08 June 2013

Temples in and around Shirdi/Ahmednagar/Nasik:

This Posting of mine is in continuation of our Shirdi trip and here I tend to cover all the other temples visited by us en-route to Shirdi and en-route Nasik and nearby places.

Our friend and Guide – Lokesh- had well in advance drawn out a chart listing out the temples we could find time to visit on our way to Shirdi and Nisik/Ahmednagar.  Out of this, the first temple in the list was of course “Shani Shingnapur” which is we covered en-route to Shirdi temple.

On reaching the temple, we were astonished to see a large crowd inside the temple.    We made a quick pradakshan of the temple.  We also made a small token of Donation for “ Annadhaan” at this temple.  Shani Bhagwan is unique here- standing in the open – with no cover on to protect Him. 
Shani Shingnapur
Here is a small note on our impressions on our first visit to this temple:
Shani Dham, Shingnapur is located in Ahmednagar District of Maharashtra. It is said to be a Divine place and the land of Lord Shani.

It was very interesting to hear from our Guide that:
Shingnapur is also famous for the fact that no house in the village has doors--only door frames. Despite this, no theft is reported in the village. Villagers never keep their valuables under lock and key. Villagers believe that the temple is a "jagrut devasthan" [lit. "alive temple"], meaning that the God here is very powerful. They believe that God Shani punishes anyone attempting theft. Few of them have only a curtain at the main entrances of the house.

Another interesting fact is:
In January 2011, the United Commercial [UCO] Bank opened a 'lockless' branch in the village, the first of its kind in the country, taking note of the near-zero crime rate in the region. The local police were reported to be unhappy over this development and that it amounted to a breach of conditions, because the Central government of India has made it mandatory for all banks to have high security. The bank has doors, but they will always remain open. However, it was reported by the local legislator and the bank officials that adequate precautions were being taken for the safety of lockers and important documents
The temple gives you inner calm and sense of peace. The Idol of Lord Shani is kept on an elevated platform and continuously being poured of mustard oil from top.
It is a must visit place if you are in and around Ahmednagar or can take an easy detour while going or returning from Shirdi Sai Baba temple.

The Swayambhu Idol
Those who believe in planets and astrology, Shani Shingnapur is definitely not a destination to be missed.

There is only a simple platform on which stands the Swayambhu idol, in black stone and seeing the idol itself is an overwhelming experience.

The majestic black stone standing as the mighty Shani here looks a simple and merciful idol. The devotees from far and wide come here with all the devotion and offer their prayers to pacify Shani Maharaj. There is no fee charged and no rituals to be performed as such but offering oil to the idol is the most common thing devotees do to please Shani Bhagwan.  Unlike other pilgrimage centres, devotees here can perform puja or abhishek or other religious rituals themselves.

The Majestic Black Stone - Shani Bhagwan
Saturdays and Amavasyas here are very busy with thousands of people coming for the Darshan. On any other week day, one can easily have a good darshan as long as one wants to stand.

Shri Dattatraya Temple and the Tomb of Sant Shri Udasi Baba are the nearby attractions. 
From Shirdi Sai Baba Temple it is about 90 Kilometers [approx.] -- total journey takes about 1 to 1 ½  hours by road [car/van].
The management of the Temple is Excellent.

Our next destination was to the Triambakeshwar Jyotirlinga.
It is situated in the eastern spur of the Sahyadri and is 30 Kms. away from the pilgrimage centre, Nashik. It is also a place of origin of the Godavari.
Through our friend and Guide-Lokesh- we were given an introduction to the holy place called Shri Trimbakeshwar

Triambakeshwar Temple
Trimbakeshwar temple is a religious pilgrimage spot,  having one of the twelve Jyotirlingas. The extraordinary feature of the Jyotirlinga located here is its three faces embodying Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Rudra. Due to excessive use of water, the Linga has started to erode. It is said that this erosion symbolizes the eroding nature of human society. The Lingas at Trimbakeshwar are covered by a jewelled crown which is placed over the Gold Mask of Tridev [Brahma Vishnu Mahesh]. The crown is said to be from the age of Pandavs and consists of diamonds, emeralds, and many precious stones. The crown is displayed every Monday from 4-5 pm [Shiva]. All other Jyotirlingas have Shiva as the main deity. The entire black stone temple is known for its appealing architecture and sculpture and is at the foothills of a mountain called Brahmagiri. Three sources of the Godavari originate from the brahmagiri mountain.

