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Saturday, 28 May 2016

History and Architecture in and around Nashik

English translation of the Kannada article I had written last year for Taranga, the Kannada weekly - Prior to the Kumbh Mela at Nashik:
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Come July this year, all roads lead to Nashik, as it is the turn of this ancient city to host the Maha Kumbh Mela again, after a gap of twelve years. The city is already gearing up for its tryst with the devotees, with roads being widened and re-laid all around, while temporary and long term investments are being made with the construction of lodges and guest houses inside the city and on its outskirts.

Nashik is one of the four places where the holy Kumbh happens, Haridwar, Prayag and Ujjain being the other three cities. Nashik has had a central role to play in Ramayana too. Rama, exiled for 14 years from Ayodhya, spent most of his time in the forests of Panchavati on the banks of river Godavari. Panchavati today is a part of the city of Nashik. Nashik itself is said to derive its name from the incident of Lakshmana cutting off the nose of Shurpanakha, sister of Ravana. Nasika is Sanskrit, of course, means nose. The Aranya Kanda of Ramayana, is hence, set in and around Nashik.

As you get to hear more and more about this city over the course of the year and ponder about visiting the banks of Godavari, you must keep track of the places to visit in and around Nashik. There are quite a few historically and architecturally important destinations, and this article makes an attempt to introduce those.

The Godavari Ghats and the Surrounding Temples

The main ghats within the city is Ramkund, which separates the Panchavati area from the rest of the city. The calm Godavari River makes its way slowly through the city, via these ghats.


Picture 1: A view of the Ramkund Godavari Ghats on a calm evening

Ramkund is surrounded by many temples, small and big, but the architecturally important ones strike you right away as you look around. Most of these temples were constructed in late 17th century and in early parts of the 18th century, by the mighty Peshwas and the Holkars of Indore. Right opposite to the main ghat of Ramkund is what locals refer to as the Gora Nandi Temple – an 18th century Shiva Temple that has a relatively newly placed marble statue of Nandi, leading to its popular name. The temple, like many others in the region and of that time, has 3 shrines one behind the other – a smaller outermost open hall that hosts the Nandi with a dome shaped shrine on top, a middle larger closed hall, and the main sanctum that hosts the Shiva Linga, covered by the elongated Nagara style shrine.


Picture 2: The Gora Nandi Temple at Ramkund

Not far away from this temple is the famous Naroshankara Temple, another huge Shiva temple built on top of a pedestal with intricate carvings on the outer walls. Naroshankar Temple also has three shrines with the innermost one being the sanctum, and has three additional horizontal shrines on the outside entrance, and the one at the centre houses the famous “Naroshankar Bell”, in memory of the victory over the Portuguese. The temple, dedicated to Rameshwara was built in 1747 by Naroshankar Rajebahaddur. While the Nagara style main shrine oozes symmetry and perfection, the large middle shrine is equally impressive with carvings of elephants and lions. The outer walls contain detailed carvings of Dattatreya, Ganesha, Kala Bhairava, meditating saints and more.


Picture 3: A look at the shrines of the Naroshankara Temple from the Godavari Ghats


Picture 4: The grand main shrine of the Naroshankara Temple

Right opposite the Naroshankar Temple on the other side of the ghats is the Nilakantheshwara Temple constructed by the Peshwas. The architecture is similar to the other two temples, while the stones used for construction appear to be of a darker shade. The inner sanctum hosts a marble Shiva Linga and opposite to it is another Nandi carved out of marble.


Picture 5: Nilakantheshwara Temple, Ramkund at Nashik

Crossing the road and going to the opposite side of the Ramkund takes you to the other architectural spectacle of this place, the Sundar Narayan Temple. In this temple, the Sundaranarayana form of Vishnu is worshipped, along with his consorts Lakshmi and Vrunda. Inside the temple, you can also find rare sculptures of “Standing Ganesha (Marathi: Ubha Ganapati)” and “Sitting Hanuman (Marathi: Baslela Maruti)” among others.


