The fabled Ashta Vinayaka Darshan is not just a simple pilgrimage but a rare glimpse into the Maharashtra hinterlands. After undertaking this journey we came out more knowledgeable and with a strange unanimity on the desirability of going through this journey once again.
All the eight temples of the Ashta Vinayaka fame are within a periphery of around 110 kms from Poona. We decided to stick to the chronological order of the Darshan route which starts with the Mayureshwara Temple at Morgaon and ends with the Chintamani Temple of Theur. Other Darshans in this sequence are Siddhi Vinayaka Temple at Siddhatek, Mahaganapati Temple at Ranjangaon, Vagnahara Temple at Ozar, Girijatmaja Temple of Lenyadri, Ballaleshwar temple at Palli and Varada Vinayaka Temple at Madh. En route Morgaon the Khandoba temple at Jejuri is the ninth attraction. Let’s start the trail of Chaturbhuj.
Mayureshwara of Morgaon: The God in a Fort
The first Ganesha Temple on the trail of Ashta Vinayaka is located in the small village of Morgaon also known as Bhuswananda Bhuvan. Morgaon is 64 km from Pune. Legend has it that lord Ganesha roaming on a peacock killed the demon Sindhu. Sindhu’s head fell here. The temple complete with four minarets looks almost like a fort from a distance. The Mayureshwar temple has a 50 feet high wall surrounding it. The temple shows a distinct influence of the Islamic architecture as it was built during the reign of Bahamani Sultans of Deccan. The idol here is small but appears bigger due to generous application of vermilion. It is flanked on two sides by the consorts Riddhi and siddhi while a Cobra encircles the head. Photography is not allowed as well as entry into the garbagriha. Another interesting aspect of the temple is the presence of a statue of Nandi, the bull, generally identified with a Shiva Temple.
Siddhi Vinayaka of Siddhatek: Lording Over Bhima
The Siddhi Vinayaka temple is located off the Pune-Solapur highway in Ahmadnagar district. Siddhatek is 98 km east of Poona. The temple on the banks of river Bhima is actually atop a hillock. A ferry ride to reach the Siddhi Vinayaka Temple is a good option. One interesting aspect of the idol here is that the trunk points to the right, the only one among the Ashta Vinayaka idols to be so. The idol is in a seated posture here and placed in a brass frame with intricate carvings. Here also entry into the Garbagriha as well as photography of the idol is not permitted.
According to legend the beautiful stone temple of Siddhatek overlooking the Bhima River is the very place where Lord Vishnu meditated. He received Siddhi from the Ekdanta before going on a battle with the notorious demons Madhu and Kaitava. , Daund Railway station On Pune-Solapur railway line is merely 18Km from here.
Ballaleshwar Temple of Pali: The Lord as a Brahmin
Ballal Vinayaka or Ballaleshwar temple is located at Pali 115 km west of Pune in the Raigad District. The temple is nestled between Sarasgad fort and Amba River. Here Ganesha is famous by the name of his devotee and is dressed up as a Brahmin like his young and ardent devotee Ballal. This is a temple where a rare phenomenon takes place on Equinoxes. On this occasion rays of the sun fall directly on the idol through the roof.
The temple faces east and has two sanctums with intricate wood work. Another attraction of the temple is a huge bell gifted by Chimaji Appa, the brother of Balaji Peshwa. Photography of the idol is not allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum. Sarasgod Fort is a nearby attraction but only if you are trekking buff.
Varada Vinayaka Temple of Madh: The Bestower of Progeny
The 4th temple on the Ashta Vinayaka Darshan is that of Varada Vinayaka. The temple located at Mahad or Madh near Khopoli is at a distance of 44kms from Pali. Mahad is 83 km from Poona and merely 63 km south east of Mumbai.
The temple premises are on one side of a beautiful pond. Here you can enter the Garbagriha (sanctum sanctorum) but taking snaps is not allowed. Here you can also find a small idol of Mushika, the carrier of the lord. In the same premises a small shrine can be found of Lord Data along with the idols of Navagraha and Shani Devta. Another attraction here is the Nanda deep, a magnificent lamp that is burning incessantly for a long time. The temple which attracts huge crowds during Magha Chaturthi is open 24 hours, something very unique.