500 years back from now there was built a city which later on became famous as Trimbakeshwar. In the period of the Peshwas regime Nana Saheb Peshwa had instructed to construct the Trimbakeshwar temple and developed and beautified the city of Trimbakeshwar.

There is a mountain named the Brihmagiri Mountain 18 K.M. from the city of Nasik in the Nasik district. This is one of the parts of the Sahayadri Vallies. The city of Trimbakeshwar is located in the bottom of this mountain. This is a beautiful natural place with the cold weather as it is situated 3000 ft. above from the sea. There are two different routes to get to here. From Nasik to Trimbakeshwar, it is only 18 K.M. This route was built by the help of Shri Kashi Nath Dhate in A.D. 871. One can easily get transport facility from here, almost every hour.

Superb Architecture of the temple
On reaching the temple we were awe-struck by the superb structure of this ancient temple.  A–sight- to- be-hold no doubt!  As expected, the crowd inside the temple was very large and the queue system was very long too.  Since we were pressed for time, our Guide –Lokesh, together with my husband’s presence of mind, used their influence in getting inside the temple, to view the Jyotir lingam. 

It was a marvellous sight inside the temple.  The architecture of this ancient temple was so marvellous that we were spell-bound! 

There were thousands of people inside the temple wanting to have a glimpse of the Jyotir lingam.  Finally after a short wait in the queue, there was the Jyotir lingam in front of us- in all its splendour.  We were all very excited and stood for a few minutes inside the sanctum and prayed for the well-being of one and all.

After having had a good darshan of the Jyotir Lingam, we made our way round the temple to the exit after having got Prasadam from the counter inside the temple. 
On the whole, the visit was a memorable one – memories etched in our minds for a long time to come.

It was very very hot and sultry outside as it was well past Noon time.  As all of us were feeling hungry, we were taken to a good hotel some distance away. 

The afternoon meal was good and in no time, we were on our way to the next temple visit – The Akkal Court Maharaj Temple. This temple stands on an elevated place and we had to climb up the steep pathway for about ½ hr.  This temple is a newly built one and is under further renovation.  The structure is very huge and all the idols like Krishna, Saraswathy, etc are truly beautiful to see.  On the whole, it was a cool, pleasant trip up the hill. 

Just before Mahasamadhi, Swami Samrath advised one of his disciples to worship Shri Sai at Shirdi saying that he [the Swami Samarth] would stay atShirdi in future. Many published writings on both these Saints by different writers authenticate about the interaction between these two Sadgurus both in the gross, and the subtle planes. 

Our next temple to visit was the Panchavati.
Panchavati is a place of religious significane and a pilgrim spot, near the city of Nasik in Maharashtra, India.  In Hindu theology and epic Ramayana, Panchvati was the place in the forest of Dandakaranya [Danda Kingdom], where Rama built his home along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman during their exile period.  

