Severe droughts in Maharashtra led to a surprise discovery of beautiful temples on the Godavari basin that give a fascinating account of the region's history.
A little story in the local news paper about old temples on the Godavari river bed that emerged due to the severe drought in Maharashtra took me to Chandori, a small town about 40 kms from Nashik. Located on State Highway 30 towards Aurangabad, Chandori is a small quaint town on the banks of Godavari. Locals say it derives its name from the Marathi word “Chandrakor” which means the sickle shaped moon seen on 5th or 6th day of the waning/waxing phase. The Godavari bends slightly like the moon curve and hence the name “Chandori”. It wasn’t very difficult to find the village and once I reached the place, we asked the locals how we could reach the rediscovered temples in the river. It was a small winding road that took us to the river banks. Chandori is quite small, with its main road just big enough to pass one car at a time. Both sides of the lanes are dotted with houses built in the past century, some of them being in the typical vadastyle timber construction ubiquitous to Maharashtra.
The sight at the banks of Godavari was nothing short of mesmerizing. The river bed had dried up and as I started walking along the bed, I discovered numerous Shivalingas of various sizes made in local basaltic rock strewn across the bed. We spotted a couple of idols of Saptashringi Devi too. Most murtis and lingams were crafted from local basaltic stone but there were a few in marble too. It is said that the river changed its course when a dam was built in the early 1900s on the upstream side and as a result, the temples started getting submerged due to the increased water level. The temples have sporadically emerged in the past as well, 1936 and 1982 to be specific.
The first temple I saw was a majestic structure built in the Hemadpanthistyle with typical ornate carvings on its shikhara (dome). The villagers had cleaned up the temple though the Nandi in front of the temple was still partially buried in the river silt. The architecture of the main garbagriha is reminiscent of the Yadava architecture prevalent in the 11th to 13th century while the entrance portion resembles the Maratha architecture which has Islamic influence. The pillars at the entrance and the canopies show such influence. The garbagriha is small, of about 3x3m in size and the surrounding walls have carvings of female goddesses and other murtiswhose facial features are either eroded or may have been deliberately broken.
As we walk from the first temple to the next, there is a recognizable Ghat on the right side. The steps are well shaped and mostly still in place. There were a few locals who were repairing the plinth portion of one of the temples and they mentioned that the Ghat was built in the 1800s by the Marathas. The road leading to the river, also built in the 1800s, is still in good condition and surprisingly walkable, without any large undulations that one might expect of a road that was built 300 yrs ago and has been under water for almost a century. The Ghat has circular end columns which have small openings on the river side. These openings have Shivalingas and Nandis placed in it.
The remaining five temples are similar in architecture. They are built in the Hemadpanthi style but the shikharas of two of them have prominent dome shapes, similar to a mosque. The dome from within is flat with a lotus carved on it. There is a small circular iron ring attached in the middle for hanging a kalash over the pindi. Being a civil engineer by profession, I instinctively tried to gauge the extent of corrosion of that small ring and realized that the steel had hardly reduced in size. Compared to modern day steel, which would have crumbled by now due to exposure to water, the small steel ring seemed to be strong and intact. All the smaller temples are of Shiva, with the beautiful and devoted Nandi outside. Some of the Lingams have the Pindi in typical Basalt stone while the Lingam is of Shaligram, a smooth shining stone. A few of the Nandis outside the temples have broken faces.
On the banks there is a Khandoba temple, which is popular amongst the close-by residents. It appears to be a recent construction and gets reasonable footfall.
The striking difference in the architecture styles of the temples is food for thought. In absence of historical data, there are many scenarios that play out in the mind. The presence of multiple Lingams on a stretch of 500-700m clearly indicates that this place was of significant importance for the devout Hindu but somewhere down the line, people abandoned it. Locals say bhakts and yatris to Nasik would come from far off places to the Ghat to offer prayers to the river. Maybe the majestic Hemadpanthi temple built during the time of the Yadavas was destroyed during the Mughal invasion. Chandori is right along the road to Aurangabad, where the Mughals ruled for almost 300 years in the interim, before the Marathas regained this territory. It is most likely that the Marathas rebuilt the temples but due to their lack of familiarity with the Hemadpanthi architecture, the temples lack in the very ornate carvings and stellate roofs that the original Yadava temples are known for.
The quiet beauty of the temples of Chandori and the devotion of the locals is indeed remarkable. These temples must have had a lot of muck and dirt in them when the Godavari waters first started drying up this year. The locals have taken up on themselves to clean the river bed and light the jyotin the temples again. There is no mention of these temples in the Archeological Survey of India and when the locals approached it for help in cleaning these majestic ruins, they were simply asked to stay away from the temples. But the faith of the locals prevailed and they are doing a great job restoring the temples wherever possible. At times when I lose hope for the Hindu Dharma such incidents give immense satisfaction.
OM NAMHA SHIVAY