Ancient architecture in India is very rich in heritage. Structures as ancient as the 11th Century is truly unique! Ambernath Shiv Temple may have been a little dilapidated to withstand historical climatic onslaught in the last 10 Centuries, but the marvel still stands like a true testament of extraordinary architectural endeavour.
The Ambernath Shiv Temple was built during the 1060 AD in classical style by Chittaraja, King of Shi’erahala. Later on, the work was completed his son Mumunni. The temple is truly an out-of-this-world marvel, because it was built by carving a single large boulder.
The architecture of this temple is Hemadpanti style. The carvings of the outer wall are using black rock and are very exquisite.
As per UNESCO records, the first-ever photos of the temple was taken by a British named Henry Cousens. Around 1850, the then director of the ASI – Archaeological Survey of India had also taken photos of the temple. The dilapidated state was visible in these photographs. Needless to say, trees grew on the walls of the temple. The ASI carried out detailed documentation as one of its pilot projects. The temple was rediscovered by the people, having lost for nearly 800 years.
Each year, during Shivratri (Lord Shiva’s marriage to Goddess Parvati) devotees flock to Ambernath in millions. The small suburban town of Ambernath becomes the centre of attention of Indians as well as many foreigners.
History speaks about King Shilahara as a vassal of Rashtrakutas in the Konkan region. Towards the south, the mighty Kingdom of Chalukya was renowned. The temple is only a few miles away from the ancient trade route. The route leads to the Deccan Plateau. The structure’s arrangement is in a cross shape indicating an interesting fusion of architectural styles. The influence and characteristics of the Chalukyan kingdom is very much evident.
Above ground, the temple structure is up to 21 meters high. Nandi, the guardian of the main entrance to every Shiv temple is omnipresent. Interestingly, there are the two Nandis from the west porch. The two other porticoes are on the north side and the east side.
The structure’s outer wall is carved with various sculptures. The most unique sculptures are of Hari-Hara-Pitamaha-Surya. It decorates the east wall as the centre of the temple. They represent together as Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma and Surya.
Surrounded by four pillars, the Sabhagruha has a raised central altar and a carved Trabeate dome surmounted it. In total, 14 columns of decorative Ghatakam and detailed Dhaarvahakas (load-bearing supports) decorate the Sabhagruha. While the ceiling rises to 14 feet, the height of the pillars ranges from 10 to 12 feet.
It is interesting to note that the sanctum sanctorum (Garbhagruha) is an underground room, where two Shiva Lingas have been built. The depth of the underground area can be gauged by the 20 steps down from the top as a little more than 10 feet. From outside, the temple looks solid and is an orderly square, with a roof high above it.
The exterior wall have been sculpted on the stepped and faceted for identification. In total, nearly 250 elephants called ‘Gaj-thar’ cover the temple. The upstairs houses around 70 Shrungara sculpture Muthuna.
Indian mythology believes that the temple was built by the Pandavas during their exile period. Ambernath Shiv Temple is the oldest temple in India. Ambernath suburb is 60 km away from Mumbai city by local train.
The historic 11th Century Ambernath Shiv Temple is now a UNESCO heritage structure. The temple is also known as Ambreshwar Shiva Temple. Locally, it is popular as Puratana Shivalaya. The ruins of the temple still speak about great Indian architecture.
The ASI – Archaeological Survey of India has completely transformed the temple premise with beautiful landscaping and keeping the area restricted as a tourist place to safeguard the ancient beauty.
Apart from spectacular Indian architecture, Ambernath Shiv Temple is also an engineering marvel for being a jointless structural beauty!
Image Courtesy: Johnny D