The Ashtavinayaka, or the eight Swayambhu Ganapati temples of Maharashtra are revered pilgrimage centres and it is believed that a pilgrimage to these holy places ensures everlasting bliss. Each venerated idol has a distinctive feature and has an interesting legend attached to it.
1) Moreshwar of Morgaon
The foremost shrine is Moreshwar of Morgaon, about 64 kms from Pune. It was built in the 14th century by Morya Gosavi who installed it at Chinchwad.
The Morgaon village, which is approximately forty miles away from Pune, was named after peacocks found abundantly in the village. This avtaar of Vinayaka figures amongst the most important ones.
Legend about this temple has it that a demon called Sindhu was terrorising people and the Gods appealed to the Vinayaka asking Him to save them from the monster. Consequently, Ganapati rode on a peacock to kill the demon and is, hence, called "Mayureshwar" or one who rides the peacock.
It is also believed that the idol within the temple is not the original one. It is believed that "Brahma", had installed an idol of precious metal, jewels and iron. However, the Pandavas hid it and installed a copper one when they were here for their pilgrimage. And this is the idol that is seen today.
On entering the temple, one can see a large stone mouse facing Ganapati. It has pillars in all the four corners. The temple, facing north, is protected by a 50 feet fortress-like stone wall. There is a garland of lamps on the designed floor in the courtyard. The Lord's idol faces east and the trunk points towards the left. The Ganapati here holds an elephant spear in one of its upper hands while there is a bridle in the other.
His lower hand rest on His knee while the other one holds a modak. Diamonds are set in the eyes and navel of the God and a cobra is coiled on His head. Brass statues of his wives- Riddhi Siddhi and - are placed on either side.
2) Mahaganapati of Ranjangaon
At Ranjangaon, around 50 kms from Pune on the Pune-Aurangabad Highway, the deity is known as Mahaganapati because of the size of the of the statue. It has ten trunks and twenty arms. It is believed that Mahaganpati was hidden to prevent its destruction from non-believers. Thousands of devotees visit the place during the Bhadrapad festival.
It is believed that a demon called Tripurasur pleased the Lord with years of penance and in return, the Lord granted him a boon of protection and amulets of iron, silver and gold. The demon, who could now be killed only with a single arrow from Lord Shiva's quiver, started harassing the Gods and the rishis. The Gods, obviously had to turn to Shiva. A war between Mahadev and the demon ensued on the mountains of Mandar but Shiva could not vanquish the demon. It was then that Narad reminded Shiva of several shlokas describing, "Pranamya Shirasa Devam".
Shiva appealed to Ganesha with these lines and ensured the Lord's support. Mahadev finally defeated Tripurasur with a single arrow demolishing his three amulets. The indebted Lord Shiva built a "Mahaganapati" temple in honour of Ganesha.
The temple's shrine was built by Madhavrao Peshwa while the hall was built by the General of Indore. The idol is placed in a lotus position and its trunk is turned towards the left. The images of Ganapati's wives - Riddhi and Siddhi- rest on his two sides. There is a smaller idol placed in the basement.
3) Shree Varadavinayak of Mahad
The Mahadcha Shree Varadavinayak temple is located on the Pune-Bombay Highway.
In ancient times, King Rukmangad reached the ashram of Vachaknavi Rishi and met Mukunda, wife of an ascetic, Mukunda was attracted to the king but the King refused and spurned her. A dejected Mukunda cursed the king that he'd be stricken by leprosy forever. Later, the king's leprosy was cured by bathing at the Kadamba pond.
Lord Indra too was attracted by the beauty of Mukunda and he came down to the earth disguised as Rukmangad. Their union lead to the birth of a child called Gruthsmadh. When Gruthsmadh came to know about this, he cursed his mother and went into the Bhadrak forest for meditation. He asked Lord Vinayaka for purgation of his sin and his wish was granted. In order to fulfil the desire of his people, Gruthsmadh adopted the forest of Bhadrak. This forest is today called Mahad. Since this is the place where Gruthsmadh was granted his wish, the temple is called Varadavinayak.
This is a beautiful temple although it looks drab from outside. All corners of the temple have elephants in pairs and its sections are scrolled in gold. The stone statues of Riddhi and Siddhi can be seen after entering the door. The idol faces east, with the trunk pointing left while it sits on a throne. The most unique attraction of the temple is a lamp that is burning constantly since 1892 AD.
4) Girijatmaj Temple on the Lenyadri mountains
Located on the Pune-Nashik highway about 150 kms from Pune, the Lekhan Hills is a beautiful area. It is rightly called as "Lenaya Parvat" or beautiful hills.
The wife of Shiva and mother of Ganesha, Girija (Parvati), wanted to see her son as a baby. She did austere meditation for 12 years on the Lenyadri Mountains and pleased Ganesha. Consequently, she was granted her boon. Parvati prayed to the Ganesha, who appeared before her as the baby Ganapati. The child had six hands and three eyes. Ganesha lived here for 12 years as the child of Girija. There are many legends depicting his victories on several demons while he was still a child. The place has become sacred due to God's presence as a child here for 12 years.
