Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lord of the Nectar


As the final echo of the mantra ‘OM’ dies down inside the sanctum, one is left with the feeling that the echo continues somewhere far deep inside one's body and mind, setting every nerve and sinew to the hum and vibrate.

Well, this is no ordinary temple, for the looks as they say can be very deceptive. This is the Amruteshwar Mahadev temple located in Ghodbunder village close to Retibunder, off the Ghodbunder road and is 205 years old and considered a 'swayambhu' - self incarnated linga. It was in the begining of the 18th century when Jagannath Shunkerseth was digging a well close to his home that this linga appeared and a temple was built around it.

The tank or well is replenished by an underground sweet water spring, although it lies close to the sea hence the name amrut - nectar, eshwar-lord so the name Lord of the nectar or Amruteshwar Mahadev, has been given to this temple. People still take water from here for their personal needs, although it looks green and contains fish and tortoise, which in reality keep the water clean.

At first glance it feels like any other temple, later you begin to notice the round dome and the plaster work over the sanctum and the red tiled roof, and wooden pillars and beams of the mandapa. The wood is Burma teak known as the wood that survives almost all types and forms of ageing. A medium sized temple, a decorated Nandi adorns the mandapa with a tortoise in front of it. The inner sanctum has Bhairavnath as the guardian or dwarpal, Ganesha on its left and Hanuman on its right and a small painting portrait of the builder- Seth Jagannath Shunkerseth, merchant and businessman. The man who built this temple and was also responsible in setting up Sir JJ Hospital, Sir JJ School of Art, Grant Medical College, Elphinstone college, Town Hall and has Nana chowk named after him, for he was lovingly called 'nana'. Today the temple is looked after by Atul Shunkerseth the grandson of the scion. They are also going to build a statue of the scion in the main mandapa and the area has been demarcated already.

The beauty of the temple lies within the sanctum. What strikes you is the aura, the neatness and the feel that this is how a temple should be like and not cluttered like the modern ones with umpteen statues of different gods and goddesses. Neatly, the flowers have been arranged on the linga with a brass serpent coiled around it, a brass pot filled with water that drips continuously over the linga with the water flowing down through the channel towards the north - always the north. The carved serpent occupies the south niche; the west is occupied by Parvati and close to her stands the Trisul. A deepstambha stands outside in the courtyard like all old temples in Maharashtra facing seawards. The first floor of the temple is made of wooden boards and looks impressive but are coming loose at the joints, the beams holding the conical roof is also giving way and have moved from their slots.

The sanctum has been tiled and painted quite recently and as the maharaj of the temple says it is an ongoing process, repairs are done every few months - replacing the red roof tiles, cementing the dome from where water seeps in during heavy rains, and monkeys cause havoc every other day inside the temple unless it is kept closed. The maharaj or the chief priest of the temple belongs to the family of Upadhyays from Banaras and this family has been taking care of this temple for the last five generations. The temple and the land is owned by the Shunkerseths, and the Upadhyay's hope they will continue to serve this temple for generations to come.

The maharaj in fact believes that an approximate cost of 15 to 20 lakh will suffice for the restoration or is this an understatement for the support beams have to be replaced that are cracked into two complete halves, renovation of the temple dome, cleaning the tank, cement work where ever required, replacing the cracked support beams on the roof of the mandapa, floor boards, windows made in Burma teak needs to be restored. But all this can only take place after the owner Atul Shunkerseth, great grandson of Jagannath Shunkerseth, gives his permission, funds are collected and the right person is selected to handle the makeover and restoration work. One year has already passed and the second is going on.

Few people know about this temple and fewer come to this temple. At the present the maharaj completely depends on his salary given by the owner who comes in just a couple of times in a year but is very possessive of this temple for they do not like visitors asking questions about this temple. The restoration work will be an effort from both sides the restorers and the Shunkerseths.

It is not known when the work will begin. Everyone has been talking about it the mayor, the Shunkerseths but ultimately it is the family connection and blessing that will lead to the restoration taking place. Enter the sanctum, salute bhairavnath – the dwarpal and climb three steps down and enter into a quiet, cool world of a unique and ancient Mahadev temple that has a personality of its own.

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