From our visit to the Nanded Gurudwara, we were set the next morning to visit a Jyotirlinga, the Aundha Nagnath temple, 64 kms from Nanded. We started early around 7 AM and decided to have breakfast on the go.
Aundha Nagnath - God resides in the chaos too!
The Aundha Nagnath temple shares honours with the Nageswar Temple in Gujarat as a Jyotirlinga. Based on the Dvadasa Jyotirlinga sloka, there is a bit of a confusion on which temple qualifies as the actual Nagesham of Daruka Vana, the Nageswar temple in Gujarat or the Aundha Nagnath temple in Maharashtra. Since, we were closer to Aundha, we decided to interpret this as the Jyotirlinga temple !
To our pleasant surprise, the road to Aundha from Nanded was a decent, single road, we reached Aundha in about an hour and a half.
We did alright till Aundha but following Google Maps to the temple, we wandered off somewhere and had to reach the temple through pig infested, garbage dumps !
When we finally reached the temple, we were even more taken aback - hundreds of people, no proper parking place, filth, shops, dust, garbage, narrow lanes, dogs - phew, it was chaos at its best ! We tried our best to avoid the chaos from bombing our photo and managed to click this:
It pained us to see the conditions around the temple, why doesn't our culture, that teaches us all rituals and procedures of purification, teach us the importance of keeping our surroundings clean? Why is this such an impossible task for us?
However, once we stepped inside, the grand, ancient temple almost took our mind off the chaos outside.
The temple structure as we see it today, according to the internet, dates back to the 13th Century. The sculpture is exquisite as one would find in any ancient temple, you will be left dazed. Photography is not allowed inside the temple but a few people were taking selfies and we managed in a quick click of the structure.
Then, we headed for the darshan, bought the Rs.100 ticket for special darshan. It was alright till the inner hall from where all queues merged and chaos broke out. People pushing, pulling, abusing, laughing, doing everything except that one thing you are expected to do in temples, be at peace. We have got the whole idea of God and devotion all wrong !
If you look beyond the madness, the sanctum of the Aundha Nagnath temple is very interesting. The actual Garbha Griha is located underground and one has to climb down steep, narrow, slippery steps from an opening in the floor to view the Jyotirlinga. The sanctum is almost like a cave with a very low ceiling, one has to bend on all fours. It is quite stuffy inside too. Hauling yourself back to the floor surface from such steep steps is quite difficult, in fact, it is a tad bit scary. Thankfully, there are people to pull you up, we spotted some old, stout women literally being thrown up !
After the darshan, we sat down in the temple premises in silence, watching people jostling around. The morning was still fresh and more and more people were visiting the temple, each for a reason of their own, we do not know what brings them to the temple, what makes them vie with each other in their quest for the divine? Then you think, may be God is this collective belief that something good will happen. If God resides everywhere, he must probably be in the chaos too !
With that thought, we made our way out of the temple and left Aundha. We stopped for breakfast at a food joint a few kilometres away. They served us hot Poha and chai, we had two plates of the Poha, such is the power of Poha in Maharashtra ! We also the asked the hotel guys why the temple was in such a poor state, they only gave us a smile, "woh tho aise hi hai", the standard Indian reply ! We turned our car towards our next destination.
Divine Feminine of Mahurgad
130 odd kms from Aundha is Mahurgad, one of the 18 Shaktipeethas. While researching for our trip, we happened to come across the Ekaveera Devi temple, considered the 8th Shaktipeetha and we decided to include that in our itinerary.
Time and again Google Maps has tested our cars but neither us nor our cars ever give up, the road from Aundha to Mahurgad started off decently as long as we were on the National Highway 161, and then we encountered a road like this.
We almost panicked for a bit fearing if the road would continue to remain like that but thankfully things did ease up and the roads got better as we neared Mahurgad. The dry winter months had turned the landscape bear but nature adorns a different look every season and you cannot choose which one is better.
Here is a picture of the ghat road to the hilly areas of Mahurgad:
The road winded through the hills offering some breathtaking views of the landscape !
