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Temple Run: 5 temples around Mumbai you need to visit now

From the caves of Ellora to the intricate carvings of Amruteshwar, Maharashtra is a land of sacred architectural marvels. Archaeologist Dr Kurush Dalal gives us a tour of the top five sites around Mumbai

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Feb 26, 2016 16:41 IST
As told to Poorva Joshi
As told to Poorva Joshi
Hindustan Times
Temples of Maharashtra

Ellora Caves in Aurangabad is a roc cut temple complex. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. (HT File Photo)

From the caves of Ellora to the intricate carvings of Amruteshwar, Maharashtra is a land of sacred architectural marvels. Archaeologist Dr Kurush Dalal gives us a tour of the top five sites around Mumbai.

Home to three of the 12 Jyotirlingas (abodes of Lord Shiva, as defined in the Vedas), Maharashtra’s temples are more than just pilgrimage sites. The temples here showcase everything from the Dravidian architectural style of southern India to the Maratha architectural style as defined by the Peshwa dynasty.

Ahead of the The Temples of Maharashtra, 3rd Annual Archaeology of Maharashtra International Conference at the University of Mumbai, archaeologist Dr Kurush Dalal lists the must-visit temples around Mumbai and gives us interesting facts about each.

AMBERNATH SHIVALAYA

The exterior of the temple has carved figures called bhoomis that are stacked over each other in layers, right up till the shikhara. (Hindustan Times file photo)

Where: Ambernath, Thane

Travel time: 2 hours

- Commissioned by Chittaraja, of the Shilahara dynasty that ruled between the 10th and 13th century, the temple is an example of a signature architectural styles found in Maharashtra: Bhumija.

- The temple is often mistakenly identified as a Hemadpanthi temple, a style that was described by Hemadri Pant, an officer of the Yadava dynasty that ruled the current day states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka from 1173 to 1311. The architectural pattern is characterised by interlocking stone wedges, without the use of mortar, and a star-shaped base.

- The exterior of the temple has carved figures called bhoomis that are stacked over each other in layers, right up till the shikhara. The bhoomis in each row decrease in size as the triangular roof narrows towards the top. The shikhara has four narrow, carved panels that stand perpendicular to the roof’s base. These panels symbolise strands of cloth that hold together the bhoomis on the roof.

Other tourist attractions: A convenient weekend getaway to escape the city’s buzz, Ambernath offers a variety of amusement parks, like Anand Sagar Water Park and Vishnubaaug Environment Theme Park.

AMRUTESHWAR TEMPLE

Amruteshwar is a secluded Maratha architecture temple.

Where: Igatpuri

Travel time:4 hours

- Amruteshwar is a secluded Maratha architecture temple, built in the 12th century. Courtesy its location, the temple has stayed fairly untouched and safe from the destruction of foreign invaders.

- It is one of the few temples in India, which has a back door, unlike the traditional Hindu altars that are usually enclosed, except for an entrance. If one is to stand at the main door of the temple premises, he will be able to see through to the back. The locals believe that the two doors symbolise the existence of a river. The back door exit was created to aid an uninterrupted flow of the river, which has since disappeared.

- The temple premises has two hero stones — carvings on a large rock that commemorate a victory during a battle. The hero stones at Amruteshwar tell the story of a successful defeat of cattle raiders in the villages surrounding the temple. There is, however, evidence of there being more than two hero stones, which were at some point used to restore the roof of the temple. One can see these stone carvings on the inner surface of the temple roof.

Other tourist attractions: Situated in the lap of the Sahyadris, one can take a trek to Ratangad, a 2,000-year-old fort that belonged to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. You can also go boating in the catchment area of the Bhandardara dam.

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RUPNARAYAN TEMPLE

The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) has restored the original Rupnarayan image of Vishnu in a Nagara style temple made of red laterite stone. (Photo: Pallavi Shivalkar)

Where: Diveagar

Travel time: 5 hours

- The original Rupnarayan temple featured traditional Konkani temple architecture, which is minimalistic in nature. It is characterised by a squatted square enclosure, and wooden pillars with a tiled roof and adjacent deepstambha (tower of lights). The original structure no longer exists.

- It housed a elaborate statue of Vishnu. Legend has it that the Portugese invaders took the sculpture aboard a ship which met with an accident at sea, and through the wreckage, the statue made its way to the shores of Diveagar.

