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Sharangdhar Balaji of Mehkar, Maharashtra  


Om Vishnupad 108 Tridandi Swami Sri Srimad Bhakti Sravan Tirtha Goswami Maharaj ki Jai !!

 

India anciently known as Jambu-dwipa and Bharatvarsha is a land that is older than history itself. As far as art, history, archaeology and religion is concerned, it is a veritable treasure chest of priceless gems each more rare and unique than the other.

Among such rare and precious treasures in this ancient land is a place of great antiquity called Mehkar on the banks of the Penganga River in the Vidharbha region of Maharashtra.  In ancient times it was known as Meghankar Nagari and finds mention in Skanda Purana, Padma Purana, Matsya Purana and Ain-e-Akbari.  A number of sages and saints lived in the forests along the bank of the river.

According to legend, in the early days of creation, Lord Brahma created the river Penganga using his ‘pranita patra’ at the time of starting a grand yagna. It is believed to be very auspicious to have a dip in this river and to perform one’s departed relations’ shraadh etc., here.

During his exile period, Lord Rama, Lakshman and Sita traversed this area on their way to Panchvati near Nashik.  There is a place in Mehkar called Haran Tekdi or Hiran Tekdi, where Shri Rama is said to have hunted and killed a deer. There is now a dilapidated temple there to mark the spot.

A daitya by the name of Meghankar used to live in the area and cause severe disruptions in the rituals and penance of the rishis by defiling their yagna-kundas and by killing and eating them. The sages and rishis prayed for many years to Lord Hari to deliver them from his tyranny. According to the local legend, Lord Vishnu appeared and killed the rakshasa using his celebrated Sarang or Sharanga bow. Could it be that it was Shri Rama himself who killed the asura as he did many others during his sojourn in the forest. Lord Rama’s bow is also famously known as Saranga.

On the prayer of the dying Meghankar, the Lord agreed to name the place as Meghankar, which later was corrupted to Mehkar. The grateful saints and rishis prayed to the Lord to remain there in his Chaturbhuja swarup (four-armed Vishnu form). Due to the particular placement of the various emblems such as chakra, gada, padma and shankh in the Lord’s various hands, the deity is known as Balaji.

But why Sharangdhar? The bow is not visible in the Lord’s four hands. The answer is that in the crown of the deity is the seated image of Bhagawan Vishnu holding the Sharanga bow. The deity of Sharangdhar Balaji is 11.5 feet tall and carved out of a single slab of “Gandaki Pashaan” according to the temple priests.  Pashaan means stone in Marathi.  Gandaki pashaan would mean only one thing – Shaligram shila– as these stones are found in large numbers in the river Gandaki in Nepal.

It is one of the tallest Vishnu idols in the world – if not the tallest - and over 5000 years old.  The deity is so perfectly fashioned in each intricate detail that it seems impossible to have been the work of man. The limbs are perfectly proportionate, the fingers and even nails are visible, including fate lines in the palms. The priests say that in the back of the idol, the Lord has a shikha and his janew (holy thread) is also clearly visible. And the expression...the enigmatic smile is absolutely unique. The sheer perfection of the deity leads one to believe that it could be swayambhu or self-manifested.

The story of the discovery of the deity is not less intriguing. In the year 1888, the resident British officer one Richard Temple, instructed the village Patil Shri Rambhau Bhite Patil to start the work of digging and levelling the land near the river in order to build a dam.  

During the course of digging the workers hit upon a large wooden rectangular casket.  Upon digging it out, they were amazed at the size of the casket. It was 15 feet long and two-and-half feet wide.  When the box was opened they found the perfectly preserved idol of Vishnu together with a smaller idol wrapped in sandalwood bark and a copper plate with some inscriptions on it. The date was 7th December 1888. As per the Hindu calendar it was Margshirsh shukla panchami, Friday, Shravan nakshatra, Goraj muhurta, Nag Dipawali.

The news spread very quickly in the small village. The news also reached the ears of the British authority, who promptly issued a panch-nama or official order to confiscate the idol.