We reached Mahurgad a little after lunch time. Mahurgad is a small village, except for the two important temples and a few hotels, there is nothing much here, it doesn't look like your regular pilgrim or tourist place. Surrounded by hills and open lands for as far as you can see, the quaintness of Mahurgad seems to transport you to some distant land, cut off from the rest of the world going about at its maddening pace.
We checked into Hotel Krishna Palace and were quite impressed that a small place like Mahurgad had a well maintained hotel like Krishna Palace. We had a simple lunch at the restaurant attached with the hotel and took a quick nap to wait out the heat.
Around 4 PM, we set out to the Ekaveera Devi temple, 8 kms from Mahurgad. As we neared the temple, we were pleasantly surprised to find a direction board in Telugu.
Technically, it should not have surprised us much because Mahurgad is less than 50 kms from Telangana border but it is always a priceless feeling when you see your mother tongue in a different state.
What really did shock us was the Ekaveera Devi temple, in fact, there was hardly a temple ! Located in the middle of some fields was a simple shrine that one would pass off as a local temple.
There was nobody in the temple, no fanfare, in fact, hardly any proper structure at all. The temple is currently under renovation/rebuilding, even the Sanctum is being renovated. Only the idol of Goddess Ekaveera is intact. For someone used to seeing idols of Goddess in proper sculpted form, the Ekaveera Devi idol was interesting, it looked like the idols of Lord Jagannath at Puri. We know nothing about the history of the original temple.
There was only one priest at the temple, who showed us around and asked us to write our comments in a book. Yet again, we were in for a surprise when we saw that most of the people had commented in Telugu, the priest told us that a majority of the people who visit the temple are from Andhra and Telangana, which also explains the signboard in Telugu. Hoping to leave our trail, we too wrote our comments in Telugu.
Beside the Ekaveera Devi temple flows the Penganga River, though the river as we saw it, wasn't exactly flowing, we could only see the dry river bed ! Our visit to the Shaktipeetha complete, we headed back. On the way, we stopped for tea, sipping on our sugary tea, we chatted up with the tea shop owner who guided us to the next places we had to visit, the Anasuya Mata temple and the Renuka Devi temple - Mahurgad seemed to be the land of the Divine Feminine. The Jyotirlingas represent the masculine power of the Divine while the Shaktipeethas are supposed to be the centres of the feminine power, the yin and the yang.
We drove to the Anasuya Mata temple first as we were told the temple would close by 7PM and evening was setting in. The Anasuya Mata temple is located on a steep hill and to reach the temple, we had to take the hill roads, pass by the Mahurgad hill fort, the Renuka Mata temple and then negotiate a road less, stony path up the hill. Driving a Maruti Alto, it gave us some serious jitters !
However, as we drove further, the "oh my god" in fear was replaced by "oh my god" in absolute wonderment, the landscape was gorgeous !
Finally we reached the base of the Anasuya Mata temple, one has to climb steep steps to the top, there is no road way from the base. The good thing is there are not too many steps.
There are a lot of monkeys at Anasuya Mata temple, they don't seem to disturb you much as long as they don't find anything interesting in your hands.
The Anasuya Mata temple is dedicated to Sati Anasuya, the mother of Lord Dattatreya. In fact, a temple marking the birthplace of Lord Dattatreya is located enroute the Anasuya Mata temple, we had to give it a miss because we were getting late. We had an easy darshan of the motherly Goddess, the temple, like the Ekaveera Devi temple is simple.
We stepped out of the temple and stood looking out at the valley and the hills beyond. We were treated to the most beautiful sunset we had witnessed in a long time. We traced the sun's path from low in the sky till it disappeared from the horizon.
We sorely missed carrying our bigger lens. It was good in a way, instead of looking the through lens and trying to get the perfect picture, we experienced the bliss of watching the perfect sunset with our own eyes.
