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Tejaji riding a horse
|Affiliation||Deva, Avatar of Shiva|
|Mount||Lilan Ghodi (Horse)|
|Born||Magh Sudi Chaturdashi V.S. 1130|
|Died||Bhadrapada Shukla Dashmi V.S. 1160|
Veer Teja or Tejaji was a legendary Rajasthani warrior, social reformer and folk deity. He is considered one of the major eleven incarnations of Lord Shiva and worshipped as a deity in rural Rajasthan.
Veer Teja is considered to be a folk-deity and worshipped in Rajasthan by all communities. Tejaji was born on Vikram Samvant 1130 Magh Sudi 14 (Thursday 29 January 1074, according to the English calendar), in the family of Dhaulya gotra Jats at Kharnal, Nagaur. His father was Kunwar Tahar Dev, a chieftain of Kharnal in Nagaur district in Rajasthan. His mother’s name was Ramkunwari, daughter of Dulhan Ji Sodhi who was chieftain of the republic Tyod (Kishangarh, Ajmer). Tejaji's mother and father were worshipers of Lord Shiva. Mother Sugna is believed to have got a son by the blessings of Nāga-deity. His aura at the birth was so strong that he was named Teja.
Tejaji was married to Pemal who was the daughter of Rai Mal Jat of Jhanjhar gotra, chieftain of village Paner. She was born on Buddha Purnima in V.S. 1131 (AD 1074). Tejaji's marriage with Pemal took place in Pushkar, Ajmer in AD 1074 when Teja was 9 months old and Pemal was 6 months old. Marriage took place at Pushkar Ghat on Pushkar Purnima of V.S. 1131. Pemal's uncle (maternal) named Khaju Kala of Jayal had enmity with Dhaulya family and was not in favour of this relationship. A dispute arose between Khaju Kala and Tahar Dev. Khaja Kala became so ferocious that he attacked Tahar Dev to kill him. In order to protect himself and his family, Tahar Dev had to kill Khaju Kala with sword. Tejaji's uncle Askaran was also present on this occasion. This incident did not go well with Pemal's mother who now wanted revenge from Tahar Dev and his family.
Tejaji's legend is that of a young man, striving for respect and recognition, who is willing to sacrifice everything in order maintain tribal conceptions of honour. There are a number of different variations to the Tejaji legend as recounted by different bards and priests. However, there are five main elements to the legend that are included in most stories:
- Tejaji's marriage in infancy with an infant girl from a neighbouring clan, a barter marriage, which involved his sister being given in marriage to his infant wife's cousin.
- Tejaji setting off on a perilous journey to fetch his wife from her parents home in response to a taunt by his sister-in-law (elder brother's wife).
- Tejaji risking his life to protect the cows of a woman friend of his wife from bandits.
- Tejaji bravely fulfilling a vow to a snake at the cost of his own life.
- Tejaji's wife and his sister being burned to death at his funeral pyre in the ritual of Sati.
As per anthropologists, Tejaji's cult is a protagonist that includes an element of protest against the caste system. Even today a person from the Mali (gardener) caste is the chief priest of Tejaji's temple (rather than a Brahmin).
As per the tradition in that area, the chieftain had to initiate the ploughing of fields after first rains in jyestha month. Tejaji's father and brother were out of the village at first rains so his mother asked Tejaji to do the first ploughing for the season. Tejaji went to fields and started ploughing. His sister-in-law became late in bringing him his food (a dish locally called Chhak), which angered Tejaji. On Tejaji's anger she taunted him about his halitosis and on the fact that his wife was at her father's home. This prompted him to go to fetch his wife from his in-laws. The sister-in-law asked Tejaji that before he brings his wife Pemal, he should bring his sister Rajal so that she can receive Pemal on her first arrival to Kharnal. Tejaji was never told about his marriage because of the souring incident that happened at the time of marriage.
When Tejaji was on his way to village Tabiji to bring his sister, he was attacked by Meena sardar. There was a war and Tejaji was victorious. He reached village Tabiji, got permission of her sister's husband Jogaji Siyag and brought Rajal to Kharnal.
