Kolhapur Sri Ambabai Mahalakshmi Temple Story:
It is said that Man created God in his own image. How true! Man has attributed all the features of the human body to the Gods and Goddesses. He has also gone further to attribute several other characteristics to the divinities that are not found in human beings. It is fascinating to learn how Man created idols and statues of Gods and Goddesses. It is a process that started from a belief in Shakti (infinite energy) and culminated in idol worship that conferred various forms to that infinite energy.
In the early days, this Shakti was witnessed in the form of five basic elements of Prithvi (earth), Aap (water), Tej (light), Vayu (wind), and Akash (space). When Man pondered over his birth and the person responsible for it, he realized that mother is at the root of the genesis, and it is she who embodies the Shakti. He aspired to give a finite structure to the infinite energy. In the process, he first named that finite structure as Matruka (representation of energy in the form of a divine mother). Then he granted a shape to the Matruka. The earliest form was of Pashan or Tandula (stone) and Varula (ant hill).
The main places where such Mahamatruka (the great divine mother) were established came to be known as Mahamantrukasthan (abode of the great divine mother). Such sites were discovered all over India. In Maharashtra, they were identified in Kolhapur, Tuljapur, Mahur and Vani. All four were thus called the Shaktipeeths (seat of the Goddesses that embodies energy). These places then became popular as pilgrimage sites.
The finite form of the Goddess was further refined by Man. The birth of the universe and in turn his own birth had intrigued him. He wished to give a better representation to the Shakti. Therefore the mere stone representation was improvised to the form of Lajjagauri (female figure with a prominent womb). Lajjagauri was initially a two-dimensional figure.
As years passed Shakti which was represented by Paravati and Durga was also manifested in three different forms namely Mahalakshmi, Mahakali and Mahasaraswati. “The framing narrative of Devi Mahatmya Presents a dispossessed king, a merchant betrayed by his family, and a sage whose teachings lead them both beyond existential suffering. The sage instructs by recounting three different epic battles between the Devi (Goddess) and various demonic adversaries the three tales being governed by, respectively, Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Maha Saraswati. Goddess Maha Lakshmi is the presiding Goddess of the middle episode. Here she is depicted as Devi in her universal form as Shakti. The world was under attack by Mahishasura the most evil demon in the world, who took many different forms, including that of a buffalo. The male Gods, fearing total annihilation endowed Durga with their powers. The Goddess is described as eighteen- armed bearing string of beads, battle axe, maze, arrow, thunderbolt, lotus, bow, water-pot, cudgel, lance, sword, shield, conch, bell, wine-cup, trident, noose and the discus sudarsana. She has a complexion of coral and is seated on a lotus. She is known as Ashta Dasa Bhuja Mahalakshmi. Riding a lion into battle, she slew the buffalo by cutting off its head and then she destroyed the spirit of the demon as it emerged from the buffalo’s severed neck. It is through this act that order was established in the world”. Eventually, the above-mentioned description of Goddess Mahalakshmi was manifested in the form of idols. The evolution was gradual. The two-dimensional concept of Lajjagauri developed into a three-dimensional form when the art of idol-making was initiated. Thus the statues of Goddesses in various avatars of Durga were created.
From 500 B.C. to 300 A. D. Buddhism and Jainism had a major influence on the Indian population. This was the era when cave architecture, cave paintings and cave sculptures flourished. Monks, merchants and travelers in that era preferred the safety of the caves, which were pre-dominantly on hills and mountains to protect themselves from wild beasts and other natural forces. It was during the Buddhist period that idol-making saw the light of the day. Yet not many temples were found in those times. Later as human settlements mushroomed rapidly along rivers and seaside, Vedic culture was given a boost by the political heads of that era and temples came into being.
From the 2nd to 5th century A. D. foreign rulers like Shaka, Kshatrap and Nag Dynasty held sway in some parts of India. These forces were destroyed by Kings Samudragupta, Chandragupta II Vikramaditya, Kumargupta, and Skandhgupta of the Gupta Dynasty. In fact, King Shrigupta married a lady from Lichchavi Dynasty and kicked off the Gupta Rule in India. Further on Vikramaditya defeated the foreign rulers like Shaka and Kshatrap to establish local independent rule. This change in political leadership revived the Vedic culture. India by then was united under one political head who revered Lord Vishnu. This era that lasted from 300 to 500 A. D. saw the dawn and rise of the Bhagwat Cult in India. This Cult entails the worship of Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi. This was also the phase when temples began to be contracted in India.