Our next visit was to the most famous temple of Mahurgad, the Renuka Devi temple. When you actually search for Shaktipeetha, Mahurgad, the internet will usually show you the Renuka Devi temple. In fact, Mahurgad is synonymous with this temple, though Ekaveera Devi temple is the actual Shaktipeetha. The Renuka Devi temple is dedicated to the mother of Lord Parasurama, the 6th avatar of Lord Vishnu.
This temple too is located on a hill top and one has to climb steps to reach it. The steps are lined with colour shops selling sarees, bangles to be offered to the Goddess.
How far back in time the history of this temple goes, we do not know, the temple as it stands today looks like a modern structure. The idol of Renuka Devi is very similar to the Ekaveera Devi. This temple is very interesting for the temple prasadam, instead of the regular laddu or a sweet, you are given crushed betel leaves. They say the Goddess likes betel leaves and that is the offering usually made to her. The betel leaves are placed in the Goddess' open mouth and are given to you as divine prasadam. We were actually quite intrigued, we hadn't seen anything like that before.
We sat for sometime outside the temple watching the devotees offer their reverence and relaxing in the cool breeze.
From the top, we could see the lights of Mahurgad below, here is a random click of Mahurgad at night, how refreshing to see minimal lights compared to the bright neon lights we are used in the cities.
The setting was too pleasant to leave but we had to wind up our visits for the day and head back to the hotel.
Dabeli delight !
By the time we were back to our hotel, it was dinner time. Instead of the regular dinner, we wanted to try out something local like the Maharastra Vada Pav, when one of our guys remembered Maheshwari Vada Pav Centre, he had read some reviews online and so we decided to check it out.
Maheshwari Vada Pav Centre in Mahurgad is so popular that it is listed on Google Maps ! And why not? The Dabelis we had there are unforgettable !
Dabeli is a Gujarati signature snack from the Vada Pav family. Unlike the humble Vada Pav, this one is rich with a lot of fillings inside. We had 2 Vada Pav and 2 Dabeli each ! The flip side of recording this in a blog 6 months later is the severe craving for Dabeli while you type.
Not done with our dinner yet, we went to Ekaveera Dham Bhojanalay, suggested by the Vada Pav guys, we had a simple thali. That we managed to finish a thali after stuffing ourselves with Dabeli, is something we are proud of !
Too full to go to bed immediately, we went up to the terrace of our hotel and watched the brightly lit sky. In the distance, we could see the lights of the ghat road to the Renuka Devi temple. A lot of philosophy and cosmology was discussed and everything left us in awe of this wonderful world we live in.
Aundha Nagnath is an hour's drive from Nanded and Parbhani, two important railheads if you plan to take a train from Hyderabad. If you are driving, Nanded is your best bet. The temple is open from 4 AM to 9 PM. There are no great places to stay in Aundha, Nanded is a good idea if you are looking for accommodation. Except during Shiva Ratri, we suppose the temple is not very crowded rest of the year. Parli Vaijnath, another Jyotirlinga, 120 kms from Aundha. If you plan to visit this temple, staying in Parbhani would be a better idea because it is half way between the two pilgrim places. Mahurgad has a few stay options including MTDC accommodation, most of them seemed decent but Hotel Krishna Palace is the best of the lot. We are not sure about the timings of Ekavira Devi temple, we suppose it will be open during the normal temple timings of 6 AM to about 8 PM. The Anasuya Mata temple and the Dattatreya temple seem to close by 7 PM because their location is quite remote. The Renuka Devi temple is open till around 9 PM. At the Renuka Devi temple you could be hounded by the shopkeepers to buy offerings to the Goddess, they are usually a saree, flowers, bangles etc. They will try and entice you telling you that you can park your vehicle for free but you will have to buy from their shop. The cost of the offerings is about Rs.150 ! Unless you really want to make an offering out of devotion, you can park your vehicle away from the shops and walk to the temple. Most of the eating places in Mahur are good. Don't miss the Dabeli at Maheshwari Vada Pav Centre. "The content and pictures on this blog are owned by the authors of http://www.highwayonlyway.com and are not available for copying or reproducing elsewhere without any written consent from us."