A Temple Circuit located in the heart of the Marathi land is not exactly the perfect place to plan a solo weekend. But as the wanderlust bug bit me, I decided to just take off. A long overdue demand was to visit the temple shrines of Solapur, partly for the divinity attached to these sacrosanct edifices and partly out of curiosity to see a Maharashtra outside Mumbai first hand.
Thus the weekend trip from Mumbai to Solapur was conceived. Drawing inspiration from friends who have wandered alone, all I did was book a ticket in the Siddheshwar Express from Dadar to Solapur and ventured forth into the unknown.
The prerequisite of the trip was prudence and simplicity. Didn’t call up colleagues working there nor did I make any arrangements. Everything was to be impromptu and spur of the moment types.
The Bare-chested Mendicant
Akkalkot is the shrine of Swami Samarth. Yes.He is the barechested half-naked elderly man sitting benevolently, whose portrait you see in several stores across Mumbai. He is a Guru in the Dattatreya Sampradaya and spent a majority of his life in this dusty and laidback village preaching the words of the almighty to tired and wandering souls. He would give his sermons under a Banyan tree ( now a part of the shrine) and thus shrine trust is also officially called the “VataVriksha Akkalkot Maharaj Trust”.
As soon as I got out of Solapur railway station, I stepped into an ST bus going to Akkalkot. I had already decided to keep it real. So took the 45 Rs ticket to the temple town.
I reached there by 9AM and took a rickshaw to the shrine. Here is the thing once you reach the temple premises. Do not look left or right. Just leave your shoes at the stand outside and walk into the shrine with all your bags. Go to the office and ask for a locker. You get a locker to dump all your bags for the whole day for 20 Rs. You get a bucket of hot water for 5Rs and can use the toilets for free. You get free food at lunch hour also (I didn’t partake of it though). You get to sleep in the Dharamshala at night for a nominal cost. All of this is within the temple complex.
The Shrine itself is small, housing a statue encased in silver of the saint. Look around the ceiling inside the shrine and the mandap. You will see loads of paintings and portraits donated by benefactors over the years. A totally old world feel. The banyan tree under which Swami Samarth gave his sermons stands regally in the middle of the shrine, like a constant reminder of the Swami’s teachings and his path of simplicity. It would be like Swami Samarth himself was standing in the courtyard gently directing devotees. Devotees try to keep touching this tree, now ring-fenced in iron. There is a hall with a large statue of Swami Samarth just opposite the main shrine. People come here to sit and meditate. I spent close to 4 hours just looking around and observing people, as they prayed, counted the rudraksh or read out from religious books.
The temple has a very prominent anti-commercial image which the trust seems, quite rightly, insistent on protecting. A commendable achievement. The care which the Akkalkot shrine extends to its devotees really warmed my heart. All the employees were calm, helpful and sweet to a fault ( Perhaps my visage presented the proverbial fish out of water scene for them). For nominal costs, you can technically live forever in Akkalkot.
The Temple is a must visit shrine if you are a devotee of the Dattatreya Sampradaya. And even otherwise, young folks should make the trip once to rough it out. An ideal location to pick up the pieces and collect your thoughts. I was done by 3pm and left back for Solapur to take the bus to Tuljapur.
The Matriarch of the Marathas.
The Tuljapur Tuljabhavani temple is located in Osmanabad district and is an hour by bus from Solapur. Goddess Tuljabhavani is the preceptor of the Maratha clan and is worshipped as the matron diety of Maharashtra.
Legend has it that when Chatrapathi Shivaji worshipped her, the divine goddess appeared before him and blessed him with a sword which guaranteed victory in the battlefield (This could be metaphorical for Shivaji getting a morale boost after praying here)
At around 430pm on Saturday, I walked out of the Tuljapur Busstand searching for the MTDC Resort that I had decided on. Noone in the busstand had any idea where it was. It was off a kuchcha road in a narrow gully next to the Shivaji statue. This is where my mind was blown by the surprises that the Indian establishment can throw your way. Squeaky clean rooms for a pittance. All that the Spartan MTDC charged for a double bed room was only 600 Rs. Best decision ever.
Tuljabhavani Temple lies on the edge of the Yamunacharya Hill in Tuljapur and at a level lower than the rest of the town. The Main tower as you enter the temple premises looks more like the Entrance to a fort than a temple. So you get a nice view of the rolling plains of Osmanabad from the ramparts of the temple walls.
Walk down the stone flight of stairs towards the Sanctum and you would walk through the Gomukh Teerth or a 7 foot high water fountain whose nozzle has been duly converted into a Gomukh by using a cement Cow’s head. The Kallol Tirth and the Vishnu Tirth are essentially temple tanks. But are in states of varying negligence and squalor.
The shrine is located in the middle of the a shady courtyard. Youll need to pass a shrine to Lord Ganesh before you enter the main courtyard. You could buy some lamps, dipped in thick ghee to be offered to the Goddess.