The Vedic culture encouraged religious literature and the establishment of pilgrimage sites Through the religious literature we can understand the form Of Mahalakshmi as it is seen today Legend says that Gods and demons churned the ocean and certain jewels were born. Lakshmi was one among them. As soon as she emerged she became the consort of Lord Vishnu who is one of the three Gods that form the Holy Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh). This Goddess with unparallel beauty was a female representation of Universal wealth. Eight forms of Goddesses dwell within her, Dhanalakshmi (provides wealth), Dhaanyalakshim (provides crops), Dhairyalakshmji (provides courage), Shauryalakshmi (provides valour), Kirtilakshmi (provides fame), Vinayalakshmi (instills modesty), Raajyalakshmi (provides kingdom) and Santaanlakshmi (provides children). She signifies property, happiness, radiance and fame.
It is believed that the first mention of Goddess Mahalakshmi was found in 250 B. C., and the first form of Goddess Mahalakshmi is that of Gajalakshmi, Lakshmi bedecked with jewelry seated on a lotus and flanked by two white elephants, seen on stupas constructed by Emperor Ashoka in Sanchi and Bodh Gaya. Some scholars opine that his form was derived from figures of Goddess Mayavati in Buddhist caves and figures of Goddess Padmavati in Jain caves and temples that come into being in the 1st century A.D.
The Gupta kings, known to be devotees of Vishnu and Lakshmi have depicted Lakshmi on their coins in various poses. Several coins of this era show Lakshmi and Garud (the eagle which is Vishnu’s vehicle), Lakshmi bedecked with jewellery astride a lion, Lakshmi astride a peacock, Lakshmi seated on an expanded lotus, Lakshmi seated on a throne etc. The Gupta Dynasty accepted Lakshmi in the form of Raajlakshmi (who blesses the kingdom) and Vaibhavlakshmi (who brings about prosperity). One of the descriptions of the coin states, “Halo around the goddess’s head, her pearl diadem, ear-pendants, necklace, bangles & armlets clearly to be seen, she holds noose in her extended r. hand and lotus seat prominent, Symbol on the legend are partly damaged”.
After the Gupta Kings, Goddess Mahalakshmi received royal patronage in Chalukya, Rashtrakuta, Shilahara, and Yadava Dynasties. Goddess Mahalakshmi was consecrated in various temples during the 4th and 5th century A.D. The temple of Goddess Mahalakshmi in Kolhapur which was first constructed in the Chalukya Era has an idol of the deity that has been sculpted with four arms, wearing a saree in Karnataka style. The worship of Mahalakshmi continued over several centuries. Swami Chakradhar of the Mahanubhav Sect wandered all over India in 12th Century A.D. In his notes, he mentions that there were 27 temples of Mahalakshmi in that era. The idols in these temples seem to be of the same style as that found in Kolhapur. It was in this epoch that temples of Mahalakshmi were built in Anhilwada in Gujarat, In Dogadvallis in Karnataka and Anantpur in Telangana. King Kadamba of Goa also worshipped Goddess Mahalakshmi.
In several inscriptions, names like Ramaa, Bhavani and Lakshmi have been used for Mahalakshmi. A stone inscription dated 24 December 1049 found in Shirur Taluka in Maharashtra mentions that the grants were given by King Marasingh Prabhu descendent of Prabhu Rajaverman, Devotee of Goddess Mahalakshmi of Kolhapur. The inscription describes Goddess Mahalakshmi of Kolhapur as Sinhavahini (Goddess astride a lion) and Rudraardhangotsanga Nivasini, (Shiva’s consort).” Little wonder that Goddess Mahalakshmi is considered as the second avatar of Durga.
Temples Inside Kolhapur Mahalakshmi Temple:
Over the sanctum sanctorum rises a superstructure. It has an “upper temple” that houses an icon of Ganapati with a decorated stone frame behind the idol sporting a Kirtimukh in the centre. In front of the Ganapati Idol is a rectangular Shivalinga better known as Matulinga (Shivalinga atop the Goddess idol) and outside this chamber lies a bull, the vehicle of God Shiva. A staircase to the left of Goddess Mahalakshmi’s shrine leads to this story of the temple.
