Kamal Kumar Bandyopadhyay visits the Gondeshwar temple near Nashik in Maharashtra. He loves to travel and explore lesser known places of our country. Here, he shares his fascination with this ancient blackstone temple of the Hemadpanti style of architecture.
Our ancient temples are treasure troves of history. These shrines were not merely religious sanctums. But they were also pivotal centres for sharing knowledge and research on regional history, sociology, good governance and tradition.
Weathered by the wind and sun for centuries, one such splendid black-stone temple is Sri Gondeshwar. Located at the north east of Sinnar town, it is 26 kms from Nashik and 190 kms from Mumbai. According to Cunningham’s report, the earliest historical mention of Sinnar appears to be in a copperplate grant of 1069 A. D.
Gondeshwar: Hemadpanti style
The Gondeshwar temple is in the Hemadpanthi style of architecture. It is so called because it was popularized by Hemadri Pandit, also known as Hemadpant, a minister during the Yadav Dynasty. For instance, one most striking feature was the use of locally available black stone and lime, glorifying the local craftsmanship. Because of this, the degree of skill that went into making the carved panels was highlighted. I was mesmerised by the entire design of the temple which was awe-inspiring.
This stone wonder is still the largest, most complete and the best-preserved example of the mediaeval temples of the Deccan of the Indo-Aryan style. Despite the fact that one can see the crumbling remains of the temple walls and the entrance gate.
It is a Shaiva Panchayatan, or a group of five temples within a large enclosure. The central shrine is dedicated to Lord Shiva and the remaining four around it are temples to Sri Parvati, Sri Ganapati, Surya Bhagwan and Lord Vishnu. The temple is truly unique in design, perfect in proportion and the stone carvings are exquisitely beautiful.
The central shrine consists of a congregation hall or Sabhamandap. And the inner sanctum Gabhara Griha, crowned by a tower-like Shikara, enshrines the Shiva lingam. This is beautifully proportioned and bounded by three imposing pillared porches. Inside, the temple is profusely decorated. These black stone pillars are such that they appear to have been turned on a lathe. Similarly ceiling carvings are carved out of single stones.
At its peak, the Seuna or Yadava dynasty (850 – 1334) ruled a kingdom stretching from the Tungabhadra to the Narmada Rivers. Included in this region are present-day Maharashtra, north Karnataka and parts of Madhya Pradesh. The capital was at Devagiri, now known as Daulatabad, in Maharashtra. Thereafter, the reign of the Yadava dynasty declined after the conquest of the Daulatabad Fort by Alauddin Khilji in 1294. Furthermore, conquest by Malik Kafur, Alauddin’s general, in 1312 resulted in the killing of the members of the Yadava clan. Thereby ending this illustrious dynasty. The contribution of Sevunas to architecture and art are significant. They opted for continuation of Dakhan Chalukya style.
Some sources claim that Raj Govinda of Yadava dynasty built this great temple. Yet another tradition assigns the building to Govindaraja, another Yadava king who ruled about the beginning of the twelfth century A. D.
Deccan and North Indian temples
The temple in the Deccan style is different from north Indian temples. Here, the shikhara does not have turrets grouped around the lower part of the structure. Instead, the shikhara has a distinct vertical band rising upwards. These are along each of its angles taking the form of a spine or quoin. Moreover, the space between is filled with smaller reproductions of the shikhara. The pillared hall carved with a tortoise on the ground, represents the Kurma Avatar of Lord Vishnu. This is small, elegant and unique in this part of the country.
Facing the main entrance is a Nandi pavilion housing a stone bull which is the vahan or vehicle of Lord Shiva. Another striking feature of the Gondeshwar temple is the deep projections and the alcove on the wall surfaces. Because they rise upwards, these catch the natural light, or fall in deep shade. Therefore, to counter this effect, a series of horizontal moldings have been laid across the entire composition.
The entire temple was built on a raised platform to facilitate pradakhshina or circumambulation. Thereby also providing a wonderful view of the sculptures all around the walls of the shrine. Moreover, even today, so many years after it was built, it is regarded as an abode of Lord Shiva by worshippers.
Restoration work by Archaeological Survey of India has brought back the past glory of this architectural wonder. And it acts as an eloquent reminder of our heritage.
Photo Credit: Dhruba Banerjee