonetic sound of the very word BHAVANI evokes the images of something related to battle, war and battle-cry. It’s a combination of beatific and brute, benign and boisterous, bold and beautiful.