- The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) restored the sculpture in a Nagara style temple made of red laterite stone. Standing on a square base, the shikhara (temple top) gradually inclines inwards in a convex curve, much like the Maratha style of architecture.

Other tourist attractions: Known for its pristine beaches, Diveagar is also the gateway to visit the island fort of Janjira. 20km from Diveagar is yet another quaint beach — Harihareshwar.

ALSO READ: Check out Diveagar, Harihareshwar beaches in monsoon

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KAILASHA TEMPLE

This multi-storeyed structure has a unique history: the carvers of the temple started at the top of the original rock and carved inwards. (Photo: Gopal Bodhe)

Where: Ellora, Aurangabad

Travel time: 6 hours

- One of the largest monolithic temples in India, it was built in the 8th century, by Krishna I, a ruler of the Rashtrakuta dynasty. It is one of the 34 caves and carved structures that are collectively known as the Ellora Caves.

- This multi-storeyed structure has a unique history: the carvers of the temple started at the top of the original rock and carved inwards. The entire structure took 20 years to be completed.

- Built in a typical Dravidian temple style, a two-storeyed gateway opens to a U-shaped courtyard. Within the courtyard are two structures: the Nandi Mandapa (abode of Nandi, Shiva’s steed) and the main Shiva temple that is seven-metres high. The structure is shaped like a pyramid.

Other tourist location: Named after Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, Aurangabad is a museum city. The 2km stretch of the Ajanta and Ellora caves showcases caves and ancient paintings. One can also visit the Bibi Ka Maqbara, where Aurangzeb’s wife was buried.

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TRIMBAKESHWAR

The Trimbakeshwar temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas in India. It was commissioned by Balaji Bajirao Peshwa in the 15th century.

Where: Nasik

Travel time: 3 hours

- After the Yadava dynasty (that ruled Maharashtra till the 1300s), multiple invasions by Alauddin Khilji destroyed many temple structures in the state. Since there was no Hindu majority rule over the land, no new temples were built until the Maratha Peshwa dynasty started governing the state in the 1600s. This dynasty is credited with inventing Maratha temple architecture.

- Among the first temples built under this style, the Trimbakeshwar temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas in India. It was commissioned by Balaji Bajirao Peshwa in the 15th century. Made of black basalt rock, the architecture shows influences from the Hemadpanthi and Bhoomija styles. It is also the source of river Godavari.

- The unique feature of Maratha architecture can be observed in the shikhara, which sports concentric shikharas, from the smallest one on the outside, to the largest one being the main shikhara.

- Legend has it that the eastward facing shivalinga inside the temple was adorned with the Nasak diamond, which was widely believed to be Lord Shiva’s third eye. The blue diamond was an acquisition from the Telangana region. It was taken by the British as war payment after the third and final Maratha war in 1818, which also marked the end of the Peshwa dynasty.

Other tourist attractions: The temple is situated 28km from Nasik, which is home to a number of vineyards, such as Sula and Soma Vineyards. One can also visit the Pandavleni caves and the Gangapur dam.

Fact File

The Temples of Maharashtra conference is the third Archaeology of Maharashtra International Conference organised by Centre of Archaeology, Centre for Extra-Mural Studies, University of Mumbai. The first two conferences discussed the excavation sites and ancient caves across Maharashtra, respectively. The upcoming conference will host eminent international speakers who will discuss various temples of Maharashtra.

The Temples of Maharashtra, 3rd Annual Archaeology of Maharashtra International Conference will be held on February 27 and 28

Where: Mumbai University Kalina, Santacruz (E)

To register visit: extramural.org

Entry: Rs 1,000 per person

Highlights: February 27

10.30am: Dr GB Deglurkar, chairman of Deccan College, Pune will provide the keynote address on an overview of the temples in Maharashtra.

12.15pm: Dr Geri Malandra, professor at Ashford University California, will speak on Ellora’s Monolithic Temples with special reference to Kailasha.

Highlights: February 28

1.30pm: Kumud Kanitkar, author of Ambernath Shivalaya, a book on the Shiva temple in Ambernath will dwell into the details of the temple’s architecture.

3pm: Rita Thakur will discuss the temple architecture and conservation efforts of the Mahalaxmi temple in Kolhapur and other temples in the region.