Mahalakshmi Temple – Jewel Among Kolhapur Temples
Mahalakshmi temple and Kolhapur – you probably hear these words in the same breath. From a pilgrim and travelers’ perspective, both mean the same. Most visit the city for the darshan of Mahalakshmi goddess.
Kolhapur is an ancient city in Maharashtra on the banks of Panchganga river. It is mentioned in many scriptures like Devi Gita of Devi Bhagwat Puran and other Shakta texts. It is also known as Karvirpur Kshetra and Mahalakshmi is also known as Karveerpur Vasini – the one who lives in Karvirpur. The city still revolves around Ambabai – another name of Mahalakshmi.
Kolhapur is named after asura Kolhasur who was killed by the Devi. It was his dying wish that the city is named after him.
The temple is a Shakti Peeth, one of the most important Devi temples in India. The number of Shakti Peethas vary depending on which text you are looking at, but Mahalakshmi of this city is always a part of that list. It is a Maha Shakti Peeth.
Mahalakshmi Temple or Ambabai Mandir
It is at the heart of Kolhapur just like Kanchi Kamakshi is at the heart of Kanchipuram. The whole town revolves around the holy place.
I had first visited the temple on my Deccan Odyssey trip. It was a quick darshan, but with a promise to come back. It took me a few years to go back. This time we landed in the city around 4 AM and headed straight to the temple. We reached just in time for the morning ritual of waking up the goddess. I could not have asked for more.
Mahalakshmi Temple Architecture
When you enter, you see the base of the big structure in dark grey stone. You get a hint of Chalukyan architecture. Most of the sculpted images on the walls are broken.
If you understand Indian temple architecture, you can make out a lot of Madanika or Sur Sundari figures. The literature points out that these were probably 64 yoginis carved on the niches all around. It is difficult to identify or count them as it is covered by many things at the moment. Some deities can also be seen.
On the steps leading to the mandir, I could see a huge Varaha image holding the Bhudevi in its mouth.
The Shikhara’s is painted in pale lemon yellow with saffron outlines. The Shikhara’s are triangular or conical in shape and look like a much later addition to the original mandir. Were the original Shikharas destroyed or they were simply renovated, I am yet to find the answer.
From the ground level, it is difficult to understand the formation of Shikharas. There are 5 Shikharas in all. The central one is on top of Koorma Mandap and the four in four cardinal directions surrounding it are on the temples of Mahalakshmi, Mahakali, Mahasaraswati, and Ganapati. The one on top of the presiding deity is the tallest of them.
Typical Maharashtra style Deepstambhs stand in one corner. It would be a pleasure to see them lit up like olden days. I was told they are lit up on the festival days.
The main entrance gate is called Mahadwar, you see the deity as you enter from this gate. There are other entrances in North and East called Ghati and Purva Darwaja respectively.
There used to be two ponds in the complex called Kashi and Manikarnika but they no longer exist now.
The main temple is surrounded by many small ones.
The main Murti of Mahalaxmi is in black stone. It is four-armed Mahalakshmi in standing pose, about 3 feet in height.
If you want to see the Murti, visit early in the morning for the first Arti called Kakad Arti. You will witness the waking up the Goddess by singing songs. After which, her clothes are changed and morning Alankar is done. During the Abhishek, you get to see the Murti.
During the Arti, few women are allowed to sit inside the Garbhgriha. It is a divine experience to sit next to the goddess as the deep goes around her and the bells ring all around.
The big Alankar Arti is done around afternoon time. Sri Mahalakshmi is dressed in a colorful silk Sari and then adorned with lots of jewelry. I would later find the same jewelry designs in the markets of the city.
The Pradakshina path or the circumambulation path around the sanctum is rather plain compared to the rest it. It was built in 11th CE by King Gandaraditya of the Shilahara Dynasty indicating that temple pre-dates it. Try tapping the wall just behind the deity and you will hear a different sound from the other stones around it.
