The Puratan Shivalaya In Ambernath Maharashtra

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Says Dr. Kumud Kanitkar, winner of the Justice K.T. Telang Fellowship in Indology, who has created a research paper on this imposing monument near the metropolis of Mumbai for the Asiatic Society of Mumbai…

When you alight at the Ambarnath station on the Central Railway after a journey of an hour and half from Mumbai, you get into a rickshaw and ask the driver to take you to the nearby Puratana Shivalaya.  Within minutes, you are standing in front of an 11th century marvel of architecture and sculptures, which is almost a thousand years old. The Shiva temple in this small town in Maharashtra is the earliest recorded Bhumija style temple built by the Silahara dynasty, which ruled the Konkan area of Maharashtra in the 11th and 12th centuries. The most powerful king of this dynasty, Chittaraja, began the construction of this temple and his younger brother Mummuni, who became a feudatory of the famous Chalukya kings of Kalyani, completed it in 1060 AD. Historical records prove that this is the oldest existing temple built in the Bhumija style of architecture. Silahara kings were traditionally Shaivites – but the sculptures prove that they accepted other paths to spiritualism as well. The sculpture of Hari-Hara-Pitamaha-Surya in the temple complex is unique because Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma and Surya have been portrayed together in a rare sculptural masterpiece.

“The temple has many features that make it special and different. It can be said to be located at the crossroads – both geographically and culturally – presenting an aesthetic blend of many styles. It has a Chalukyan influence as well as features from Gujarat's Solanki style of architecture. The Silaharas also built the Kolhapur Ambamata temple. Both Ambernath and Ambamata temples are in worship for over a thousand years and lakhs of devotees visit them each year even today,” says Dr. Kumud Kanitkar, who completed a study of the temple under the Justice K.T. Telang Fellowship in Indology awarded by the Asiatic Society of Mumbai for 2003-04. Her research paper “Distinctive Features of the Shivalaya at Ambernath” has been published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai in 2005.

Yet, surprisingly, Dr. Kumud Kanitkar claims to have ‘no formal education in history’. She says that she has a genuine fascination of ancient monuments and has made it a mission of her life to visit as many architecturally significant monuments and temples as she can. Strangely enough, her educational background is not at all in tune with art research. She studied chemistry for her B.Sc. from Mumbai University. She did her M.Sc. and Ph.D from the University of Massachusetts, USA. She was a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Illinois, at Chicago. Though Kumud’s educational and work career is in chemistry, her love of history drove her to archeology, sculptures and their cultural importance. Because of her relentless interest in these subjects, she won the Justice K. T. Telang Fellowship in Indology awarded by the Asiatic Society of Mumbai for 2003-2004 for the study of the Ambernath Temple. “I found that the Asiatic Society possessed records of the temple’s creation through the prototype of the stone inscription in its possession. This was available because the British Governor of Bombay Presidency saved it in the famous library during the survey of monuments and temples in the 19th century. Such surveys and documentation were commissioned by the British Government in every presidency. This has turned out to be extremely fortunate because all other proof of the origin of the Ambarnath Shivalaya have been lost because of the cement layer on the front of the temple where the inscription was embedded earlier – in fact till the middle of the 19th century.

“I was so agonised at the vandalisation of this priceless inscription, that I chose the temple as the subject of my work. I was able to do a thorough research paper on this temple for the Asiatic Society of Bombay. During this research, I came across the books and research done by an Austrian Indologist Stella Kramrisch, who developed an interest in India because of Rabindranath Tagore and came to Shantiniketan, India. Over 30 years of her life, she created a vast body of research work and wrote some of the finest books on India’s temple architecture. I studied two of her books – The Hindu Temple and The Great Cave Temples of India. Now I plan to do a research paper on the life and career of this great scholar of Indology to throw deserving limelight on her work..

“In my career as a passionate archeology student, I have visited Aihole, Pattadakal, Badami, Hampi, Khajuraho, Ellora, Mahabalipuram, Rameshwar, Kanyakumari, Madurai, Shrirangam and many other temples of India. I think Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have the maximum number of ancient temples today. The north has lost many in successive invasions, which happened over the centuries.  I feel sad that few Indians know that the British rulers of India documented every ancient site to the best of their ability. They required every regional art school in the presidencies to keep drawings, maps and plans as well as documents about every monument. Few countries today possess such detailed documentation. They also documented the land, the forest and every detail about the agriculture in India. All these records help us today. Of course, India was the most developed country in their empire and this made their work interesting.”

Kumud would like as many people as possible to visit the Ambarnath temple and work for its cleaning up and conservation. “It is dirtied by the visitors though there are plans to conserve it as a national monument. People should be aware of its priceless place in our culture and help to resurrect its environs by landscaping and beautifying the surroundings. Discipline among visitors and worshippers is a must.” Since it is so near the throbbing metropolis of Mumbai, it is easy for lakhs of people to visit this temple either from Ambernath or Kalyan station on the Central Railway.

The author was Editor of Femina for 25 years. Vimla Patil is among India's senior most Journalists-Media persons. She excels in writing lifestyle pieces, women's concerns, travelogues, celebrity interviews, art-culture pieces about India. Visit her site www.vimlapatil.com