Chintamini Vinayak of Theur: The wish fulfilling Ganesha
The Chintamani Temple at Theur is located around 25 kms from Pune on the Pune Sholapur highway. Theur lies at the confluence of Bhima, Mula and Mutha Rivers. The ride is smooth all the way. Legend has it that Prince Guna had stolen the wish granting Chintamani Gem from Sage Kapia. Feeling hopeless the sage turned to lord Ganapati. Pleased with the prayer, the lord brought back the jewel. However a gratified sage Kapila put it in Vinayaka’s neck. Thus the deity got its name Chintamani Vinayak. All this took place under a Kadamb tree that is why Theur was known as Kadambanagar in olden times. The atmosphere is very serene and the temple well maintained. The inner hall of the temple is replete with precious carvings. The sanctum also shows gold and silver inlay work. The other attraction is the palace of Madhavrao peshwe in a garden.
The Girajatmaja Temple of Lenyadri: The Lord among the Buddhist Caves
The sixth of the Ashta Vinayaka idols and in a most unusual setting is the Girijatmaja temple. Located in the Lenyadri village in Junnar Taluka the temple is set upon the Lekhan Hills in a cave by the banks of the river Kukdi. The cave is reached by a flight of 321 steps. This temple of the Ashtavinayak is the only one which perched on a high hill and is set in a Buddhist cave-temple. The drive itself is an awesome experience with sugarcane fields on either side and later on amidst the tall Eucalyptus trees.
There is a total of 18 caves here all of Buddhist origin with proof that they date back to even 3rd century. The Girijatmaja temple is carved out of a single stone without any pillar to support the 57 ft by 51 ft hall. Unlike other idols of the Ashta Vinayaka fame the gAnesha idol is bereft of any décor.
Legend has it that Parvati performed penance to beget Ganesha here hence Girija’s (Parvati’s) Atmaj (son) is Girijatmaj. This temple stands amidst a cave complex of 18 caves of Buddhist origin and is the eight Cave. A Buddhist stupa is also located just beside the main cave. Another nearby attraction here is the Shivneri fort where the legendary Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was born.
Shri Vigneshwara of Ozar: The Remover of Obstacles
Vignahara Temple of Ozar is around 85 km from Pune via Narayangaon on the road that leads to Nashik. The drive through lush green setting is a refreshing experience. The temple is on the banks of the river Kukdi. The east facing temple is surrounded by a thick stone wall. The golden dome of the temple is possibly built by Chimaji Appa of the Peshwa clan to commemorate the victory over Portuguese rulers. Another attraction here is the water sports facility available in the River Kukdi. This completes our seventh Darshan.
Mahaganapati of Ranjangaon: The Lord to the aid of Mahadev
The last on the Ashta Vinayaka itinerary is the Mahagnapati Temple of Ranjangaon. The temple is located just 50 km from Pune on the Pune-Ahmednagar highway on the way to Aurangabad. The temple is very sacred as according to mythology Devadidev Shiva Shambho himself is supposed to have consecrated the Ganesha idol after worshipping him before he set out to kill the demon Tripurasura. Here also as in Ballaleshwar Temple of Pali during dakshinayan( Equinoxes) sun’s rays directly fall on the idol. Entry is not permitted in the Garbagriha but photography is allowed. A well and a small garden is located in the temple complex. After Darshan splurge on some tempting Batata Vadas, a local specialty.
Khandoba Temple: Paint the Town Yellow
Khandoba Temple atop the Jejurigad hill is a special attraction for those on the Ashtavinayaka Darshan. The temple dedicated to Lord Shiva as Khandoba lies 50 km from Poona and 16 km west of Morgaon, the first darshan. The temple can be seen from a quite a distance away on the Poona Satara highway. Yellow is the colour here. Devotees chant Yelkot Yelkot Jai Malhar throw generous quantiies of bhandara (turmeric powder) in the air in praise of the lord. That is why this place is also called as Sonyachi (Golden)Jejuri. Somwati Amavasya sees lakhs of pilgrims descent here. The stone temple is reached by a flight of 350 steps. Imposing deepmalas, a total of 145 line the flight of stairs. The temple is unique in design. This is because in terms of architectural lineages it shows a strong Islamic influence.The arches of the Sabhamandapa( sanctorum), the vimana (crest) with minaret-like structures along the four corners bears a testimony to that.
The main deity inside the sanctorum is that of Khandoba, idols of Mhalsa and Banu, the lord’s consort and the “Dvaya” linga are also seen.