Why did this motorcycle keep returning to the place where its owner died?
It was 2 December 1988 and Om Singh Rathore, a young Indian man, was riding his motorcycle from the city of Pali, in the west of the country, back home to his village, Chotila, 16 miles away.
But sadly, Rathore never made it there.
Crashing into a jaal tree after his bike skidded off the road, he fell into a ditch and died instantly.
Rathore, the 23-year-old son of a wealthy landowner, had bought the 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet motorbike back when he was a teenager. He often drove it down the road where he met his tragic end, the Pali-Jodhpur Highway.
To help with their inquiries, the local police force took Rathore’s beloved bike to the station. However, the next morning the vehicle was gone.
One of the officers sent out a search party. They managed to recover it, under the very same jaal tree Rathore had crashed into. How strange.
Thinking it was perhaps a prank, the local police chief ordered for its tank to be emptied of fuel and for the motorcycle to be chained and locked away to stop it happening again.
But the incident apparently repeated itself numerous times. There was no other way of explaining it – the bike was a deity.
As news spread around the local villages, some people built a platform on the ditch where Rathore died and began to offer prayers to the motorcycle god – Bullet Banna.
Others brought along incense sticks, flowers, coconuts and red thread, to throw around the jaal tree in homage to Rathore.
It was felt his spirit was restless, and he didn’t want his bike locked away, so the police decided to keep it at that place.
A bust of Rathore was erected at the spot, and he was given the fond name ‘Om Banna’ – Om being one of the most sacred Indian symbols, and Banna being a honourific title for men from Rajasthan, the area in which Rathore lived.
Before long, garlands adorned the Enfield, believed to bring good luck to those who left them there. Many are drivers, who believe praying at the shrine will ensure they have a safe journey.
Tales then began to spread of visitations by Om Banna himself. One motorcycle driver said he’d crashed into a ditch not far from the one where Om Banna passed. Injured and bleeding in his vehicle, the deity visited him and helped him out, guiding him safely back to the road.
Proof of a visit from the dead?
Others said they could hear sounds of the Enfield’s engines revving up at night…more proof of a visit from the deceased man?
These stories attracted more and more people to the makeshift temple, some who even had a ritual of walking around the motorcycle three times and pouring liquour on it as an offering to the deity.
Recently, it was claimed that police records show Om Banna’s family had claimed the bike from the station and taken it back to their home a few days after the accident occurred. But that fact won’t deter people from praying at the site.
It remains a religious place of interest, with thousands of people visiting it each year. The shrine even has its own priest, Poonam Giri, who is charged with maintaining its upkeep.
Stalls have sprung up around it, with shopkeepers selling incense, flowers as well as pictures, keyrings and necklaces bearing the face of Om Banna.
So whether it is a miraculous motorcycle or not, it appears this deity will preside over those travelling the Pali-Jodhpur Highway for years to come.