Ballari: The empty, manufactured row over Hanuman's caste notwithstanding – do the Gods have a caste – there's a newfound buzz at the birthplace of the much-loved monkey God, whose popularity cuts across caste and creed.
The villages surrounding Hampi, the erstwhile capital of Vijayanagar empire are turning a bright shade of saffron in the run up to the day that marks his birthday, as thousands of Hanuman bhakts who observe Anjanaya Mala, an eleven day penance in his name, converge on his birthplace.
'Hanuma Maladharis,' sporting saffron wear, holding aloft saffron flags who have observed the eleven day, 21 day or 41 day vow, will end the Hanuman Deeksha ritual on December 21 atop the Anjanadri hill, that overlooks the river Tungabhadra in Anegundi, where legend says, Anjanayadevi gave birth to Lord Hanuman.
Home to the world heritage centre of Hampi, Hospete taluk has been painted saffron for a few weeks now with thousands of devotees dressed in saffron shirts and lungis descending on it for Hanuma Deeksha (Anjaneya Mala), a ritual spread over 11, 21 or 41 days and culminating on December 21.
It's believed that Anjanadri Parvatha, a hill on the left bank of the river Tungabhadra in Anegundi, the citadel of Vijayanagar empire, located close to Hampi, is the birthplace of Lord Hanuman. Also, Lord Rama is believed to have met Hanuman in Hampi and stayed here for four months. But according to the priests of Hampi, Hanuman Deeksha is a more recent ritual. "Yes we did the sundarakanda parayan, and Hanuman chalisa for 41 days, and the valaagra pooja at the Hanuman temple in the past, but not Hanuman Deeksha," said a priest.
Mr Anil Joshi, organisation chief of the Hanuma Mala Managing Committee, says the ritual was started seven years ago. And locals explain it began due to the increasing interest in Ayyappa Pooja and Mandala Pooja.
This year around 32,000 people have already undertaken the 'Hanuma Mala' pilgrimage to Hampi from across the state and of them around 20,000 are from Ballari district alone.
"The first time only 1, 400 people participated in this ritual. But last year nearly 20,000 took part and this year the number is expected to cross 35,000 as many are arriving from Andhra Pradesh too," said Mr Joshi.
Although right wing organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal are organising the ritual, Congress legislator from Hosapete, B S Anand Singh too is supporting it.