Bhimashankar temple is located around 125 kms from Pune, off Pune-Nasik highway. One takes a left from Manchar village, crossing the Dimbhe dam and a spiraling road through the ghats of Nagphani mountains of Sahyadris that overlook the source of the Bhima river.
One crosses the thick vegetation of the Bhimashankar wildlife sanctuary (famous for a rare animal named Shekru, which is infact a giant squirrel. There are also tigers,leopards,monkeys and a variety of flora fauna) before reaching Bhorgiri village. The Bhimashankar temple is located in this Bhorgiri village and is named after the Bhima river.
There is a story associated with the Bhima river as well. It is said that this river emanated from the sweat of the asura Bhima (son of Kubhakarna and nephew of Lankadheesh Ravana) who was slain here by Lord Shiva.
Bhimashankar holds place amongst the twelve jagrut jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva. It was initially a small and virtually unknown temple (dated back to the thirteenth century) until the Peshwas started taking active interest in its affairs. During the time of Nanasaheb Peshwa, this area was declared a protected wildlife sanctuary.
A rich moneylender from Pune named Chimnaji Antaji Bhide Sawkaar constructed a sabhamandap (assembly hall) around the temple. Later,Nana Phadanvis did the jeernoddhhaar of the temple and reconstructed the Shikharas (spires) and the sabhamandap.
The Shikharas and the temple are built in the Nagara Bhumija style so popular in the Deccan. The entire temple is built in chiseled black stone.
The gabhara (sanctum) is located in a lower lever and can be accessed by climbing down stairs, leading through a beautifully engraved doorway seen right after crossing the sabhamandap. There one comes across a ‘Ardhanareshwar Swayambhu Shivalinga’. The Ardhanareshwara was the half man half woman form of Lord Shiva, a synthesis of man and woman energies, whereby Godess Parvati entered the body of Lord Shiva as a Mahashakti and helped slay the demon Tripurasura. A swyambhu linga is the natural formation of the linga i.e one not carved by man but by nature. The ‘linga’ being the phallic representation of Lord Shiva. Shiva was also assisted in his duel with the asura by his Ganas viz. Shaakini and Daakini. The Bhimashankar temple holds shrines for these ganas as well.
The Bhimashankar temple being located in a lower level, it has to be accessed by climbing down several stone stairs. There are also palanquins used to carry the aged and the handicapped. There is also a caveat for all travelers. There is no petrol pump available between Dimbe to Bhimashankar. Hence its necessary to maintain adequate fuel levels in the vehicle.
Another interesting spot to visit after the Bhimashankar temple is a Kunda (water tank) where Lord Shiva was said to have bathed after the duel with Bhimasura. Furthermore there is a place called Gupta Bhimashankar, located in the forest which has smaller Swayambhu Lingas. It is located near the source of Bhima river.Also in the vicinity is the Bhorgiri fort and caves.
Text and photographs : Abhijit Rajadhyaksha