Mahakali & Mahasaraswati
To the right of Mahalaxmi’s Murti is a small temple dedicated to goddess Mahakali. On the left, is another dedicated to Mahasaraswati. Together the three deities constitute the highest trinity of Shakti representing the three guns – Rajas, Tamas & Satva. All three images are in the main temple. As per Durga Saptashati, Mahakali and Mahasarawati emerge from Mahalakshmi.
Opposite the sanctum is a small Ganesha mandir.
In front of the sanctum, there are two mandapas. First one is called Darshan mandap and is used to have darshan of Mahalakshmi.
The second is Octagonal Rangmadapa called Koorma mandapa as the central stone or Shila is carved in the shape of a tortoise. It is also called Shankh Tirth Mandap as this is where the priest stands to sprinkle the Tirth on the devotees using a Shankh or a conch shell.
I stood there as the priest came with the water used for the Abhishek of the Mahalakshmi as he sprinkled it generously on us using a conch shell. People close their eyes and open their mouths to take the water in.
All these constructions are in dark black stone.
Right above the sanctum of Mahalakshmi temple, there is a cave-like temple with a Shiva linga called Matulinga along with Ganesha and Nandi. You have to take a flight of stairs to reach this. This gives the impression of being a cave temple.
Matulinga mandir is opened briefly after the early morning Arti, and you are allowed to visit it. I think it is kept closed for the rest of the day.
Matulinga shrine dates back to 12th CE. The linga represents the linga that is carved on the crown of Mahalaxmi as it was not visible to the devotees.
In one wall niche, there is a Sri Yantra carved. Haldi, Kumkum and flowers are offered to it just as they are offered to the main deity.
It is covered with glass so it is difficult to see it properly.
Other Temples in the Mahalakshmi Temple complex
Navagraha – Dedicated to the nine planets
Sheshashayee Vishnu – This octagonal structure closer to the eastern gate has a panel of 60 Jain Tirthankaras. It is suggested that this was dedicated to Neminath. However, as of now, Vishnu sits here comfortably.
Radhakrishna, Kalbhairav, Siddhivinayak, Sinhavahini, Tuljabhavani, Lakshmi-Narayana, Annapurna, Indrasabha, Rameshwar, Narayanswami Mahara, Jyotiba and Temlai Bai mandir.
Festivals of Mahalakshmi Temple Kolhapur
Every Friday night, around 9:30 PM, Palki of Mahalakshmi goes around the mandir. I missed attending this, but hopefully, I will get to go there again, soon. Some prominent festivals celebrated here are:
Being a Devi Mandir, Navaratri is the biggest festival here. For 9 days during Ashwin or Sharad Navaratri is full of celebrations. The daily Alankar of the Devi is grand. A palki procession takes places every evening.
On the 5th day of the Navratri, called Lalita Panchami, Devi visits Tryambuli Bai mandir located few km away. This is her annual visit to her sister. On the way she stops at Shahu mill where she is offered Puja. The local ruler called Chhatrapati offers her a symbolic sacrifice by cutting a pumpkin with a sword in the presence of a Kanya.
On Ashtami or the 8th day of Navratri, she is offered a one cannon salute. This tradition was started by Rani Tarabai – the daughter-in-law of Chhatrapati Shivaji. After this, she goes around the town in a Palki and is offered Paan-Supari and other things like Sari, flowers, Puja.
The Kolhapur Mahalakshmi temple is so designed that twice a year, the sun rays fall on the Murti.
On 31st Jan and 9th Nov – Sun rays fall on the feet of Mahalakshmi
1st Feb & 10th Nov – Sun rays fall on the middle of the Murti
On 2nd Feb & 11th Nov – Sun rays fall on the entire body of the deity
This is the engineering marvel here.
In April, the Utsav murti of Mahalakshmi goes on a ride on her chariot. There is a golden Palki that is worth seeing.
Outside the mandir, there were shops selling colorful Saris, bangles, jewelry, coconut and bunches of Lotus flowers, to be offered to the Goddess.
