Nestled in the historic UNESCO world heritage site of Ellora, the Grishneshwar Jyotirlinga Temple is the 12th of the Jyotirlingas.
History Behind the Grishneshwar Temple
The Grishneshwar temple is situated in the tiny village of Verul in the Aurangabad district. Less than a kilometer away from the world-renowned Ellora Caves, the temple is easily accessible to tourists. Needless to say, it is among the most-visited places in Aurangabad.
The term ‘Grishneshwara’ holds immense significance as it means ‘Lord of Compassion’. Holy water is said to spring from inside the temple. Devotees halt at the small shrine to Kokila Mata on entering the Grishneshwar Temple.
This ancient temple showcases the pre-historic South Indian architectural style and structure. Story has it that in the village of Shivalaya, there lived a brahmin devotee of Shiva named Grishna. She would carve 101 lingas every day and immerse them in the nearby lake in the hopes of bearing a child. After she gave birth to a baby boy, her childless sister proceeded to throw the baby boy in the lake out of jealousy. Despite the grief of losing her child, she continued to carve lingas and worship Shiva.
One day, while worshipping, she saw her son standing at the edge of the lake. She then pleaded with the Lord to forgive her sister. Pleased with her purity, Lord Shiva had brought her son back to life and also manifested there in the form of a Jyotirlinga. As a result, the place came to be known as Grishneshwara.
Story has it that Maloji Bhosale, a staunch follower of Lord Shiva, found a treasure within a snake pit and devoted it to reconstruct the temple. This ancient site of pilgrimage features exquisite carvings of Gods and Goddesses in red stone.
The temple was destroyed in the 13th and 14th centuries amid attacks by Mughal invaders of the Delhi Sultanate. As a result, the temple saw several reconstructions take place to restore the integrity of the structure.
The first reconstruction took place in the 16th century, with Maloji Raje Bhosale, the grandfather of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, taking the initiative. Later, the temple was further restored in the 18th century by Rani Ahilyabhai Holkar, a Maratha princess who ruled Indore from 1765 to 1795.
Stories About the Temple
The Lost Game of Chess
One of the most oft-told myths surrounding the Sarovar near the temple is of Lord Shiva and Parvathi. Both of them loved playing chess, and Lord Shiva was accustomed to winning every time. Once, however, Parvathi defeated him in a game, angering the Lord. Insulted by the defeat, he immediately left for the Kamyakavana forest.
In search of Lord Shiva, Parvathi set out in disguise to find him. While walking in the forest, Lord Shiva chanced upon Parvathi and offered to create the GangaDhara to help quench her thirst. This is how the Shivalaya Sarovar earned its name. The region has eight temples dedicated to the eight deities at the Sarovar.
The Vermillion God
Another legend associated with the temple follows Goddess Parvathi as she was mixing vermillion on her palm. According to Hindu Religion, applying red vermillion on the forehead symbolizes marital bliss. Parvathi realized that she could not put the vermillion in the powder form, so she mixed it with water from the Shivalay, the holy lake situated near the temple.
She held the vermillion in her left palm and started making a paste with her right hand. The circular movements of her hands created friction(Grishna) in her hands, and from it emerged Lord Shiva. He appeared as a bright light which turned into a linga. Parvathi named this linga ‘Grishneshwar’ (God of Friction) because it was created from the friction between her hands. It is how the temple is believed to have gotten its name.
The Man who turned into a River
The Shivalay flows into the Sivanadi (Shivanand) stream which further runs near a religious river known as Yelaganga. Legend has it that once Shiva and Parvati were staying in the region peacefully when Sudhanwa, a hunter came there looking for an animal. To his surprise, he miraculously changed into a woman.
Confused and frustrated by this unexplained gender transformation, Sudhanwa decided to do Tapa to invoke Lord Shiva. Pleased with his devotion and penance, Shiva appeared before him. When Sudhwana asked Shiva to turn him back into a man, the deity told him that it was impossible. Sudhanwa was a woman in his past life, and hence Shiva was unable to do the curse. On Sudhwana’s request, Shiva turned him into the Yelaganga river.
The Thirsty King
Once there was a king who greatly enjoyed hunting. One day, while hunting in the forest, the king accidentally killed the animals who lived with the sages residing in the woods. Infuriated at the loss of their animals, the sages cursed that the body of the king will be infested with insects.
Smitten by the curse and disheartened by his new state, the king started wandering in the forest. He soon grew thirsty but could not find water anywhere. After searching for a water source for hours, the king found a small artificial water pool made out of horse hooves. To his surprise, he immediately got cured of his curse, and all the insects left his body.
Humbled by the divine miracle, the king decided to do penance near the lake. Appeased by his Tapa, Lord Brahma appeared there and turned the water pool into a sizeable holy lake. Worshippers now know this lake as ‘Shivalay’.
The Grishneshwar Temple is the smallest Jyotirlinga temple in India. Standing at 240 ft x 185 ft, the temple features a 5 tier shikara and a golden spire or a kalasha at the top. The temple displays a pre-historic style of South Indian architecture which is rare for its region.
Constructed with red volcanic rocks, the Grishneshwar temple features intricate carvings and sculptures of gods and goddesses. The temple comprises a garbhagriha, an antarala, and a sabha mandapa. The stone tower showcases distinct friezes in rust, pink and yellow. Many of its architectural features make it among the most distinctive and unique structures in the country.
The main court hall is built on 24 pillars. These 24 pillars showcase delicately carved representations of Shiva’s myths and legends. Its singular style and structure set it apart from other temples in India, attracting devotees from far and wide.
The temple has a visually pleasing structure with Dashavataras (the ten incarnations or forms of Lord Vishnu on earth) leading up to the main temple. The architecture style of the holy building is medieval. The temple is filled with intricate carvings, mesmerizing paintings, and serene statues. The temple has a unique construction style called the ‘Shikara’ style, which is marked with carvings of bulls and monkeys and five tires.