Devotees know it as Jungle Vithoba temple. Named after a wild forest on the banks of the Musi, the temple’s gopuram soars into the sky with a tapering saffron flag fluttering in the wind. You can easily miss it on the road that runs parallel to Musi near Gowliguda but for the shikaram/gopuram.
In the evening, as the bhajan mandali troupes in almost every day, the clanging of cymbals and the soaring ‘Vitthala, Vitthala, Panduranga Vitthala’ echo through the streets as children emerge to play on the road.
Alas, the jungle after which the temple is named no longer exists. Now reduced to a traffic island, albeit a large one at that.
“All this was jungle and belonged to this temple. Even the Mahatma Gandhi Bus Station was built on this temple’s land,” says a devotee waiting for the temple doors to open for evening prayers.
In front of the temple, with a road running by, is a small Hanuman temple, also a part of the temple complex. Parked yards away is the rath or chariot on which the presiding deity of the temple is taken around the area in procession for Brahmotsavam on Shudh Ekadasi.
“This was a wild forest area where mendicants would stop to smoke hookah, cook, eat and go. One day, one of the soldiers of Nizam met one of those sadhus and spoke about how he was without children. The sadhu suggested that he build a temple for Pandharinath Vitthala to get his wish fulfilled. The soldier was reluctant. The sadhu told him not to believe him but to just make a sankalp (promise) about the temple for Vitthala and execute the promise only if his wish was fulfilled. Within two years, the soldier had a son and he donated the piece of land for building the temple,” says Raju Maharaj, the sixth generation temple priest, who carries out the rituals and leads prayers every day at the temple.
“In the middle of the small forested area, the temple came up more than 150 years ago. Some believe the temple was built by Singam Rajiah. It was nestled in a forested area as the Musi flows close by. Just over the last 15-20 years all these big buildings have come up,” says Surya Maharaj, hailing from a family of priests.
The family of priests traces its descent from Ramacharya who came from Paithan near Sant Eknath’s birthplace. Not surprisingly, the area has a fair sprinkling of Mahrashtrian families who speak Marathi at home and Telugu, Hindi and English outside. Nearby, is the Vivek Vardhani Girls School.
What sets apart the temple is the architectural style of the shikaram. It is a replica of the famed shikaram of Pandharpur right down to the detailing and style.
“There was a smaller temple here with thick walls and it could not accommodate enough devotees so we built a new temple keeping the inner sanctorum intact. We wanted to replicate the temple of Pandharpur exactly. But once the artisans from Tamil Nadu started working on it we realised that the temple will be dwarfed by the buildings around it. We changed the plan a little to ensure that the shikaram soars above the neighbouring buildings,” says Raju Maharaj.
The area comes alive during the Brahmotsavam with the chariot being wheeled around the area to the sound of drums, pipes and cymbals. Steering the chariot with just wheels in the small bylanes of the area near Sultan Bazar is a skilled task which is done by a family of charioteers. “They use wooden sticks to turn the chariot which requires quite some skill,” says Surya Maharaj. But when the chariot wends its way through the narrow lanes, with devotees singing, clapping and chanting bhajans, it is easy to forget that the Jungle Vithoba temple is in the midst of a concrete jungle and not a forested one.
Courtesy The Hindu