At the time, the village Tehsildar was a gentleman by the name of Ambadas Santo Deshpande and the local police official was one Ranganath Joshi. They were among the first locals to learn that the British had decided to pack off the idol to England to have it preserved in the British Museum in London.

They informed the local people and suggested that the pran-pratishta or ritual consecration of the idol be done quickly because once an idol is consecrated then it has to receive regular worship and cannot be moved. However, since there was no auspicious time or muhurta available right then, they were in a great quandary as to what to do.

At this time, some of the prominent and senior village men such as Janakiram Appa Pathak, Rambhau Bhite Patil, Annasaheb Deshmukh and others took the decision to consecrate the deity without bothering about auspicious time etc.  Early in the morning at 4 a.m., the pran-pratishta was done by mantra ghoshna (chanting of mantras).

As soon as the British officer heard of this development, he arrived and took away the copper plate with the inscriptions. Due to this act, Janakiram Appa Pathak and two others were imprisoned for six months and Rambhau Bhite Patil lost his Patil position. Over 60 persons who participated in the events were imprisoned on various drummed-up charges and tormented in various ways.

A small makeshift temple was constructed to house the deity. Eventually as news of the miraculous find spread, many nearby village folk came and saw and contributed generously towards building the current temple. Janakiram Appa Pathak dedicated his entire life to the Lord.  He would perform Bhagavat katha in many places and hand over all the collection to the service of the temple.  He was instrumental in spreading the news in far-off places and inspiring many people to donate all necessary materials to build the current temple.

The golden kumbh atop the temple spire was finally installed in 1913 under the auspices of the resident Varkari saint in Mehkar Sant Shri Balabhau Pitale, who is revered as a partial incarnation of Bhagawan Narasimha in the area. 

The deity of Sharangdhar Balaji is a unique one as it has all the 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu and the Tridev, Brahma Vishnu and Mahesh beautifully carved around the main deity.  At the bottom near the feet are Jaya and Vijaya with Shri Lakshmi on the right and Bhu devi on the left, all beautifully carved on one large slab of stone. Due to this the deity is also called Trivikrama Balaji.

Since the copper inscription is not available, it can only be assumed that in the period of Muslim invasions from 12th thru 14/15th centuries which saw the likes of Allauddin Khilji, the accentric Mohammad bin Tughlak who shifted his capital to nearby Daulatabad and then Aurangazeb pass through the region, many Hindu idols were either hidden in wells, or buried deep underground to protect them from desecration.  This must have been the case with Sharangdhar Balaji as well. 

Just as there is Anna-rupa darshan of the Lord at Jagannatha Puri, Vaibhav rupa in Tirupati, Naad rupa Shri Vitthal in Pandharpur and Ashta-kaliya rupa in Nathdwara, here in Mehkar we get the Atma-rupa darshan of Lord Balaji. This means that whatever the sentiment in our heart the same is reflected in the face of the Lord at Mehkar. Whether we are happy, sad, angry or tired, the same emotion can be seen by the devotee in the Lord’s face.  Hence this place is unique as it gives Atma-rupa darshan. 

Keshavraj – the elder brother

Alongwith the main deity of Sharangdhar Balaji was found the smaller idol of Keshavraj, who is said to be the elder brother of Balaji.  This is also a very beautiful deity with intricate carvings all around. His temple is situated in the same temple complex in the north-east corner where the original box containing the idols was found during the digging work in 1888.

In Vrindavan they call out “Vrindavan bihari lal ki Jai” and “Govinda Govinda” in Tirupati, in Mehkar the call is “Lakshmi-ramana Sharangdhar Govind Govind!”

Mehkar town is easily reached from Aurangabad via road. It is a three-hour drive along some picturesque countryside scenery. From Nagpur it is 293 kilometers. The nearest railway station to Mehkar is Washim which is located around 57 kilometers away.
 

 


Jai Guru !!

Jai Jai Shri Radhey !!