Bhimashankar Temple is one of three Jyotirlinga temples in Maharastra. I had visited it a long time back when I was doing my internship in Pune. We went there for trekking more than to the temple visit. But today what I remember is the temple and the river close to it.
Maharashtra is blessed with several ancient temples that are mentioned in various Indian scriptures. Some of them are popular pilgrim places like Mahalakshmi Temple at Kolhapur, Tuljapur Bhavani, Panchvati at Nashik, Grishneshwar, and Ashta Vinayak.
Bhimashankar is one of the most ancient temples not just in Maharashtra but in India. It is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas spread across the sacred geography of India. Come with me to visit its legends, history, and its landscape.
Where is Bhimashankar Temple located?
Bhimashankar Temple is located close to Pune, about 110 KMs away and about 50 KMs from Khed taluka. Geographically speaking, it is in the lap of western ghats in the hill range called Sahayadri hills. Bhimashankar is also the place of origin of the river Bhima, which merges with the river Krishna downstream, and finally merges in the Bay of Bengal. Bhima river is also known as Chandrabhaga.
Being in the western ghats and it is quite a hike that one has to ascend. With dense forests all around it’s a lovely walk through nature. However, be aware of the wild animals around. Trek to Bhimashankar is quite popular with youngsters. It includes a long walk around the plateaus, climbing slimy rocks, and old worn-off ladders. During the monsoons, be ready to encounter the dense fog and nature covered in mystical mist.
There are 12 Jyotirlingas spread across the sacred geography of India. A shloka by Adi Shankaracharya puts them all in one place and tells about each of their locations. It says ‘Dakinyam Bhimashankaram’ for this Jyotirlinga at the origin of the Bhima River. Maharashtra is blessed with three of the 12 Jyotirlingas, representing the self-manifested form of Shiva. The other two are Trambakeshwar at Nashik near the origin of the river Godavari and Grishneshwar near Velur or Ellora as we now know it.
The most popular legend connects the temple with Tripurasur. This asura became too powerful and was threatening the peace on all the three Lokas. It is believed that Tripurasur was killed by Shiva here. After killing when Shiva sat down, his sweat flowed down and became the Bhima River.
Another story goes that an Asura named Bhima stayed in the forest around Bhimashankar. He was the son of Kumbakaran, brother of Ravana – the famous king of Sri Lanka and Karkati. When he learned that his father has been killed in the war between Sri Ram and Ravana, he was furious and wanted revenge.
He did severe penance to impress Lord Brahma for several years. Looking at his dedication, Brahma fulfilled his wish of being the strongest among the men. He started his campaign by defeating Indra, the king of Devas. Then, he defeated Kamrupeshwar or King Priyadharman who was an ardent devotee of Shiva. Even when imprisoned the king continued worshiping Shiva in the form of a Shivalinga.
Bhima wanted the prisoner to worship him. But when he did not listen, he picked up the sword to strike the linga. Just then, Shiva appeared from the Linga and a fierce battle broke between them. Shiva defeated Bhima by turning him into ashes. All the devatas then pleaded with Shiva to stay back at the same place. This is where the Bhimashankar temple is located today, surrounded by beautiful mountains all around.
The place is also the abode of Shakini & Dakini.
Bimashankara is believed to be in the shape of a chariot and hence also called Rathachala.
A recent legend of the temple places a large bell with a carving of Jesus and Mary just outside the temple. The year 1712 AD is inscribed on it. It was presented to the temple by Chimaji Appa, the brother of Peshwa Bajirao I and uncle of Nadasaheb Peshwa. He collected 5 such huge bells from the Portuguese ruled Vasai fort after a victory over them in a war. He offered them to 5 different Shiva temples and one bell came to this temple.
The architecture of Bhimashankar Temple
Bhimashankar is built in the north Indian Nagara style of architecture. It has the elements of the Hemadpanthi architecture style of Deccan. The main temple is small and dates back to the 13th CE. The Sabha Mandapa, Gopura, and Shikhara were built in the 18th century by Nana Phadanavis. Shivaji Maharaj also contributed to this temple through endowments. Many Saints like Sant Gyaneshwar have visited the temple during their times.
Typical temple architectural elements like the Garbhagriha, Mandapa, Ardhamandapa, Shikhara can be seen in this temple. Swayambhu or self manifest Shivalinga sits at the center of the Garbhagriha. You can safely assume that the temple has come up around it.
You can see sculptures on the walls and door jambs of the temple.
A small temple connected with Shani or Saturn called Shanishwara is on the premises.
Like any ancient pilgrimage place, Bhimashankar also has a series of water bodies called Tirthas, which are sacred. It is believed that Rishi Kaushika mediated here besides the Mokshakunda Tirtha. There is Kusharanya Tirtha from where the Bhima river originates. Then there is Jayakund, Hanuman Kund, and Sarva Tirtha. The presence of so many temples and Tirthas establishes it as an ancient pilgrimage place.
Like all Shiva temples, a lot of people visit this temple on Mondays and on Shivaratri. Rudrabhishek is performed here at the temple along with the regular Abhishek of the Shivalinga.
Bhimashankar Wildlife Reserve
The area around the temple is a 130 sq km reserved forest area that was declared a wildlife reserve in 1985. Officially it is called Shi Bhimashankar Jyotirlinga wildlife reserve. It is home to the Giant squirrel, the state animal of Maharashtra, known as Shekru in the local language Marathi. UNESCO World Heritage site the Western Ghats are diverse bio-diversity hot spots. You can see a lot of wild animals and birds like Leopards, Deer, Sambar, Jackals, Monkeys, and a variety of butterflies in the wildlife reserve.
There are various sacred groves in this area, which have helped maintain the bio-diversity of the area.
Other places around the temple include the origin of the river Bhima, Gupt Bhimashankar, Bhorgiri fort, Nag Phani, Bombay Point, and a temple dedicated to Sakshi Vinayak.
Kamalaja Devi temple there reminds us of nature worship.
How to reach
- The temple can be approached from Mumbai or Pune via public or private road transportation.
- You can stay at the local Dharamshala. But you have to make prior arrangements with the priests.
- Open from 5 AM to about 8 PM.
- Winters are the best time to visit the temple as the weather is pleasant. Avoid peak summer times. Definitely not recommended during the monsoons.