Worshipping the Crash

[Image: Photo by BLDGBLOG].

There’s a roadside shrine in Rajasthan where the remains of a crashed motorcycle have been transformed into a temple: a traffic accident from the 1980s now permanently frozen in time and architecturally framed as a site of pilgrimage for spiritually minded passers-by.

I was traveling around the region a while back when our driver suddenly pulled over, saying he needed to see something. When we asked him what was happening, he simply said it was a shrine built from the remains of a crashed motorbike—and I was excited, because I had actually read about this place.

[Image: Photo by BLDGBLOG].

Any fan of J.G. Ballard would want to visit a site like this, due to its strange backstory and its even more amazing contemporary presentation: it’s basically the motorcycle from a fatal road collision in the 1980s that’s now been transformed into a literal shrine, a vernacular place of worship, meditation, and prayer.

The handlebars are draped with flowers, and believers walk ritual circuits around the motorbike all day, transforming it into a kind of supernatural fulcrum.

A beautiful tree, wrapped in colorful threads and ornamented from its trunk to its branches with dyed strips of fabric, is the most immediately obvious marker along the cargo-heavy road that passes close by; as it happens, this tree played a central role in the events that would give this site its otherworldly significance.

[Image: Photo by BLDGBLOG].

As the Lonely Planet Guide to Rajasthan described the place, it is “one of the strangest temples in all India,” a “garland-decked Enfield Bullet motorcycle, known as Bullet Baba.”

The story goes that local villager Om Bana died at this spot in the 1980s when his motorbike skidded into a tree. The bike was taken to the local police station, but then mysteriously twice made its own way back to the tree, and travelers along the road started seeing visions of Om Bana—inevitably leading to the machine’s deification. Any time of day or night people can be seen at the open-air shrine here, praying for safe journeys and making offerings of liquor.

We didn’t stay long, unfortunately, but it felt like a scene from some black-market rewrite of Crash, rewritten for Indian readers in which holy accidents on various roads throughout the country are visited by over-enthusiastic tourists of the afterlife, intent on receiving ill-defined bursts of supernatural energy from celebrity collisions such as these.

The U.S. might have its James Dean Crash Site & Memorial, and France might have the Pont de l’Alma Tunnel, but this machine-deification in the deserts of northern India showed what a rural folk tradition could do with the morbid significance of fatal crash sites and the often deeply unglamorous vehicles that enable them.

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