Hundreds of people thronged the Shree Vithoba temple at Ponda in South Goa on Monday night to witness “Veerbhadra” walk barefoot on fire, a tradition that came to the coastal state from Karnataka nearly 200 years ago.
Though there is no temple in Goa dedicated to Veerbhadra, regarded here as the son of Lord Shiva, he is remembered during the spring festival of Shigmo.
“Veerabhadra was worshipped by Lingayat kings from Karnataka who ruled Goa for centuries. Their tradition has been imbibed in the temple culture of Goa,” said Shashikant Bhise, a researcher from Ponda. According to mythology, Shiva created Veerbhadra with a tuft of his matted hair. Veerbhadra then slayed King Daksha after the latter’s daughter and Shiva’s consort Sati jumped into the fire to end her life. Bhise said the parts of Goa that were ruled by South Indian kingdoms like Kadambas, Shilaharas and Saundekars have been following this practice in their temples for nearly two centuries. “That is why areas like Sankhalim, Bicholim, Sanguem and Quepem have this tradition,” Bhise said. Businessman Shrihari Parkar, in his late 50s, has been playing “Veerbhadra” at the Ponda temple for over a decade now. Dressed in traditional attire, he walks on fire with a torch and swords till he reaches the temple steps where he appears to fall unconscious.
“The entire scene continues for around 15 minutes which is witnessed by hundreds of people. Every year, the number has been increasing,” said Nitin Kolvekar, a local youth and active member of the temple committee.