It is said that the Matulinga was installed during the Yadava Period in the 12th century as the devotees are not able to see the Shivalinga that is carved on the crown of Goddess Mahalakshmi since it remains covered. With the installation of Matuling devotees could worship it as the supreme form of genesis.
Two Additional Shrines:
King Gandaraditya, also of the Shilahara Dynasty, embellished and completed the construction of the Kolhapur temple of Goddess Mahalakshmi in the 11th century A.D. He built the path on which the circumambulation is done around Goddess Mahalakshmi. He also added two sancta Sanctorum where Goddess Mahakali and Mahasaraswati were consecrated. On the left side of the main shrine is the temple of Mahasaraswati and on the right is the Mahakali temple. This temple houses the Shree Yantra (geometrical depiction of the Goddess) and in one niche in the wall lies and idol of Ganapati.
First Archway Or The Main Shrine’s Doorway:
A few feet from this archway in the sanctum lies another arch-like gateway made up of black stone which is considered to be the manifestation of Shiva and Shakti. The weight of the entire temple rests on this framework. Lalat Bindu, which is the centre point of the frame has the Ganesh idol installed on it. This part is usually called the Ganesh pattika, the plinth molding of the rectangular cross-sections having a Ganesh depiction. Three consecutive frames are found along with this plinth moulding. The door jambs have sculpted designs on them.
Darshan And Kurma Mandap:
The first mandap or hall called Rangamandap starts from the place where the first archway is built and is octagonal in shape. This part of the temple is divided into two. The part immediately after the first archway was traditionally called Darshan Mandap as from there the idol of the Goddess can be viewed at the closest (Darshan = view, mandap=hall). The ceiling of this hall is made up of octagonal layers.
Then comes another hall called Kurma Mandap. It is called so as it has a Kurma (tortoise) installed in the centre. This Mandap is now called Shankha Tirtha Mandap because the holy water called Tirtha is sprinkled on the devotees from the Shankha (conch) in this hall. The ceiling of this hall is intricately carved. Both halls have several pillars with sculpted patterns. For this, black Kaddapah stone, Basalt, and Karnataka stones were used.
These halls have a stone archway almost similar to the earlier one that leads to the Ganapati Chowk. However, this archway has decorative grilled screen walls on both sides. Next to these screens are two idols of Dwarpals (the doorkeepers), called Jay and Vijay on either side. The legend states that Jay-Vijay built the temple of Mahalakshmi in one night. To justify this, images of spade and hoe are found close to the doorkeepers.
This hall is third from the sanctum sanctorum. It has a Ganapati Shrine in the centre. To either side of the shrine are statues of Sage Agasti and his wife Lopamudra. On the outer side of the northern wall of this hall is a beautiful sculpture of Uma Maheshwar (God Shiva with Goddess Paravati) and a statue of Sri Venkatesh as well as an idol of Goddess Katyayani in a niche in the East. Kurma Mandap and Ganpati Chowk were built by King Singhan of the Yadava Dynasty.
The part of the temple from the sanctum sanctorum of Goddess Mahalakshmi up to Ganapati Chowk is made up of black stone. There is a sharp contrast in the construction of the temple till the Ganapati Chowk and the part thereafter which was constructed in wood during the Maratha reign.
The outermost hall which is called Garud Mandap was added during the administration of Daji Pandit between 1838 and 184318. Daji Krishna Pandit was placed at the head of the regency of Kolhapur by Mr. Townsend, the Political Agent of Southern Maratha Country during the British rule in India and Shortly after he was made sole minister of the State after the death of Shahaji Chhatrapati also called Baba Saheb Maharaja.
Outer Side Of The Main Temple:
The outside of the three sancta is embellished with exquisite carvings. Besides the geometrical and floral patterns, there are niches all along the wall. Each niche has beautiful sculptures of Surasundaris (musician ladies) and dancing Apsaras19 popularly called Chaushastha (for64) Yoginis20.
Spires And Demos:
The five spires and demos of this temple are said to have been added by Shankaracharya of Sankeshvar (1879-1967). An aerial view shows that they form a cross. There is one dome in the center and four others that lie in four cardinal directions North, South, East and West. Under the tallest dome on the east lies the sanctum of Goddess Mahalakshmi. Below the one in the center is the hall called Kurma Mandap and under the one on the west side is a small Ganapati temple and a hall called Ganapati Chowk. On the north and south are two domes having below them respectively Goddess Mahakali and Mahasaraswati’s sancta.