Nasik is one of the most holiest places in India and is sacred as it is in this place Lord Rama along with Devi Sita and brother Laxman spent their part of the exile period and has witnessed several mythological events. It is one of the four cities which hosts Kumbha Mela which occurs every after 12 years [next is on 2015]. Legend has that during Sagar Manthan the Demigods while they tried to hide the Nector of Immortality from the demons, four drops fell onto the four location on the earth [other location are Prayag,Haridwar and Ujjain]. Thus these four places are believed to have acquired mystic power and hosts the Meha Kumbha Mela every after 12 years ["Kumbha" means "Pot of Nector" and "Mela" means festival] where dates are calculated depending upon the certain planetary positions. In the medieval era several temples where built by devotees along the bank of river Godavari.
The name Panchavati it got is from the five banyan tree present in the vicinity where Lord Ram and Sita spent their exile period. The name Nasik also has a legend, during exile period Laxman (brother of Shri Ram) cut off Surparnakha's Nose [In Sanskrit Nose means "Nasik"] and throws it on other side of the river Godavari [Ganga] which then christened as "Nasik" or "Nashik". Thus on one side of the sacred river is known as Nasik while other side where five banyan tree is known as Panchavati. Various legends are associated with each of the places here and it is to be noted that Lord Rama has not consecrated any of the Idols during his exile period here though some of the priests here falsely claims that some Shivlingams are consecrated by Lord Rama himself. Most of the temples falls in Panchavati province where only one or two resides other side of the river Godavari i.e. in Nasik.


Ram Kund
Ram Kund
As the names says it is a Kund [pond] on the river Godavari in Panchavati where Lord Ram is said to have taken bath. It is the place where one immerse the mortal remains [Arth] and is said to be absorbed in the river quickly. It is also the place where according to Hindu rituals one performs Shraddham forf their ancestors.   At the very place is the sangam of three rivers Aruna, Varuna and the Godavari. Aruna/Varuna is said to be coming from underneath whereas Godavari flows on top of them. It is here where the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi were immersed and to commomarate the same Gandhi Memorial [the tall tower in the pic] was built along side the bank, underneath is where Idols of Shri Ram is installed. Just adjacent to Ram Kund is temple of Devi Ganga and Sai Baba.

Kapaleshwar Temple 
Our Guide took us to the first temple namely, the Kapaleshwar Temple.  This temple is Just in front of Ram Kund is the Shiva Temple called "Kapaleshwar", Its around 250 years old and probably the only temple in the world where Nandi Idol is not placed in front of the Shiv lingam. The very reason is, it is at this place where Lord Shiva considered Nandi as his master. Legend behind this is, Lord Shiva incurred a sin [Brahma Hatya] by cutting off one of the Lord Brahma's head [fifth hea]). Shiva wandered the whole universe and tried every possible penance to get rid of this sin but all went into vain.
Kapaleshwar Temple-Nasik
ShivLingam inside of the Kapaleswar
The story behind this is that Lord Shiva by mistake killed a cow[Gohatya].  To clean His sin, Nandi advised Him to go to Nasik and take a holy dip in the Godavari [Ram Kund] , which he followed and was purified. 
One can notice in this temple that there is no Nandi  because Lord Shiva accepted Nandi as his master/Guru due to his advice, which is why we do not see Nandi Idol at its position [i.e. in front of Shivlingam].

The 5 Banyan Trees-Panchvati
The area of five Banyan trees is situated on the banks of River Godavari in Nasik, Maharashtra, India.

Here are the places related to Ramayana, showing Panchavati in Rama’s journey from Ayodhya to Lanka.

It has been proposed to identify it with the modern Nasik, because Lakshmana cut- off  Surpanakha's nose [nasika] at Panchavati.

Rama's Journey from Ayodhya to Lanka
Lakshmana cuts-off  Surpanakha's nose [nasika]
in Panchavati.
Sita Gumpha
Adjoining the Goraram temple is the Sita Gumpha, the cave which is believed to be where Devi Sita had stayed to hide herself from Demons, during the 14 years of exile. It was very unclear that how much the original cave differs from the today's structure. One has to literally crawl to reach the bottom of the cave [it is not big though] where the three Idols of Lord Ram, Laxman and Devi Sita is shrined [ definitely not possible for obese people]. Cave (though very small, is approximately 4 ft in height you enter from one side and get off the other]. In the bottom which is enough for 6-8 peoples to stand is well illuminated by mini tube light. Passing this Idol while coming up from other side is Shivlingam. History say's that its the same lingam which Devi Sita used to worship and is visited by number of devotees.

