The Ambarnath temple a forlorn jewel


India has too many great temples. Architectural genius has been recklessly expended out over the years. The Ambarnath temple, so close to Mumbai, {in Thane district and at the end of the old central line of the local trains,} is completely neglected. What other explanation can there be? In another country this would have been a center piece of tourism. With Elephanta close to the city and Ajanta Ellora taking up all the press, this temple, which rivals anything Mount Abu could offer, sits glumly next to a polluted stream. Perhaps that is also good, the ubiquitous crowds of India are mercifully absent. But it is still regretful…


silhara ambarnath temple


One goes down into the garba griha to worship the lingam, the usual story perhaps of svyamabhu – self manifest – lingams having temples constructed around them. It also feels a bit like Pataleshwar cave temple in Pune city, so the descent into the earth was perhaps part of the design and was based on tattva shuddi considerations. It is a lingam in worship, but that is about all that can really be said about it. It is for aesthetic and cultural reasons that one comes not spiritual ones. This temple in the hollow beside a hill with a stream flowing by is an ancient template in the Agama Shastras the texts for building so this is very classical indeed. Built in the Golden Age of mythological Hinduism, 1060 CE, when the faith was riding high and invasions and destruction only a nightmare yet to arrive, it is a little marvel in soft stone.





As in most ancient temples in my state of Maharashtra it is neither purely Northern style nor Dravidan style but an eclectic and creative mix of the two. Technically it is the Hemadpanthi variant of the Vesara school of architecture named after a great patron, Prime Minister of the Devagiri kings who reigned over much of this part of India. The temple seeks to cram in as much sculpture as is humanly possible so they fluted or corrugated the outer wall, more than doubling available wall space for the classic relief sculpture of Indian temples representing the principle of Vyapta-Ayapta, manifest – unmanifest, a yogic concept that holds the universe and the gods are constantly emerging out of and merging back into primordial Consciousness. It is the reason sculptures are rarely 3 dimensional in our temples. The universe is Flux, and Time blurs everything.  The central tala or unit of measurement is also classic, humans 5 to 7, devas and so forth more than that, caryatid dwarfs and so one less than 5. In that sense this is not an experimental temple, but one that functions within well established conventions of sacred architecture.


roof shiva dance


But only the Hoyasala temples and Mount Abu can match the sheer profusion of sculpture. You have to look at it rather like entering a forest. You have to sit still and gaze, and slowly the magnificence of the detail becomes clear as the eye grows habituated to so much detail. The Kirtimukhas tucked away on an higher level, visible but not conspicuous, placed for pragmatic not aesthetic reasons are one such delightful touch and of course the famous dancing Shiva on the roof level. The myths are the standard ones, with all the gods represented, though it is natural that they give prominence to Shiva. There are many bhairavas, even a Hari-Hara, and an unusual Narasimha using a dagger to kill Hiranyakahipu not his claws! Apsaras and other fertility symbols are  up to the usual complement in such temples.


There is a really beautiful Gajasura moksha tandava panel that is unfortunately damaged now but is as good as the one in the famous Shiva temple at Ramappa near Warrangal in Andra Pradesh. The problem as I see it is that all the works here are of such uniformly high standard that they tend to be subconsciously devalued. This temple is so much better in every way than the incredibly overrated shore temple at Mahabalipuram but that gets the World Heritage status for location and visual appeal alone! Well at least it is still in worship and some rudimentary repairs have been done – that is more than most ancient temples get today. But such a jewel… and such neglect…


Sarvam Shivamayam!!



Rohit Arya is an Author, Yogi and Polymath, being a writer, a corporate trainer, a mythologist and a vibrant speaker.  He has written the first book on Vaastu to be published in the West, {translated into five European languages} the first book on Tarot to be published in India, co-authored a book on fire sacrifice, and is the creator of The Sacred India Tarot {82 card deck and book}. He was the Editor of The Leadership Review, and on the advisory panel of, the first spiritual portal in the country. Currently he is the Director of Pro-Factor, a leadership and change facilitation corporate training outfit. He has been an arts critic and socio-cultural commentator for over two decades. Rohit is also a Lineage Master in the Eight Spiritual Breaths system of Yoga. He founded the Arya Yoga Sangha and leads multiple meditation circles each week.


The videos of his talks on various subjects can be found here


His blogs can be accessed here


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