In celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY criss-cross the country in search of extraordinary shrines dedicated to Ganesha, the Elephant God
Ganpatipule, Konkan Coast (Maharashtra)
According to legend a local cowherd’s cow had stopped giving milk but would spontaneously offer milk only at a particular spot on the reef, leading to the discovery of the swayambhu (self-manifest) stone image of Lord Ganesha. Since it was found by the pula (sandy dune), the place was called Ganpatipule. Once a year the surf comes up to Lord Ganesha’s shore temple as if to touch the feet of the idol in reverence. The unique west-facing temple is built in such a way that in the months of February and November the sunrays fall directly on Lord Ganesha’s idol. Devotees whisper entreaties into the ears of the large brass mouse before offering their prayers inside. The temple is located at the base of a hill believed to be shaped like Lord Ganesha, so pilgrims do a pradakshina (circumambulation) of the entire hill along a paved path.
Siddhi Vinayak Temple, Mumbai (Maharashtra)
What used to be a small 3.6 m x 3.6 m shrine is today the richest Temple Trust in Mumbai. The filmy rags to riches story of Siddhi Vinayak in Prabhadevi is quite like the meteoric rise of a street kid to superstar. Consecrated in 1801, the original square brick structure with a domed shikhara (spire) was built by contractor Laxman Vithu Patil for Deubai Patil, a rich childless woman who thought it would benefit other barren women. Over the years, news of its siddhi (wish-fulfilling powers) spread like wildfire and patronage from politicians and film stars catapulted it to fame. The temple grosses nearly Rs.50 crore every year. The inner roof of the sanctum is covered in gold while the wooden doors donning a silver carved mantle are carved with intricate images of Ashtavinayak or eight manifestations of Ganesha across Maharashtra – Moreshwar (Morgaon), Siddhivinayak (Siddhatek), Ballaleshwar (Pali), Varadavinayak (Mahad), Chintamani (Theur), Girijatmaj (Lenyadri), Vighnahar (Ozar) and Mahaganapati (Ranjangaon).
Ranthambhore Ganesh ji (Rajasthan)
Atop Ranthambhore’s historic 1000-year-old fort is a unique temple of Trinetra Ganesha, the three-eyed god in a slab of bright orange. Every day, the Lord receives 10kg of mail from across India and the globe. Traditionally people send the first wedding invitation card here for the Lord’s blessings. As per folklore, the first wedding invite sent here was Lord Krishna and Rukmini’s marriage, roughly dating the temple to 6500 years! So what happens to all the wedding cards? The envelopes are recycled for giving prasad and the cards are cleared periodically! The annual Ganesh Mela wreaks havoc on the ecology of the tiger park when over 1 million pilgrims visit the Ganesh Temple over 3-4 days. Located in the heart of the park, it makes a mockery of the recent ruling on making core areas no-tourism zones. According to tiger expert and wildlife photographer Aditya Singh of Ranthambhore Bagh ‘This number far exceeds the total number of tourists that have visited the park since it was declared a national park in 1980.’
Karpaga Vinayakar Temple, Pillaiyarpatti (Tamil Nadu)
One of the most popular Ganesha shrines in Tamil Nadu, this rock cut temple is dedicated to Valampuri Vinayakar, a large Ganesha seated in padmasana (lotus position) with a gold-fronted trunk bent to the right. Carved from the rocks against which the temple is set, it is the idol’s black appearance that gives the shrine its popular name Karpaga Vinayakar. Believed to be 1600 years old, the temple’s northern tower was erected by the Pandya kings while the Nagarathar community, who renovated it in 1284, added the eastern tower and an adjoining mandapam. The ceiling of the hall is painted in vegetable dyes and bears old inscriptions while ornate sculptures adorn the pillars. The place itself is called Pillaiyarpatti after Pillaiyar or Lord Ganesha.
Rockfort Ucchi Pillayar Temple, Tiruchirappalli (Tamil Nadu)
Though Vibhishana and Ravana were on opposite sides of the Ramayana war, their failed quest to take the Lord’s supreme form back to Lanka is almost identical. After killing Ravana, Lord Rama gifted Vibhishana an idol of Lord Ranganatha, cautioning him that it would take root wherever it was placed. Though an ardent devotee of Rama, Vibhishana was Ravana’s brother and an asura (demon), so the gods entreated Lord Vinayaka to stop him. On his return to Lanka Vibhishana passed through Trichy and seeing the beautiful Kaveri River, wished to take a holy dip and perform his daily rituals. Lord Ganesha appeared as a young cowherd and offered to hold the idol while he bathed. The moment Vibhishana stepped into the water Vinayaka put the idol on the sandy banks. A livid Vibhishana chased after him, but the nimble cowherd ran up a hill by the riverside. Vibhishana finally caught up with the boy and hit him on the forehead. When the boy revealed his divine form, Vibhishana apologized and left empty-handed to Lanka. Thus the rock where Lord Ganesh escaped became the Ucchi Pillayar temple or ‘Lord Vinayaga on the hilltop’ and the place where the idol took root became the Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple at Srirangam. Steps tunneled through the rock lead to the Ganesha temple on the hill, accessible by another steep flight of steps carved on the rock face, offering panoramic views of the Kaveri and Kollidam rivers.
