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Potraj

According to linguistic experts, the word Potraj is derived from the Tamil word Potturaju, who is a brother of a group of village deities, known as ‘Seven Sisters’ is popular in the south.  A Mahar or Mang by caste, Potraj is a believer/follower of Mariaai, a rural/tribal goddess. Mariaai is also known by the name Laxmiaai therefore Potraj is also known as Mariaaiwala or Laxmiaaiwala. They are also known by the name ‘Kadaklaxmi’ because the lash that he carries is called ‘Kadak’ according to Dr Sarojini Babar.


According to linguistic experts, the word Potraj is derived from the Tamil word Potturaju, who is a brother of a group of village deities, known as ‘Seven Sisters’ is popular in the south. 
A Mahar or Mang by caste, Potraj is a believer/follower of Mariaai, a rural/tribal goddess. Mariaai is also known by the name Laxmiaai therefore Potraj is also known as Mariaaiwala or Laxmiaaiwala. They are also known by the name ‘Kadaklaxmi’ because the lash that he carries is called ‘Kadak’ according to Dr Sarojini Babar.
Potraj, though a man, dresses like a woman, wearing a knee-length Ghagra. He is always bare-chested mostly with a beard and moustaches, his long hair tied into a knot with Haldi and Kumkum applied on his forehead. His wife accompanies him carrying a closed Devhara with an idol of Mariaai in it. She also carries a Kunchi or a brush made up of peacock feathers.  
According to Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, a scholar on the subject, since ancient times women were performing the duties of a priest for the tribal/village deities. Though over some time the priesthood was taken over by male priests, they followed the custom by wearing a female outfit. Dr R.C. Dhere, another scholar on the subject opines that down south, the female village goddesses were conceived as very strict as far as virginity is concerned and that is reflected in the women or male eunuchs or males wearing women's outfits performing the poojas and maintaining the sanctity of the place. 
The Potraj usually visits the villages on Tuesdays and Fridays, playing a small drum or a tambourine. He dances along with his wife singing the praises of Mariaai, Laxmiaai or Ambabai. The famous song being ‘Baya Daar Ughad’, a famous Bharud by Sant Eknath, who probably wrote it as a Potraj.
For the Mariaai to open the door of the Devhara, he whips himself by the lash that he carries. In other words, the self-punishment that he inflicts on himself is to please the goddess, who then opens the door of her chamber and answers the questions asked by the Potraj on behalf of the local population. The women from the village, then pray to the goddess, perform the puja and pay the Potraj in cash and kind.
The rural population believes that the epidemics are the result of the wrath of Mariaai, and Potraj is the medium through which she is worshipped. Every village doesn’t have a Potraj present all the time, so in such cases, he is invited from other places and requested to perform the rites to shove off the epidemic from the village boundaries. Potraj is seen in the urban areas too. Even today, it is an important part of rural social life.

Districts/Region

Maharashtra, India.

Cultural Significance

Potraj can be seen in the  urban areas too, and is still an important part of rural social life, even in modern times.


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