As all five domes are built in relatively recent times the structure of the domes is a modern one which has a triangular step-like shape. They are currently cream-colored with orange and yellow spires.
These domes and spires can be accessed from the superstructure of the upper temple.
Navagraha Temple (Temple Of Nine Planets):
On entering in the temple complex from the Ghati Darwaja is the Navagraha temple on the left side. In 1941, Shirmant Jahagirdar Babasaheb Ghatge got the idols of nine planets installed in this temple. On a raised stone platform there are statues of nine planets including the Sun God in his chariot, Shivalingas and Ashtabhuja Mahishasurmardini. A small open hall-like structure in front of the Navagraha temple dates back to the Yadava Period. Made of black stone it has sculptures of nine planets, Lord Vishnu reclining on the mystic serpent Shesha and Ashta Dikpal (guardians of eight directions.)
Along the southern gate called Vidyapeeth Darwaja are shrines of various gods and goddesses namely Radhakrishna, Kalbhairav, Siddhivinayak, Sinhavahini, Tuljabhavani, Lakshmi-Narayana, Annapurna, Indrasabha, Rameshwar, Narayanswami Maharaj. In the temple complex besides the main temple there are a number of other aforementioned small temples of which Navagraha and Sheshashahi temples are of special interest due to their intricate art sculptures.
A canon is located near the northern entrance which is fired on specific days. The litter of the Goddess receives one canon ball salute. This tradition was started by Queen Tarabai, daughter-in-law of the Maratha Regent Chattrapati Shivaji.
There were two ponds of holy water called Kasi and Manikarnika. The images and Veergal (the hero stones) that lined up these ponds have been removed and some of them have been placed in the Town Hall Museum. A garden has been developed in the place of Manikarnika Pond.
Sheshashahi Temple (Vishnu Temple):
On the side of the eastern entrance lies an intricately carved Sheshashahi temple, octagonal in shape. Inside the dome of this temple are two tiers of exquisite art. The topmost tier has 6 Petals of a flower and the lower tier has 16 petals of flowers sculpted on it. At the edge of the dome touching the main walls of the temple are 60 statues of Jain Tirthankaras. It is believed that this temple is of a Jain Tirthankara called Neminath. However, the sanctum has an idol of Lord Vishnu reclining on the mystic serpent Shesha.
To the north lies the Ghati Darwaja sporting a huge bell installed by Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj (1874 to 1922). On the bell is mentioned “J.W. BENSON LIM.CLOCK MAKERS, LUDGATE HILL, LONDON E.C. 1902”. The gong of the bell is heard at specific times in the day. The earlier bell is now kept in the Town Hall Museum of Kolhapur. Inscribed on this bell there is a sentence in Portuguese: AVE MARIA GRATIA DOMINUS TECUM IHS (Hail Mary full of grace! The Lord is with thee). It is believed that this bell was brought to Kolhapur by Chhatrapati Sambhaji after the battle in Goa in 1683. The inner side of this gate has a lovely sculpture of Kirtimukh. Along the northern door are the temples of Navagraha, Viththal and Rakhumai.
Boundary Wall, Entrances and The Complex:
The main temple is surrounded by an almost pentagonal-shaped stone wall which serves as the boundary of the complex. The open space between the wall and the main building is paved with stone slabs. The boundary wall has four entrances on four sides. The Mahadwar, the main entrance is on the west side of the complex. From this entrance, the idol of the Goddess is easily visible. Adjoining the Mahadwar is the Nagarkhana at an elevation. It is a wooden structure having the musical instruments of Soanai23 Chowgada24 that are played during Aarti25 time and other major occasions. It is said that these two structures along with the Kacheri (Office) were built by Shankaracharya of Shringeri who also gave donations so that the musical instruments would be played every day. Above the drum chamber is the holy kitchen where meals of the Goddess were prepared. The current kitchen is at the ground level next to the Nagarkhana.
The entrance on the eastern side called Purva Darwaja (Purva=East, Darwaja=Door) has an inscription dating back to the Maratha period of the 18th century stating that it was renovated by Army chiefs, Trimbak Dabhade26, Yashwantrao Dabhade as well as Bhairavjirao Gaikwad and Bhagwanrao Gaikwad.