Ask for no priests. Ask for no flowers. Just walk into the line ( there was a line since it was a weekend) and go pray to Goddess Tuljabhavani. Behind the main temple is the stone “Chintamani” which miraculously tells devotees whether their wishes would get fulfilled or not. ( I got a very confusing answer). You could wander about the courtyard and look at all the devotees sitting. It can get very colourful. The temple has an air of stern benevolence. Perhaps tough love is what the Goddess teaches us all.
Night halt at Tuljapur. And the next day, after a late breakfast i set out. Found a direct bus between Tuljapur and Pandharpur.
The God who Stood on a Brick
Pandharpur is a part of Telugu folklore just as much as Marathi. I grew up with a great grandmother who would recite “Vithala Vithala Panduranga” all day.
The story of the saint Sakkubai and the “MayaSakkubai” who comes to take her place in the middle of the night so that she could go visit the shrine of Vithala has been immotalised.
To cut the long story short, Pundalika is a rogue son who has a change of heart after a trip to Varanasi. He transforms into a perfect son and starts caring for his aged parents. One day, Lord Krishna pays him a visit. But Pundalika who is immersed in caring for his parents (a bit of an overkill, I think) throws him a brick and asks him to wait. And when he walks out, that’s how he finds Krishna; a stone image standing on a brick and his hands by his side. Thus Vithala, the Lord of Pandharpur was born.
Once you land at the Pandharpur Bus stand, it is just a twenty rupees drive by rickshaw to the Main Temple.
The Temple is around 20Rs from the Central Pandharpur Busstand.
The main entrance is called the Namdev chi Pyari. You can see the temple dedicated to the untouchable saint, Chokamela at the entrance to the MukhaDarshan. Youwill need to walk in through the Darshan Mandap on the left of the Namdev Pyari for the SriDarshan. ( Buy some tulsi leaves on your way in). A long snaking line will lead you to the Lord Vithal.
A wonderful thing about the temple is that I could actually touch the feet of the idol. All devotees, irrespective of caste, colour or sex get this wonderful opportunity of “PaadsparsaDarshan”. This essentially bestows an additional sense of surrender to the lord as you physically touch his feet and pray. Mukhadarshan is when you cannot stand in the long lines but prefer a quick glimpse of the diety from a distance of 25-30 feet.
After the Vithal’s idol is the idol of Rukmini . Also standing on the brick. Inside the main shrine, you find small temples dedicated to Satyabhama, Radhika, Mahalakshmi and Venkateswara.
Walk out of the temple through the Paschim Dwar and ask directions for the river.
On the banks of the Chandrabhaga ( Bhima river is called so here), you will find the temple of Pundalik. With all the prayers and lamps here, this place offers great material for photography. You could sit here for hours and capture the changing sky and the pilgrim rush, and the boats which ply endlessly on it.
I found a solitary boatman. He soon became my guide across the river to see the Gopalpur temples and the ISKCON temple. A little downriver from the main temple would be the Narada Mandir. Located in the middle of the Chandrabhaga river. Cursed by Rukmini for causing a quarrel between Krishna and her, Narad spends his time in the middle of the river, 6 months above the waterlevel and 6 months below water.
Vishnupad Temple( where the footsteps of Vithal are drawn on a rock for us to pray) lies just ahead of the Narad temple. This temple seems quite dopey. And a little walk ahead is the Gopalpur temple of Rukmini-Vithal. This temple pays homage to the two female saints of the Vithal lore. Sati Sakkubai and Sant Janabai. There is even a chakli where the lower caste saint Janabai is supposed to have made laddus for Lord Krishna.
Beware.This Gopalpur mandir is full of smart-alec priests who will insist on money. Act dumb, pray and walk out. Do Not part with your money here. The courtyard of the Gopalpur Mandir is tied up with ropes into intricate narrow passages so that you are forced to visit each of the shrines, ostensibly to be blessed but also to be relieved of a little cash. ( TBH, they ask for only10/20 rupees although the main priest asked for 500)
The ISKCON temple on the other bank of the river appears to be new and houses a shrine of Radha- Krishna. Nothing much to see here except the standard ISKCON fare.
And after this sojourn, like the good little boy I am, I took the VRL Bus back home from Solapur to get dropped in Sion.
I had missed a few places. Jagrut Maruti temple in Akkalkot, Kaikadi Maharaj Math in Pandharpur and the Siddheshwar Temple in Solapur. Paucity of time and other factors. You should try to see them also.
I computed my costs. It was just a little under 5000 Rs for the entire trip (Out of which the last minute tatkal booking in Siddheshwar Express AC 2 Tier cost me 1400 bucks).
This Solapur circuit might not be for everyone. But I would rate it as a trip you should consider making. And in the spirit of self discovery, you should certainly forget friends, family and work for a while and slug this out on your own. You will come out stronger and happier.
Things to do on the trip.
- Look Around. See the Nine Yard Sarees and the Maharashtrian Topis.
- Converse in faltering Marathi. Attempt Telugu. A few of them can speak the language.
- Take Pictures. Lots of them.
- Ask Directions. Shamelessly. Repeatedly. Continuously.
- Try Local Food. Misal and Sugarcane Juice. (Everywhere. Literally Everywhere)