Khandoba is one of the most famous deities of Maharashtra. Out of many temple, the one in Jejuri is well-known pilgrimage for his devotees. Jejuri is situated on a 758-meter high hillock about 80 kilometers away from Pune in Purandar taluka. The temple here is a huge complex with the shrines of various deities, including of course that of Khandoba. The hilltop on which the temple stands is called Jejurigad and its history can be dated back to 1688 when it was included in the fiefdom of Manaji Shankar Nilkantharao along with Shikali, Chamili and Narayanapur. It was the Maratha ruler, Shahu Maharaj, who being an ardent devotee of Khandoba, had asked Bajirao Peshwa to construct a huge tank (37 acres) at Jejuri for the benefit of the devotees. This circular tank is ringed by a massive stone wall and is named after Bajirao. On arrival at the base of the fort, devotees have to climb around 360 steps which are aligned with around 150 randomly placed ancient lamp towers known as “Deepmalas”. The northern gate of the fort is known as “Nagarkhana” meaning the musical gallery. After entering there is the huge brass tortoise with a diameter of 3 meters is located is also used as a ‘rangashila’ – a stage for performances like dances. There is also a large sword popularly known as ‘khaandaa’ which is more than a meter long and three centimeters wide. As per the ritual, devotees go around the temple chanting ‘Yelkot Yelkot Jaya Malhara’.
We started climbing the fort at around 4 in the morning. It took us 20-25 minutes to reach the main gate “nagarkhana”. We were handed the tiny jute bags filled with turmeric powder. Being among the first few to enter the temple I could watch this historic-328 years old temple (as dated) entirely crowd free.
This gave me access to check out the fort and the temple in the most calm and peaceful way. We were asked to sit at the huge brass tortoise in the front of the temple, waiting for them to open the doors of garbhagriha. After we were in the temple and our prayers were done, we came out for witnessing the epic sunrise. With every passing minute as the sun was rising, either it be from above the townscape or from the huge walls of the forts every single moment was worth watching and capturing.
The turmeric or also known as “bhandara” for the devotees was all over the places. The floors, the roofs, the walls, the temple’s dome, on everyone’s body, our clothes were yellow stained, our hair, literally everywhere.
There were also the murtis of lord ganesha, maruti and different goddess. The huge rock of Goddess Mhalsa is kept under the proper shade as mentioned in the story. The tiny shrine of Bano, the second wife of Khandoba can be found while descending the hill fort. The famous Khadga (The sword) of Khandoba is also kept in a glass enclosure.
The architecture of the fort was something I was interested in. The temple was built in common Hindu architecture style but the influence of Mughal architecture was seen in the corridors of the fort premises, the passages, the arches and even the outer surface of the dome of the temple.
There were also the tall “deepstambha” similar to the “deepmalas”. The chhatris or window arches of the fort overlooked the entire town and had the best of the views. The oldest record of the temple stated its existence from 1688, which made the temple centuries old and that was enough to give me chills. The statues and tiny carved stone shrines gave the approval its ancient existence.
To be on the same stone floors where once the great kings and queens stood and where the proud and egoistic Aurangzeb was brought down to his knees, making him bow down in the front of the great “Khandoba” and if the legends were to be believed, the great god and his justice is still very much alive on the land where he once ruled, was something very fascinating for me.
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