This temple is located on the Lenyadri hills and one has to climb 283 steps to reach here. The entire temple is built out of stone. There is a beautiful hall in front of the temple and it is dominated by stone pillars. There is a carving of the God, which has become blurred. There are no independent idols of the Lord here. Parvati is believed to have installed an idol in the cave where she was granted the boon by Ganesha. This cave is difficult to reach now.
5) Shree Chintamani of Theur
At Theur, Morya Gosavi is believed to have attained siddhi (knowledge). The temple was built by his son Chintamani Dev. Theur is one of the most ancient areas of Maharashtra and is around 30 kms away from Pune.
A king, called Abhijeet, was asked by Saint Vaishampayan to meditate for a son. His wife Gunavati soon gave birth to a son and the prince was named Gunn. Gunn grew up into a hard-working, brave prince and one day he went to the ashram of sage Kapil. Kapil invoked the Chintamani jewel and prepared a feast of five delicacies for the prince. The prince craved for the jewel and when Kapil refused to part with it, he snatched it from the sage. The sage sought the help of Ganesha and the Lord defeated the young prince and returned the Chintamani to the sage. The sage, however, refused to accept it and Ganesha then took the name Chintamani and made the Kadamba tree in the ashram his abode.
Shir Chinmayananda of Chinchwad built this temple and the hall of the temple was built by Madhavrao Peshwa. The Peshwa also built a road stretching from the main door to the river near by. Sections of the temple are ornamented with gold. The body of the idol has no clear feature formation. There was a residential palace of Bajirao Peshwa near the temple. He died here in 1772, following which his wife Ramabai committed Sati. Ramabai's memorial is at the river bank.
6) Shree Vighneshwar of Ozar
This temple is approximately 70 miles from Pune on the Pune-Nashik Road.
In ancient times, there used to be a demon called Vighnasur who had become a menace for the sages who pleaded help from Ganesha and the Lord responded to the call. He had a tremendous duel with the demon after which Vighnasur surrendered but pleaded Ganapati to attach his name to his own. Ganesha accepted the demon as one of his own and hence the Ganapati here is called as Vighneshwar, Vighnaharta and Vighnahar.
This temple is one of the most beautiful temples of the Lord. There are two guards on two sides of the gate. Beyond a grand entrance lies a huge courtyard. The temple is covered with delicate paintings and carvings. The idol faces east while the trunk points towards the left. The idol's eyes are made of precious gems and its forehead is decorated with diamonds and other jewels.
7) Shree Ballaleshwar of Pali
Palicha Shree Ballaleshwar is situated 110 kms from Pune. Named after a devotee Ballal of Pali, Ganapati is known here as Ballaleshwar. The wooden temple was so constructed that the rays of the sun fall directly on the deity from the two equinoxes of the temple. The temple was constructed in 1770 by Nana Phadnis.
The legend has it that in the reign of Krut, there lived a trader called Kalyan in the Sindhu land. His son Ballal was a devotee of Ganesha and many of his friends also became devotees of the Lord Ganesha following his example. The parents of these boys accused Kalyan's son of ruining the other children.
Seething with anger, Kalyan destroyed all the things laid out for a pooja for the worship of Ganesha. Kalyan tied his son to a tree and beat him up while other children escaped. Kalyan then threw his son out of his home. When the son regained consciousness, he invoked Ganapati. The God soothed the boy's wounds and Ballal asked Ganapati to stay at the place for ever. Ganesha agreed to take the name Ballal Vinayak, honouring the devotion of the young boy.
This temple faces east and the rays of the sun fall on the idol from the month of July to December. It looks like a giant fort that has strong protective walls. The hall and the shrine present a beautiful picture. The idol faces east and the trunk points to the left. It is three feet in height. The eyes are diamond studded.
8) Shree Siddhivinayak of Siddhatek
Shri Siddhi Vinayak in Ahmednagar district is also believed to be a holy place where Morya Gosavi did penance but the main temple was constructed by Ahilyabai Holkar. This village is located almost 200 kms from Pune in Nagar district towards east from Pune.
Vishnu had once waged a war with demons Madhu and Kaitabh. The battle went on for many days, but Vishnu failed to defeat them. Lord Shankar advised him to appeal to Ganesha. Ganesha provided more strength and spiritual power to Vishnu and he succeeded in defeating the demons. Since Vishnu attained strength and spiritual power here, the place is called Siddhatek, while the Ganesha is called Shri Siddhivinayak.
This temple is located on the top of a hill. A new temple was built during the reign of Peshwa. Peshwa's Senapati Haripant Phadke built the road from the temple to the village while the shrine was built by Ahilyabai. The idol is three feet high and has Riddhi-Siddhi sitting on its lap.