I had two options that evening – 1) To visit the Ganapati temple at Titwala or 2) To visit the Shiv temple at Ambernath…and I chose the latter. I had never been to this 1000-year-old temple near Kalyan, inspite of spending nearly two decades of my life there. It was a quick trip from Kalyan with my uncle and I truly enjoyed the entire experience.
Reaching the Shiv temple
A Karjat train (Central Railway) from Kalyan dropped us at Ambernath in about 15 minutes. It was fun to ride a train after so many years and brought back memories of my college days where I used to commute by train to and fro.
The Shiv Mandir is east of Ambernath and is 2 km from the railway station. We took an auto to our destination and the fare was reasonable at Rs 40 for both of us.
Autos too ply from Kalyan railway station to this temple.
6 am to 8 pm
Time taken to explore the temple:
Around 45 minutes. Depends on the queue for the darshan too.
Origins of the Shiv temple at Ambernath
The Ambernath Shiv temple is known as the Ambreshwara temple and the locals call it a Puratan Shivalaya (ancient Shiva temple). The exact date of construction is not clear but records indicate that the temple was probably built by the Shilahara king, Chittaraja, in 1061 AD or the temple might have even been constructed earlier and later renovated by his son Mumunni in that year.
The temple lies on the banks of the Waldhuni (Vadavan) river and is surrounded by scores of mango and tamarind trees. The temple is close to the ancient trade route leading to the Deccan plateau and is one of the finest examples of Deccan architecture, close to Mumbai. Remember my blog post on Naneghat which is on this ancient trade route?
The Ambreshwar temple is very much in use today and comes alive with bhakti especially during Mahashivratri. The festival is celebrated for almost a week and the temple is thronged with lakhs of devotees from near and far. This heritage temple, inspite of being a UNESCO site, however, lacks basic tourist and pilgrimage facilities. But that is about to change. The temple is slated to be soon revamped into a world-class tourist and religious destination by the Maharashtra government.
The linga is swayambhu because of which the garba griha (sanctum sanctorum) is situated 8 feet under the ground. One has to descend 9 steps to reach the shrine. The architecture of the temple too has probably been decided by the fact that the linga is a self-manifested one.
The central spire atop the garba griha is conspicuous by its absence. It is said that the fact that the garba griha has no roof over its head is the reason why the temple is known as the Ambreshwar (Lord of the Skies). The town around it too must have gotten its name ‘Ambernath’ (Amber means sky and Nath means Lord) from this temple. Earlier, the locality was known as ‘Hallyacha Pada’.
Today, this marvel of a temple rises to a height of 21 metres and, one can imagine, how tall it would have been, had the spire been in place. The remains of the spire have been excavated and is of a Bhumija style. The excavations of pottery and other artefacts unearthed here point out that this place is really ancient and was inhabited as early as 200 BC.
Rediscovery of the temple
The Shiv temple was lost to civilisation for nearly eight centuries. The temple was discovered in 1850 by the then director of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Mr. Henry Cousens. Photographs taken at that time and the written documentation reveal its dilapidated and sorry state then. Trees were growing on its walls and the temple was covered by dense vegetation all around it. There were no roads leading to the temple and the area was extremely inhospitable.
Still, the temple withstood the ravages of time. Thanks to it superior architecture and choice of construction materials, that the temple could be restored to its present admirable condition. Today, it is a UNESCO cultural heritage site, cared for and maintained by the ASI.
Temple Layout & Architecture
The Shiv temple is built with local black stone and lime and is standing tall today after facing the vagaries of nature for over a thousand years. Experts unanimously concur that the temple architecture is unique and unlike any other temple in the world. It is built in the Hemadpanthi style, without any use of mortar and has a Bhumija style of spire. The overall construction seems to be of the Vesara style, which is quite understandable considering that the Shilaharas were initially vassals of Rashtrakutas, who were later taken over by the Chalukyas.
There are three porches for entrance to the garba griha of the temple – in the south, west and east of the temple. Two nandis are carved at the main entrance which is a rare feature in our Shiva temples. The garba griha and the mandapa next to it are square in layout and diagonal to each other. This is actually unusual but might be due to the fact that the linga is swayambhu and the temple must have been built around it without disturbing the linga.
Plethora of sculptures adorn the temple from both inside and outside. The inner as well as the outer temple walls are exquisitely carved with reliefs of Hindu pantheon. There are 8 sculptures of Lord Bramha on the outer wall, indicating that this temple might have been built at a time when Bramha worship had not declined. (Records point out that Bramha worship declined after the 7th century in India)
Legends abound around many of our ancient Hindu temples and this temple is no exception. Our history is so ancient and violated that many facts are now known as either myths or legends. Proofs are hard to come by but the faith of the masses have kept these so-called tales alive.
It is said that the Shiv temple was built by the Pandavas in just one single night while they were in hiding during their exile. They were said to be in the 13th year of their exile and were supposed to be hiding incognito. The Kaurava prince, Duryodhana, however, was close on their heels. To avoid recognition, the Pandavas had to escape the area without completing the construction of the temple. This is the reason, it is said, that the spire remains unconstructed till date.
There is a hot water kund (pond) near the garba griha whose origin is unknown. There are reports of a geological cave as well near this temple which is said to have led the Pandavas to the forests of Panchavati (near Nasik) when they decided to leave this place. Nasik is about 200 kms from Ambernath. Doesn’t feel entirely unbelievable, does it?
Hub of Spirituality
The Shiv temple at Ambernath is a spiritual hub of energy. You can feel the positive vibes as soon as you enter the temple mandapa and garba griha. The sandhya (evening) aarti at 7:30 pm everyday just elevates the entire spiritual and devotional experience and is not to be missed. It is said that on full moon days, the moon appears vertically above the Shiv linga and makes the entire experience exceedingly beautiful. Kudos to our ancient architects who could understand and apply the spatial celestial locations in their constructions.