A SPIRITUAL OASIS IN MUDDLED MUMBAI-PART-II-AMBERESHWAR SHIVA TEMPLE-AMBERNATH
If one temple is an embodiment of tranquility, another could be a treasure trove of an artist’s creativity. ‘Where’s the need for such elaborate artistry & display of extravagance’, you may wonder, when it is the God within that we wish to seek out.
The sculptor sculpts stones & transforms them into masterpieces, demonstrating a lesson for man. Ultimately, where there’s beauty, there dwells divinity & that’s the eternal truth—Satyam Shivam Sundaram. Call it beauty, call it grace/elegance, where there’s grace, there dwells godliness.
A temple from a far-flung century seems so improbable in the mare’s nest that Mumbai is! A temple that’s renowned for its exquisite architecture & profuse carvings in the fringes of suburban Mumbai? That’s the Ambernath Shiva Temple, for you!
Having heard about its aesthetic appeal, I had yearned to visit the place but never got to it. Ultimately, one afternoon in early June we ventured out.
An hour’s train journey to Ambarnath Station & a 10 minute rickshaw ride from the station got us to the temple purlieus.
As we inched closer, the black shikhara (towers) of the temple began looming in sight.
In moments, we came face to face with this sacred monument of sizeable antiquity. The dark façade adorned with intricate ornamentations stood before us, its primordial exquisiteness a far cry from the ugly mundaneness of the city.
This Shiva Temple dating back to AD 1060, is known to have been built by King Chittaraja of the Shilahara Dynasty, who had established his empire in Konkan & Kolhapur, during the Rashtrakuta era.
Some locals also claim that it was built overnight by the Pandavas.
Also known as Purathana Shivalaya, the temple falls under the aegis of the Archeological Survey of India.
Built using black basalt & lime, the most striking feature is the shikhara (tower) of the temple. While the ingress to the sanctum has a shikhara that’s complete & shaped like a cupola, the one on the side looks incomplete & bears no resemblance whatsoever, to a cupola.
And yet, from a different angle, the temple looks symmetrical without any side tower jutting out.
It seems the temple was designed according to the Bhumija style of architecture.
Brahma & His consort —Savitri
Like ordinary mortals, we, at the first opportunity, circumambulated the temple only to check out the complex carvings & capture them.
Other devotees too appeared so enamored that despite the scorching heat, they were out there —relishing the array.
The God within had to wait, for so mesmerizing were the embellishments outside. Yet, isn’t it also true that beauty & joy goad humans closer to divinity?
There was nary a soul which stepped right in, ignoring this splendour.
The ones who did, were sated with the treat their eyes partook of.
It had drizzled the previous day but the Sun still shone with vigour & hence, when our eyes strained to capture the grandeur, we let our camera do the work.
The walls stand lavished with engravings of Gods & Goddesses, Apsaras & nymphs, beasts & demigods
It was as if we had entered another state!
The elaborately chiseled panels seemed to throb with life.
On one side of the complex is a flight of steps, which offers a sweeping view of the temple. However, the scaffolding obstructed our view.
When the heat became unbearable, we had no choice but to step in. Isn’t that the way with life too? Divinity is the recourse when life gets intolerable. Until then, we are slaves to our senses, even though the perils & pain are well-known.
The ingress to the temple was welcoming —like the childhood home one might’ve left behind; the home with its haimish feel, a reminder of one’s halcyon days.
The two Nandis at the entrance
Another salient feature is that the temple is hypaethral (partially open to the skies) & a flight of 20 steps takes you down to where the Shiv Linga, is emplaced.
Photography is not permitted here & that made for an undisturbed communion.
A Sculpted Pillar Inside the Sanctum Sanctorum
The inner chamber with its natural dankness provided some respite from the heat &, the fragrance of flowers & frankincense instantly invoked a divine feel.
However, given the small area that was teeming with devotees, the priests ensured that none lingered for more than 5 minutes.
We had a fleeting glimpse but that was enough to compose us. It’s so surprising that the ornate beauty outside got us excited but it was the sight of the divine within the chambers, that actually made us feel contented!
After our brief shufty, we continued surveying the precincts. Enclosed within, is a pond with turtles & another charming temple of Lord Hanuman.
However, outside lies a stagnant lotus pond that’s quite filthy & from which had risen a few pink lotuses. The pond seems to double up as a dumping place for trash. I wish the ASI or designated authorities clean the pond & gentrify the place, for, a place of such significance definitely deserves to stand out.
Ok, now for some guidelines..
Ambernath is quite far from the city & hence, it’s advisable to take a train, which is the quickest mode of transport.
Try going in monsoon or winter, so that you can spend enough time outside.
Chikhloli Dam between Ambarnath & Badlapur is supposed to be beautiful with its scenic waterfalls. So, a monsoon visit to both places can make for a refreshing picnic.
Matheran is 37 kms away from Ambernath. Hence, you could plan a stopover here, en route to Matheran.
For a while after we left the temple confines, the temple & the images of sculpted figurines flashed before my eyes but was soon overshadowed by the here & now. However, like the sculptors of yore, who created beauty (Sundaram) & thereby evoked divinity (Shiva) auspiciousness/orderliness/ divine order, I realized that we too could try looking for this truth in the ordinariness..