It was during the second week of July 2018 when I was gathering a little information about Hoysala temple architecture in Karnataka that I stumbled upon this short piece of information about the existence of an 11th century temple in Ambarnath (though not of Hoysala architecture), around 70 kms from the place where I stay in Mumbai. The pictures of the temple tempted me to pay a visit on a lazy Monday morning! Such impromptu travels have started yielding me some thrilling travel experiences. Travelling to Ambarnath solo was great fun! A few enquiries and armed with Google maps, just decided I would travel by train and visit this temple and see it in person. Rainy morning, dark grey sky and travelling by local trains and visiting an unknown place didn’t deter my wish to explore the new temple. Picked up my camera and headed early in the morning towards the temple.
” All you need is the plan, the road map and the courage to press on to your destination”, a quote that inspires so much to embark on such trips!
Borivali to Dadar, western railways and Dadar to Ambarnath on the central line, the travel was about 2 hours. A short rickshaw ride to the ‘Praacheen Shivalay’ or the ‘Puraatana Shivalay’, yes that’s what it’s locally known (meaning Ancient Shiv Temple), brought me to the Mahadwar (the main entrance/arch) on the main road in Ambarnath. The weather seemed cool with light showers every now and then. But curiosity to see this temple grew further.
The temple is located on the bank of Vadavan (Waldhuni) river. As I walked towards the temple the surrounding did seem a bit filthy. But once the bridge across the river was crossed and as I reached the temple entrance, the place looked clean and welcoming.
As I entered the complex and with the temple in clear sight, a small ‘wow’ I had blurted! This is the temple! It’s beautiful. Good that I came here, were a couple of thoughts that crossed my mind. The temple is built right in the middle of a reasonably wide and open area.
After pausing for a while and standing way beyond the temple observing and enjoying the view of the temple for some 5 odd minutes, the thought that again struck my mind was ‘Where else do we get to see beautiful temples so close to Mumbai? Yes, this is spectacular’! Visiting off-beat temples fascinates me no end. And a beautiful temple as this stole my heart.
Built with black stone, this temple is constructed in Hemadpanthi style. A bit of surfing on the net reveals that this style is believed to have been founded by the prime minister Hemadpant(1259-1274 CE) from the court of Seuna Yadavas of Devagiri and hence the architecture is named after him! Some research on the history of the temple also reveals that the temple could have been constructed by the Silhara rulers of Konkan.
The temple attracts a lot of devotees from around the place and the temple is in use. It has 3 main doors which take you to the main mandapa inside the temple. The mandapa (forecourt) is itself built on a raised platform. The ornate pillars inside the mandapa can be seen in the dim light of the sun rays that enter through the open doors of the porches and a few electrical bulbs inside. The mandapa further connects to the Garbha griha or the sanctum sanctorum which can be accessed by climbing down a flight of narrow stairs. The main deity worshipped here is the Shivling. The smoke emanating from the burning incense sticks and the milk poured as offering on the Shivling, a bit of vermilion used in the offerings brought in by the devotees and the chanting of mantras – all contribute to a very charged atmosphere. Photography inside the mandapa is strictly prohibited.
The outer walls of the temple are completely covered with amazing stone carved sculptures. One can observe from the sculptures on the outer walls that the carvings are mostly of celestial bodies, or the Nandi, the mount of Shiv or the figurines of the elephant god. These fascinating sculptures do remind one of the temples of south India. But the distinct flavour of Hemadpanthi architecture can be observed in this temple.
It’s surprising to see that the shikhara or the tower above the sanctum sanctorum has an abrupt ending and looks incomplete. The pillared porches of all the 3 entrances see some activity all the time, although, the entry to the temple is restricted from one side of the temple.
With such heritage temples in sight, stories abound! One of the most popular one associated with this temple has to be that of Pandavas visiting this place and spending a night in there very same place during their exile. It is during this time, it believed that they had constructed this temple. The existence of a kilometre long underground tunnel is yet another popular story or should we say belief? The truth can be found only when one walks through the tunnel.
A couple of hours can be easily spent in this temple and its premises. Attend the puja, receive the prasad distributed in the garden area of the temple complex, click some beautiful images of the sculptures as well as some candid moments of the devotees and take back some beautiful memories along with the pictures. Temple photography is a major interest and this temple was an awesome find for me.