Bhairavnath Temple

Bhairavnath Temple – Loni Bhapkar

Situated on the eastern edge of Loni Bhapkar, 80km south-east of Pune, the Bhairavnath Temple was my last stop in the village having already explored Mallikarjun Temple and the hero stones at Someshwar Temple.

At first glance the Bhairavnath Temple appears to have all the hallmarks of being a typical late Maratha style temple. The sabhamandapa in front has a central dome with four finials (small turrets) in each of the corners, and the temple courtyard has two very large Deepstambhas, a feature associated with temples of the Deccan for over 400 years.

However, all is not what it seems, and that is what makes Bhairavnath quite extraordinary. If you look more closely at the sabhamandapa in front, you will start to see many of the architectural elements consistent with the bhumija style of temple architecture, and in particular a temple form that was adopted by the Yadava dynasty in the late 13th century.

Just as I saw at the nearby Mallikarjun Temple, the front elevation of this temple is tripartite, divided into three parts separated by columns with big buttress walls on the sides. This three bay configuration facilitated the placement of diagonal beams, forming octagons that underpin the building of the corbelled central dome above the sabhamandapa. These are all signature features of Yadava temple architecture, including the form of the columns in this front elevation.

Clearly, this temple was given a complete makeover under the Marathas. Everything you can see above the cornice line of the front elevation (in pale yellow) is a “new” construction, everything below the cornice (in blue-grey) is Yadava and predates this makeover by over 400 years.

Moving to the sides of the temple, it becomes clear that in reality almost the entire Yadav temple has been encased by the Marathas, with no offsets and the temple plan simplified to just two simple cubes and a connecting passage.

The upper portion of the temple is extremely colourful, and shows many architectural details that the Marathas took from Sultanate architecture. The most notable influences here are the four minaret-like spires around the base of shikhara, and the bulbous dome at the top replacing the amalaka.

Once inside the temple, almost all the Maratha influences dissolve and here is a typical late Yadav temple interior, which of course has now been painted.

These columns are nothing like Maratha columns, but instead look almost identical to the columns I saw at the nearby Mallikarjun Temple a just a couple of hours earlier.

There’s some nice carvings in the interior, including serpents with intertwined tails, a hunting scene involving two men and what appears to be a boar, and the more usual depictions of musicians.

So why did the Marathas put so much effort into encasing this temple with their own architecture ? As quite often happens when I try to do research on places like this, there is scant information online and once again my text books offer no further help. I can only conclude that perhaps the temple was abandoned for a while and was adopted by the Marathas, or alternatively it was structurally unsound and warranted a complete overhaul.

The temple priest was in attendance so I did not attempt to photograph the idols or the sanctum. Within the sanctum is a wonderfully carved screen, the craftsmanship is impressive and the screen appears to have some age to it. I have tried to find a photograph of this screen, but I have failed via Google images. Suffice to say, if you visit this temple, be sure to check out the sanctum screen.

The idols in the sanctum are Bhairav Bhairavi and Bhairav Yogeshwari, incarnations of Lord Shiva and Godess Parvati. These idols were donated by Sardar Sonaji Bhapkar who came from this village. His father, Gorkhoji Bhapkar, was the sardar of Chatrapati Shahu Maharaj (Shivaji Maharaj’s grandson). His daughter Bhagirathibai was married to Dattaji Scindia, a martyr of the battle of Buradi ghat in 1760 which culminated in the Panipat war in 1761.

Within the temple complex there is a bell suspended between two pillars of the compound wall. Unfortunately I completely missed this so there are no photographs, but it’s worth noting a little further. A number of temples in the north-west Deccan have bells which were brought pack as trophies from Portuguese churches in the mid 18th century by the forces of the Peshwa. This bell has the inscription “Jesus Homeo Salvator” (Jesus my savior) along with an image of a crucifix and a date of 1685.

This particular bell is said to have been brought back by Sonji Gorkhoji Bhapkar from the Vasai campaign under Chimaji Appa in 1739. In total seven bells from the churches of Bassein Fort were removed by the Maratha sardars to their home towns at various places in Maharashtra. Six of these bells now reside in Hindu temples, the seventh in a Catholic church. Their specific locations are :

  • Naroshankarachi Temple – Nasik
  • Bhimashankar Temple – Bhorgiri near Khed
  • Meneshwar Temple – Menavali near Panchgani
  • Durga Devi Temple – Murud
  • Baneshwar Temple – Pune
  • Bhairavnath Temple – Loni Bhapkar
  • St.Francis Xavier Churct – Dadul in Mumbai

The Bhairavnath Temple, Mallikarjun Temple, and hero stones at Someshwar Temple are all within a mile of each other in the sleepy village of Loni Bhapkar. All three can be easily seen as a day trip out of Pune, with each site offering something a little different. It has taken me nearly a decade from knowing of these sites to finally visiting them, and now my friends in Pune are asking me to take them there the next time I travel. I’m already looking forward to my return to Loni Bhapkar.

My warmest thanks to Harshad Bhapkar, who upon reading my initial blog was able to add much more detail concerning his home village.


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