Situated only a few kilometres from the border with Pakistan, the ancient temple of Goddess Tanotmata is a great source of inspiration for soldiers deployed in the tough terrain of the Thar desert. Every day a large number of civilians and security personnel visit the temple, maintained and protected by the Border Security Force, to offer prayers.
But that is not where the story ends.
Deputy Inspector-General of BSF, B D Sharma, told The Pioneer that many stories of miracles - "shown by Goddess Tanotmata during war" - abound.
According to Sharma, in the 1965 war, Pakistani forces had showered as many as 3,000 shells in the area, with 450 shells landing in the temple premises. They were also advancing with tanks. At that time, Rajasthan's armed constabulary was manning the border. The soldiers took shelter in the temple premises as they believed that Goddess Tanotmata would protect them, he said. "Miraculously, none of the Pakistani shells that fell in the temple premises burst," the DIG said.
The BSF jawans then put up all the Pakistani shells in the temple premises for devotees to see - a symbol of the "miracle" performed by the mata. Local people and jawans also believe that the same 'divinehand' was responsible for the advancing Pakistani Army losing its way through the shifting sand dunes. Even in the 1971 war, the miracles did not cease. N L Choudhary, a BSF inspector, attributes the defeat of an advancing Pakistani regiment in the Longewala area to the Goddess' divine powers.
Harimohan Pandey, a priest deputed by the BSF, said Pakistan would suffer heavy loss if they ever try to advance into this area. Pandey, also a BSF jawan, has been playing the role of a priest for the last two-and-a-half years.
Even the enemy was enamoured by Goddess Tanotmata's powers.
A Pakistani Army Commander, Shahnawaz Khan, had come to Tanot to present a silver Chhatri to the Goddess, revealed Sharma. The Chhatri is still there. In Rajasthan, presenting a silver Chhatri is a popular way of expressing faith in a deity. Interestingly, a mazhar is also located in the temple premises - a sign of the secular traditions maintained by the forces. The faith of the locals in Goddess Tanotmata is unflinching. They do not fear war, they believe nobody would ever be able to harm them.
Aidan Singh Solanki from the nearby Ranu village says, "Mata hamari har musibat se raksha kartihai, chahe yudh bhi ho ya akal" (Our Goddess will save us from all dangers... even if it's a war). The Tanotmata temple is also famous on the other side of the border too. Whenever people from Pakistan's Sindh province come to Jaisalmer to visit their relatives, they would not miss the opportunity to visit the temple, said local villagers.
Published in DailyPioneer