Manakula Vinayagar Temple (Pondicherry)
This is the epic tale of a shrine that defied the might of the French in their own backyard. Dedicated to Lord Ganesha venerated as Vellakaran Pillai, the temple was constructed five centuries ago, long before the French arrived at Pondicherry. The name is derived from the old kulam (pond) on the western side of the temple that used to be full of manal (sand) blown in from the shores. On several occasions, French missionaries attempted to raze the shrine, but ardent worshippers saved it from destruction. Each time the idol was hurled into the sea, it would magically return. Today, the temple stands defiantly rooted at the same spot in the heart of the French Quarter. Various manifestations of Lord Ganesha adorn the inside walls. The 18-day Brahmotsavam and Ganesh Chaturthi are grand celebrations. Be sure to give a coin to the temple elephant Lakshmi in exchange for a friendly pat on your head from her trunk as blessing!
Madhur Maha Ganapathi Temple, Kasaragod (Kerala)
Located on the banks of the Madhuvahini River 8km northeast of Kasaragod, the spectacular Madhur temple was built in 10th century by the Mypadi Rajas of Kumbla. Though Lord Shiva is the presiding deity, it is his son who draws the crowds. Lord Ganesha’s idol is not made of stone or soil but some unknown material; hence all abhishekas (oblations) are done for Ishwara. The temple has an imposing structure with its gables, copper plate roofing and wooden statues. During his invasion of Malabar, after conquering Kumbla, Tipu reached this shrine intent on destroying it. Overcome by fatigue, he quenched his thirst from the temple well and underwent a divine change of heart. He left the shrine unharmed, except a mark left by his dagger on the intricate woodwork. The temple well’s water has no frogs or fish, tastes good and is said to possess medicinal and curative properties. Another highlight is the Moodappa Seva, a special festival where Maha Ganapathi’s large figure is covered with moodappam (sweet rice ghee cakes) but no matter how much you stack up, it’s never enough. A very costly affair, the festival was last held in April 1992, and earlier in 1962 and 1802.
Sasive Kalu & Kadale kalu Ganeshas, Hampi (Karnataka)
Hampi, the glorious capital of the Vijayanagar Empire is home to many shrines and unusual sculptures, including two unique Ganesha idols. The 18-ft monolith Kadale Kalu Ganesha is the largest Ganesha statue in Karnataka. It dates back to 1440AD and a 24-pillared temple was built around the idol later. In 1565, invading troops of the Deccan Sultanate broke the stomach and trunk of the idol, suspecting that it contained hidden jewels. As a result, the split stomach bore a resemblance to the two halves of a gram seed, lending the name by which the statue is known today. Nearby is the Sasive Kalu Ganesha that gets its name from the likeness of the rounded toes to mustard seeds. This 9-ft high, richly carved Ganesha was built in 1516. Behind the image is an outline of a woman as if she is strapped to Ganesha’s back, symbolizing Parvati as the eternal protector of her son.
Idagunji, Honnavar taluka (Karnataka)
At the end of Dwapara yuga, Sage Valakhilya and other rishis were performing a yagna at Badrikashram for the removal of doshas (sins or malefic effects) in Kaliyug, but faced many hindrances. Sage Narada then instructed them to go to Kunjavana on the banks of the Sharavathi where the divine trinity had once prayed to vanquish the asuras. Later the trinity and Lord Ganesha visited the site to bless the sages and the elephant-headed god asked all the divinities to leave behind a portion of their goodness for the benefit of mankind, which were deposited in the sacred tanks Chakratirtha and Brahmatirtha. Since the sacred kunj (garden) was located on the left bank of the river (eda means left), the place was called Idagunji. The panchakhadya or special prasad of this temple is quite famous, as are the Ganesha masks made out of vetiver (khus).
Ganesh Tok, Gangtok (Sikkim)
In a land synonymous with Buddhism, a shrine to the elephant God is rare. Located 7km from town on the Gangtok-Nathula Road and perched at 6,500 ft on a hill near the TV tower, Sikkim’s Ganesh Tok temple is fascinating. Like the Hanuman Tok shrine but much smaller, Ganesh Tok offers a scenic view of Raj Bhavan, Gangtok town and Mount Khangchendzonga. Space inside the temple is so cramped that devotees have to creep in on all fours to have darshan of Lord Ganesha.