A pilgrim's progress to Panchavati

Temple tour

A pilgrim's progress to Panchavati

Panchavati literally means a garden of five banyan trees and finds a prominent mention in the famous Indian epic Ramayana. Ram, along with his wife Sita and brother Laxman, stayed in Panchavati during their exile.

 Located in the northern part of Nashik, Panchavati is a bustling pilgrim centre now. It is said that Nashik got its name since Laxman cut the nose of Ravan’s sister Surpanakha at Panchavati when she tried to attack Sita. According to the epic, Laxman Rekha, the sacred line, which Laxmana had drawn requesting his sister-in-law Sita not to cross it, was drawn in Panchavati. 

Moreover, many believe that pindadaan or immersing ashes of the dead in the River Godavari at this sacred place will give salvation to the departed soul. It is said that Ram had immersed ashes of his father Dasharath here.

It is also one of the five places in India where Kumbha Mela is held once in 12 years. Legend has it that during sagar manthan (churning of the seas), the demigods were trying to hide amrut (nector of immortality) from the demons, and accidentally spilled four drops that fell on Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik. Thus, these four places are believed to have acquired mystic powers and host the Kumbha Mela.

Another importance of this place is the sangam (union) of three rivers — Aruna, Varuna and the Godavari. While Aruna and Varuna are believed to have emerged from underneath the earth’s surface, Godavari flows on top of them. 

Having read so much about Panchavati, I was naturally curious to see the place. My journey began with a visit to Godavari Mata Temple, which is open to devotees only once in 12 years, at the time of Kumbha Mela. Many believe that sprinkling of water on the head, or taking a dip in the holy river, and a visit to the temple would fulfill their wishes and their sins would be washed away. 

My next stop was the Naroshankar Temple built by Naroshankar Rajebahaddur in 1747. The temple is built according to the ‘Maya’ style of architecture. The famous bell, called Naroshankar Bell, was installed here to mark Maratha ruler Bajirao Peshwa’s younger brother Chimaji Appa’s victory by capturing the Vasai Fort from the Portuguese. 

Later, I visited a temple with an interesting past. Located in front of Ram Kund is the 250-year-old Shiva temple called Kapaleshwar Mandir. The unique feature of the temple is that the Nandi is not placed in front of the Shivalinga.

 The mythological belief is that Lord Shiva incurred a curse of Brahma Hatya for cutting off Lord Brahma’s fifth head. Shiva wandered the whole universe and tried every possible penance to get rid of this sin, but his attempts went in vain. Then Nandi advised him to take a holy bath in River Godavari and he was purified. Because of this, Lord Shiva adopted Nandi as his guru and hence his idol is not placed in front of the Shivalinga. 

Another must-visit place in this pilgrim town is Kalarama Temple, which is named so as it was built by the Peshwas in black stone. The main deities Lord Ram, Sita and Laxman are carved out of black stone and festooned with knick-knacks. The 70-foot-high temple took 12 years to complete.

The stones for the temple were brought from Ramshej and it is said 32 tonnes of gold was used inside the temple. The entry of Harijans into the temple became a reality following a satyagraha by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar in 1930. There are 14 steps to reach the temple door to indicate Rama spent 14 years in exile. All three gates of this temple have exactly 14 steps. 

I ended my holy trip at Trimbakeshwar, home to one of the 12 jyotirlingas, which is just 28 km from Nashik. The speciality of the temple is that it has three faces embodying Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Maheshwara. These days, devotees are not allowed to go down and touch the linga, as it has started eroding due to the excessive use of water.

 The lingas are covered by a jewelled crown, which is placed over the gold mask of Tridev. The crown is displayed every Monday from 4 pm to 5 pm. There is also a replica of the linga outside the temple for devotees to see. Panchavati is definitely worth a visit.

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