Next day early in the morning he mounted his mare Lilan with palan and started journey to Paner to bring his wife Pemal. It was a difficult journey, but he crossed all the rivers running full of water due to heavy rains. He reached Paner by evening. At that time his mother-in-law was milking cows. The cows got disturbed due to Tejaji's brisk entry on his mare. His mother-in-law could not recognize Tejaji and cursed him that he be bitten by a black snake as he has disturbed her cows. Tejaji got angry over this comment and decided to return without Pemal.
Lachha Gujari was a friend of Pemal. Her house was about 2 km from Rupangarh. Lachha Gujari helped Pemal to meet with Teja. For this, Lachha rode on camel and went to Tejaji facing many clashes with Meena sardars en route. Lachha reached Tejaji and gave Pemal's message that if Tejaji does not come she will die. Parents of Pemal had decided to remarry her with some other person. At this time Pemal was going to die but saved by Lachha. Tejaji came to Paner and met Pamel. They were talking with each other that they heard knock of Lachha Gujari. Lachha told Tejaji that thieves have taken away all her cows and there is nobody in this to help. Tejaji mounted his mare Lilan and started alone to fight with dacoits, who had taken away Lachha's cows.
A man of words
Tejaji found that dacoits who had stolen the cows of Lachha Gujari were Meena Sardar's people. Tejaji, who always helped others, decided to bring those cows. The myth is that when Tejaji was searching for the cows, he encountered a snake burning in fire. Tejaji saved the snake but the snake cursed Tejaji and wanted to bite him. Tejaji promised the snake that he will come back after returning the stolen cows to Gujari. He was badly wounded in the fight with the dacoits. After defeating the dacoits, he brought back Gujari's cows. Veer Teja was man of words. He kept his words and produced himself before the snake. The snake did not find any unwounded place on the body of Tejaji, so Tejaji offered him to bite on tongue. The snake bit the tongue of Tejaji. Tejaji died due to snakebite on 28 August 1103.
In another version of the story, some historians claim that while Tejaji was returning from Paner with his wife he was attacked jointly by Meenas, who were defeated earlier, and Nagavanshi chieftains. Tejaji and his wife fought bravely with sword. Tejajj was killed in the war.
Pemal became sati (abandoned custom and no more practiced in India) at the place called Sursura, where Tejaji died. Tejaji's sister Rajal had also become sati, which is a unique example of sister becoming sati in the Indian history.
Postal stamp on Tejaji
The India Postal Department released a special on commemorative stamp on Folk deity Veer Tejaji Maharaj at Kharnal village in Nagaur district of Rajasthan on Tejadasani: Thursday, September 7, 2011. Union Minister Sachin Pilot released the stamp in a function in presence of thousands of people. The ruling Congress state President and former Minister Dr Chandrabhan, sitting Lok Sabha member Jyoti Mirdha, former Minister Harendra Mirdha and several dignitaries were present on the occasion.
Veer Teja in media
A Rajasthani language movie titled "Veer Tejaji", based on the life of Tejaji was made in the 1980s. The movie was a big commercial success in its time and gave a significant fillip to the Rajasthani movie industry.
- Editorial, Reuters. "In India, getting bitten by a snake seen as good luck". U.S. Retrieved 2018-10-16.
- ANI (2016-09-16). "Rajasthan celebrates unique snake festival to bring good fortune". India.com. Retrieved 2018-10-16.
- Dhali, Rajshree Popular Religion in Rajasthan: A Study of Four Deities and Their Worship in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century, 2014, p. 229
- Rajasthan Voice: Thursday, September 8, 2011, Special postage stamp released on Folk deity Veer Teja
- Rajshree Dhali, “Popular Religion in Rajasthan: A Study of Four Deities and Their Worship in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century”, (K.N. Panikkar & I. Kamtekar, CHS/SSS)
- Madan Meena: Tejaji Gatha (Hadoti & Hindi), Kota Heritage Society, Kota, 2012 ISBN 978-81-8465-686-2 (Published under the World Oral Literature Project, University of Cambridge, UK)