Having visited Pune on more than 20 separate occasions in the last 15 years, I find myself increasingly attached to the city. Pune has experienced tremendous growth during that time, but in the heart of the old city it remains a place where the past meets the present, and you never quite know what you may stumble across around the next corner.
The Trishund Mayureshwar Ganpati temple is a great example of this. Tucked away and almost hidden from the outside world in the bustling by-lanes of Somwar Peth, this small and beautiful temple near Kamala Nehru Hospital Chowk is well worth seeking out.
Originally built with a direct approach to the banks of the Nagzari stream, one of three inscriptions in the sanctum tells us that construction here started on 26th August 1754 by Bhimjigiri Gosavi from Dhampur (near Indore). I can only assume that there were periods of time when the building work was interrupted, as the temple wasn’t completed until 16 years later, in 1770.
The temple is constructed from Deccan stone basalt, on a high platform with a small courtyard in front. One of the most striking aspects to this temple is of course the facade. It is highly decorated with figures, animals, and mythological creatures, many of which appear to be somewhat unusual.
Of particular note is one carving of a rhinoceros, tied in iron chains with what appears to be British soldier. This has been interpreted as a depiction of the historical fact that after the battle of Plassey in 1757, the British had captured control of Bengal and Assam.
I’m not aware of the rhinoceros existing anywhere near Pune for possibly thousands of years, so this animal is most likely symbolising Assam, a cleaver suggestion on behalf of the artisan that carved this panel.
The architecture of the temple is a blend of Rajasthani, Malwa and South Indian styles. There was once a Shikhara towering above the sanctum that was lost some time ago, or perhaps it was never completed. Further interesting carvings exist at the back of the temple, access is from the left side leading to a very small courtyard in front of some modern properties.
On the back of the temple wall set into a niche is a fascinating carving that I don’t recall seeing a parallel for anywhere else in India. Whilst the scene being depicted is not unique, this style of representation I think may well be.
This is a depiction of the Lingodbhava story, when Vishnu and Brahma contested for superiority. Shiva, depicted here as the linga (although in the story he sometimes appears as a flame or pillar of light), challenged them to find his source. Vishnu assumed the form of Varaha (boar) and went searching for Shiva’s feet at the bottom, Brahma assumed the form of Hamsa (swan) and flew high above looking for the head of Shiva.
Brahma and Vishnu both failed in their quests, and returned to Lord Shiva (as a Linga). Vishnu declared that he could not find the feet of Lord Shiva, and regretted his arrogance. Brahma, however, claimed that he did see the head of Lord Shiva and as proof he got a ketaki flower, tulasi (holy basil) and a cow as witnesses.
Lord Shiva declared that it’s impossible to measure the limits of infinity. He cursed that Brahma would not have a Temple on Earth, and the ketaki flower and Tulsi should never be used for his worship. Lord Shiva also cursed the cow, its mouth would henceforth be impure as it had lied with its mouth. Today the use of ketaki flowers in Shiva worship is largely forbidden, except during Shivrati.
I expect very few people are aware of this carving at the back of the temple, so if you do visit be sure to take a look.
There’s a number of what appear to be fiberglass images of deities scattered around the edge of the temple, I presume these are usually stored inside the temple and probably used during specific festivals.
The entrance to the temple is flanked by sculptured dwarpalakas (doorkeepers), with a carving of Goddess Lakshmi with two elephants above.
This opens into a spacious hall with additional carvings, which further leads to a passage in front of the sanctum.
The original plan was to dedicate this temple to Shiva, but at some point the presiding deity became Lord Ganesha.
His image in the sanctum is a little unusual, with three trunks and six hands, and seated on a peacock. The temple name comes from this idol, ‘Tri-Shund’ means “three trunks”.
Two further inscriptions exist here. The first is in Sanskrit and gives a verse from the Bhagavad Gita. The second inscription, which is in Persian, informs that a temple of Gurudevadatta was constructed.
I have read reports that the temple also has a basement, side doors appeared to lead somewhere but they were locked during my visit. The basement is thought to have originally been used as a school for ascetics, who practised the tantric form of Hinduism.
In the basement is a Samadhi (memorial) of Gosavi (a prominent saint of the Hindu Ganapatya sect), but for most of the year this space is significantly flooded. On Guru Purnima day (July) the basement is cleared and drained, so people can pay homage to the memorial of Gosavi.
There are a number of Samadhis that exist today in Somwar Peth, many of which are now unidentified. During the time of the Peshawa, the Somwar Peth area (previously known as Shahpur Peth) was close to a cremation ground, and the tradition was to build a temple near the burial place of an ascetic.
Back in the entrance hall is another fibreglass image of what appears to be Shivaji, although I am not totally sure of this. If any of my readers can help identify who this is I would appreciate it.
The temple has recently undergone a program of restoration. With an initial budget of $33,000 (USD), the Pune Municipal Corporation employed the services of an archaeological renovation agency. Work initially focused on examining the foundations of the structure, which extend up to 10m away from the main elevation of the building.
Here they discovered a very specific compound of lime mortar which needs to be soaked in water for up to two years before being applied. Reports suggest that this mortar actually hardens with age, as opposed to regular cement which degrades somewhat rapidly.
The renovation work also focused on attempting to stem leakages in the basement, the team involved here have also previously been deployed at other Pune heritage sites such as Nana Wada, Vishrambaug Wada, Nanasaheb Peshawe’s Samadhi, Mahatma Phule Mandai and Kasba Ganpati temple.
Despite the rapid urban development of the city over the last few decades, Pune old city still clings on to a significant number heritage structures that with a little time, patience and research you can still tease out and visit today. Trishund Ganapathi Temple is a great example of this, a true hidden gem from the rich history of Pune’s Peshwa era.
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