In the evening, the lanes around are full of eateries and hawkers selling all kinds of Kolhapuri street food.
I spent an evening looking at all kinds of jewelry that was made using small coins with Mahalakshmi in it. Some are made using coral beads adding a bright color to the gold. Some are made with small balls of gold. There were pendants with Mahalakshmi on it.
I saw a lot of women buying their Mangalsutras here along with something with the goddess on it. After all, she is the giver of prosperity and jewelry is the ultimate sign of auspicious prosperity.
Other Devi Temples
Kolhapur is a town dominated by Devi Temples. Let us visit them one by one.
Just like the three main deities are present in the Mahalakshmi temple complex, the three deities are also present in the city.
If you walk towards Rankala, roughly a kilometer down the road you will find an arch on your left. Enter the narrow lane and you will find a small but ancient temple on your left. I discovered this by chance while walking around the city.
We saw an ancient Murti of Mahakali. Again we got lucky as the Abhishek was going on and we could see the Vigrah in its original form.
Next to it is a smaller mandir with Rasai Devi in it. I could not gather much about her.
Renuka Devi Temple
Renuka Devi who is a form of Mahasaraswati is located on the other side. It is small but very interesting one. It has a smaller mandir dedicated to Parshuram who is the son of Renuka & Rishi Jamdagni. Another one is dedicated to Matangi Devi.
Renuka Devi here is believed to be a form of Yellama Devi too.
I discovered an interesting ritual here. Celebrating the wedding of Renuka and Jamadagni. A board outside announced an open invitation for the wedding that was due in a few days.
Tulja Bhawani Mandir at Bhawani Mandap
Bhawani Mandap is the old Palace. Tulja Bhawani is the Kuldevi or the family deity of the royal family of the region. Her mandir continues to be in the old palace premises through the palace itself moved to a new palace in Kolhapur.
The open courtyard is where I got to see Dand Patta or the martial arts by the Maratha women during my earlier trip to the city. Watch the video:
Triambuli or Temlai Devi Temple
This is a small one located a few kilometers away. This is the mandir that goddess Mahalakshmi visits of Lalita Panchami or 5th day of the Navratri.
The story goes that when Mahalakshmi was fighting asura Kolhasur, she was assisted by the daughter of the ruler here. However, after the fight was over, Devi forgot about her and the girl was annoyed. So, Devi visited her and blessed her that she would be worshipped in Kolhapur. She also promised that she would pay an annual visit to her mandir. The tradition continues.
Triambuli Devi or Temlai as she is fondly called is treated as the younger sister of Mahalakshmi.
There is also a mandir dedicated to Magai Devi close by.
Kapileshwar or Kapil Tirth Mandir
Not too far, there is a Mandi or the vegetable market. We walked into the market just out of curiosity or maybe some divine forces led us to it. We discovered a small but ancient Kapileshwar Mandir here. Standing on typical Chalukyan pillars it is an ancient Shiva temple.
Later, at the town hall museum, we discovered many artifacts that have been discovered from an excavation that was carried out in this complex. We also learned that the market is at a place where the temple tank used to be.
In fact, all the temple tanks of the city no longer exist.
My biggest discovery was a Sri Yantra carved on the Yoni like a Shivalinga usually is. This is a unique carving that I have not seen anywhere else.
At the museum, I realized how big pilgrimage center or Shakti Khsetra of the city must have been at some point in time.
The city is well connected with big cities like Pune and Mumbai. It is also well connected by train and bus network
There are ample hotels in Kolhapur city. Sayaji is the only luxury hotel I know of. We stayed at Maratha Residency and it was a decent place to stay within a reasonable budget.
Mahalakshmi Temple opens for visitors at 4:30 AM and remains open till 9:30 PM or so.
No photography is allowed inside the premises. You can take the structure from a distance.
There are shops inside as well as outside the Mandir where you can buy Puja items. It gets very crowded, especially on Fridays and festival days.
Other temples are open from morning to evening. They were practically empty with the countable number of people when I visited.