Picture 6: A side view of the grand Sundar Narayan Temple, Nashik

There are more temples within the radius of a couple of kilometres of Ramkund, including the Ganga Godavari Mandir, the Sita Gumpha, the five Banyan Trees indicating Panchavati, The huge sculptures of Dutondya Maruti, the grand Kalaram Mandir constructed by Sardar Odhekar of the Peshwas where Dr. Ambedkar fought to achieve entry for everyone, and more.

Triambakeshwar Jyotirlinga and Kushavarta

The Triambakeshwar Temple, one of the twelve Jyotirlingas across India, is about 28 kms away from the Nashik city. Brahmagiri Hill, which provides a great backdrop for the temple, is where River Godavari takes birth. According to a popular belief, Sage Gowtama performed penance on top of the hill to please Shiva and get River Ganga to flow at Triambakeshwar, to wash off his sin of accidentally killing a cow. Ganga came, in the form of Godavari, but was tough to find and contain as she flew down the hill and through the hermitage of Gowtama. He covered up a section of the land with long grass and succeeded in containing the flow of the river there and took bath to ward off his sins. This area is known as Kushavarta (Kusha means grass in Sanskrit and hence Kushavarta means surrounded with grass), a kund treated extremely holy by the pilgrims flocking to Triambakeshwar.


Picture 7: Kushavarta Kund at Triambakeshwar

Reconstructed by Balaji Baji Rao Peshwa (Nanasaheb), the Triambakeshwar Temple looks majestic, made out of five shrines with huge and strong architecture. The inner sanctum houses the jyotirlinga that is believed to have aspects of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma, and is worshipped all through the day. The serenity of the environment must be experienced to be believed.


Picture 8: The main shrine of the Traimbakeshwar Temple, with Brahmagiri as the backdrop


Pandu Lena Caves

About 8 kms to the southwest of Nashik city, a group of 24 caves capture the imagination of history buffs. Known as Pandu Lena (Lena in Marathi means cave), these are Hinayana Buddhist cave temples carved between 3rd century BC and 2nd century AD. The cave temples are situated atop the Trirashmi Hills, and can be reached after climbing about 250 steps. While monks and commoners of that era have donated considerably towards the development and maintenance of these cave temples, profuse contributions towards their construction were sanctioned by the rulers of the time, the Satavahanas, the Kshatrapas and the Abhirs. There are invaluable inscriptions from the times of Satavahana kings Gautami Putra Satakarni, Vasisthiputra Pulumavi, Krishna; Kshatrapa kings Nahapana and Usabadatta and many more on the walls of the Viharas and the Chaityas.


Picture 9: Chaitya at Pandu Lena – An architectural marvel from nearly 2000 years ago

While most of the carved caves are empty with large gathering areas, there are quite a few beautifully carved images of Buddha and Bodhisattva across them too. There is even a beautiful and rare “Reclining Buddha” carving inside the 24th cave. The main prayer hall, Chaitya, can be seen in cave 18 with perfect looking apsidal ceiling supported by two rows of octagonal pillars, and a huge cylindrical stupa at the back of the nave.


Picture 10: Calmness in stone. One of many enchanting Buddha statues in Pandu Lena caves

The caves themselves got the name Pandu Lena on the back of the word “Pundru”, indicating yellowish colour of the rocks of the hill. A beautiful scenic view of the entire Nashik city and its outskirts is another advantage the tourist gets by climbing up to Pandu Lena.

Nashik is also close to the home town of freedom fighter Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. The place is Bhagur, 17 kms from Nashik, where his home has been converted into a memorial, with a collection of rare photographs of the life and times of the much revered soul. Nashik also has many other temples of significance and memorials, including one dedicated to Dadasaheb Phalke, considered the father of Indian cinema. So, if you plan to visit Nashik during the Kumbh Mela, don’t forget to explore its many facets.


Picture 11: State Government of Maharashtra has converted Savarkar's home at Bhagur into a memorial



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