Devottees waiting to go inside the Sita Gumpha
Entrance to the Sita Gumpha
Inside the Sita Gumpha
Outside the cave is a large grove of 5 very old Banyan trees, after which the area is named, Panchvati. Out of the five trees, one is the Ashoka Tree.  

One of the five trees after which the place
 is called Panchvati
The place has an uncanny similarity to KabirVad in Gujarat  which is also named after a Banyan tree.

According to Hindu legends and Ramayana Rama, along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, stayed in Panchavati during their Vanvasa period. The Laxman Rekha is located in Panchavati about a kilometre away from Sita Gupha. It was from here that Ravana abducted Goddess Sita. Today this area is a major pilgrimage and tourist attraction.

Panchavati has many temples like Kalaram Temple, Goraram Temple, Sita Gupha . There are also many temples in Tapovan which is very close to Panchavati.
Panchavati is spread across 500 acres of land.

Shri Kalaram Temple
Situated in the Panchvati area of Nashik near the banks of Godavari River, the Kalaram temple is dedicated to Lord Ram and is among one of the largest, prominent and the most captivating temples in the city. Spread in a sprawling campus, the most amazing feature of the temple is that it is totally black.

Entrance to the Kalaram Temple-Nasik

Magnificinet Temple made of Black stone
Its people are proud of its culture and it’s 5000 year old tradition. Festivals such as Ganesh Utsav, Gokul Ashtami and Rangpanchami are celebrated with full enthusiasm by the people. Previously it was under the rule of Ashish Padhye.

Beautifully carved Kalaram Temple
Built in 1790 by Sardar Odhekar of Peshwa, the entire temple is constructed in black stones which were especially brought from the Ramshej Mountains. It took 12 years, 23 lakhs of rupees and 2000 workers to build this beautiful temple. The only hint of any other color is provided by the gleaming spire of the temple which is capped with 32 tonnes of gold.The main sanctum houses black stoned idols of Lord Rama, His wife Sita and His brother Laxman. Since the image of the Lord is in black color, the temple has come to be known as ‘Kala Ram’ meaning ‘black Ram’.

Right across the sanctum is the idol of Lord Hanuman which is similarly black in color and enshrined in such a way that He faces His beloved Master, Lord Rama.

The porch of the temple is decorated with pillars and arches. Idols of Lord Vithala and Lord Ganesha can be spotted in the surrounding courtyard.

Large Courtyard inside the Kalaram Temple-Nasik
On auspicious occasions like Mahashivratri, Rangapanchami, Makar Sankranti people take baths in river Godavari at Ramkund which is considered to be one of the most important places in Indian theology. According to Hindu theology, it is believed to be the place where a few drops of 'amrut' fell while the kalash was carried to the devatas.

Ram,Laxman,Sita inside the Kalaram Temple

Lord Ganesha Idol in the Courtyars of
Kalaram Temple
Goraram Temple
This temple is situated in the Kalaram temple lane. Unlike Kalaram, Goraram is a much smaller temple and has idols of Lord Ram, Laxman and Sita in fair hue; which is how the temple gets its name.

Entrance to the Goraram Temple-Panchvati
Idols of Ram, Laxman,Sita in the Goraram Temple
It makes one feel proud that we are surrounded by so many ancient Puranaas  and this definitely makes us come alive experiencing  the ancient heritage temples of India.  How fortunate we are – to witness such marvels associated with Ramayana etc. 

It was nearing 7pm as we headed back from Panchavati.  It was a long stay at Panchavati and by the time we were through , we were all very tired and hungry.  We headed straight to the best Hotel in the vicinity and had good tiffin to start with, After which, we left for Pune to catch our Train to Chennai. 

A journey to be remembered!
We reached Pune at around 1.30am on the 6th morning and our train was due to arrive at 3.30 am. We boarded the train back to Chennai [by Chennai Mail].  Since all of us were dead tired, we relaxed the whole way back – reminiscing about our wonderful trip to Shirdi and back.  


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