The Bhadrapad fair is held in the center of the Ambaji village just outside the temple premises. The village is visited by the largest number of sanghas [pilgrim groups] during the fair. Many of them go there on foot, which is particularly enriching as it happens immediately after the monsoon, when the landscape is rich with greenery, streams are full of sparkling water and the air is fresh.
During their stay at Ambaji, pilgrims spend their time in prayers and devotion and visiting other shrines nearby. Some of them also attend the readings of the Saptashati: 700 verses in praise of the Goddess Ambaji. In addition to the local shops, temporary stalls are erected selling eatables, toys, pictures and statues of idols, amulets, bamboo articles, etc. Merry-go-rounds and ferri wheels are set up for recreation, and acrobatics are performed.
On the night of the full moon, the sanghas also arrange performances of bhavai: a traditional and popular folk-drama, and garbas are sung in the chachar chowk, using simple musical instruments like pakhwaj, hungal and jhanjh.
Being one of the oldest and most revered temples of ancient India, there are many enthralling legends and myths attached to this temple. Each story intensifies the brilliance of the goddess and the faith of a devotee.
Here are a few notable legends:
1) Mahishasur-mardini (the destroyer of Mahishasur)
The demon Mahishasur, after being given a boon by the fire god Agni that he wouldn’t be killed by weapons bearing masculine names, caused grave destruction and terror. The gods sought the help of Lord Shiva, who advised the invocation of the goddess Shakti. With the gods’ prayers, a divine luster sprang from the heart of Lord Shiva and the bodies of all the gods and formed the goddess Adhya Shakti. The gods gave her ornaments, arms and a lion as a vehicle. She fought with the evil Mahishasur for nine long days and nights, eventually killing him. After the battle she chose the Ambaji Gabbar, the shakti peetha, for her permanent residence. Shakradaya Stuti, the gods’ prayers of thanks, is an important part of Saptashati: 700 verses praising the deeds of the goddess Ambaji, recited with reverence at the Bhadrapad Ambaji Fair.
2) Shakti Peethas
Sati (also known as Uma) married Lord Shiva against the wishes of her father, King Daksha Prajapati. In revenge, Daksha organized a huge yagna and invited all the gods and deities except his new son-in-law. Sati decided to attend the yagna despite Lord Shiva’s attempt to persuade her not to. The King ignored his daughter’s presence and publically abused Lord Shiva.
Unable to bear her father’s insults, Sati committed suicide by jumping into the yagna fire. Upon learning about this, Shiva erupted into a taandava, a furious and wild dance of destruction, annihilating everything at the yagna site. Overcome with grief, he carried Sati’s burning body and flew across the skies. The gods appealed to Lord Vishnu to calm Lord Shiva. With his sudarshan chakra, Vishnu severed Sati’s body into 51 pieces to bring Lord Shiva back to sanity. The places where the various parts of Sati’s body fell are known as Shakti Peethas. Her heart is believed to have fallen on Arasur hill where the Gabbar Temple of Ambaji is located.
Ambaji is the principal shrine of a goddess who has been worshiped since the pre-Vedic period. She is often referred to as Arasuri Amba, named after the location of the temple which is in the Arasur hills, near the source of the Saraswati river at the south-western end of the Aravali mountain range.
The inner sanctum of the temple has silver-plated doors. There is a gokh, or niche, in the wall on which is fixed a gold-plated marble inscription of the viso yantra, a Vedic text on sacred geometry, which is the main focus of worship. There is no idol of the goddess perhaps because the temple is so ancient that it predates idol-worship, but the priests decorate the upper portion of the gokh in such a way that it looks like an idol of a goddess from a distance.
The ecstatic festival of Navratri is celebrated all over Gujarat in reverence of Ambaji, by dancing garba around the Holy Mother. On these nine nights the Nayak and Bhojok communities also perform the bhavai.
The fair is held in the Hindu month of Bhadrapad (around August-September) at Ambaji, during a time which is particularly suitable for farmers, when the busy monsoon season is about to end.
The Bhabrapad fair is held at Ambaji which is in the Danta Taluka of Banaskantha district, near the Gujarat-Rajasthan border. The walk from the bus station to the temple is less than one kilometer, under a roofed walkway. Direct buses are available from many places, including Mount Abu (45 kms away), Palanpur (65 kms away), Ahmedabad and Idar.