Tuljapur Bhavani of Tuljapur from district Usmanabad, Ambabai from Kolhapur, Renukamata of Mahurgad, Taluka Kinwat district Nanded and Saptashrungi from Saptashrungagarh, Vani district Nasik are the famed Shakti Peeth of the goddess that are frequented by pilgrims. Navaratra is celebrated as festival of the goddess. People make it a point to visit these places during this festival. Tuesday and Friday and eighth, ninth and fourteenth days of the lunar calendar are especially dear to the goddess. The devotees follow certain rituals like offering coconut and silk cloth as also Sari and Choli (sari blouse) to the goddess.
The devotees of goddess still practice Gondhal , a form of ancient folk dance-drama. Such devotees are called as Gondhali, Bhutye, Aaradhi or Naik. Some households invite Gondhali to perform the Gondhal at the time of weddings or other major family celebrations. The Gondhali perform at night, singing to the accompaniment of cymbals, small drum, Sambal and Tuntune or a single string instrument.
Some people follow certain traditions like offering eyes made of silver to the goddess, sprinkling the path circling the inner sanctum of the Goddess with Kumkum during Navratra. Some people recite the Saptashati (goddess’s biography in seven hundred verses).
The legend behind the three and a half Shakti Peeth
In ancient times, King Daksha undertook a big Yagnya (a Hindu ritual of sacrifice and offering to deities derived from the Vedic times, an essential element is the holy fire into which oblations are offered in the form of ghee, milk, grains etc) called BrihaspatiRao. In this ritual, Daksha invited all the deities except Lord Shankara (also called Shiva). Daksha’s daughter Sati (also called Shakti) who was Lord Shiva’s wife, attended the function without invitation. Slighted by this deliberate ignorance of her husband Shiva, she jumped into the holy fire in anger. On learning of this, Shiva created a ruckus at the function. Lifting her body. He started wandering through the three worlds. To save the situation, Lord Vishnu struck his weapon the Sudarshan Chakra (a wheel) and chopped the body of Sati into fifty one pieces which fell in different places on earth. The places where the pieces fell came to be known as the fifty-one Shakti Peeth.
There are three and a half Shakti Peeth in Maharashtra. But SaptaShrungaGarh is recognized as the original location of Shakti, since the God himself took the form of the Goddess and set down at this place, and therefore this is the real Goddess mother.
1. SaptaShrungaGarh (Vani)
The deity in the fort here has the honour of being a half Shakti Peeth of Goddess Shakti. The deity here is believed to be a form of the Goddesses Mahakali, Mahalakshmi, and MahaSaraswati. It is also believed that after vanquishing the demons ShumbhaNishumbha and Mahishasur, the Goddess resided here for Tapa and Sadhana . The high ridge of the Sahyadri here has seven peaks from which the name of the place, SaptaShrungaGarh has been derived. This is considered the root altar of the deity. Facilities have been recently developed like the 500 approximate steps leading up to the temple, the temple renovation, the community hall, and facility to line up for viewing and paying obeisance to the deity. The deity’s idol is grand and has eight hands (due to which the deity is also called by the name AshtaBhuja which is eight handed). A fair is held here every NavRatra and the Chaitra month of the Hindu almanac.
There are altogether fifty-one altars of the Goddess Jagdamba on this earth. Of these the Shri SaptaShrugi Devi deity of SaptaShrungaGad is a form of three Goddesses, Mahakali, Mahalakshmi, and MahaSaraswati, also considered a form of the Lord Brahma, and extremely holy (Omkar Swarup Adhisthan). The importance of this place has even been found recorded in ancient times. The era of NavNath sect is easily identified and linked with this place. The sect is believed to have acquired the Sabri poetry, also called MantraShakti, through the blessings of the Goddess. It is also said that the saints and renowned people from the medieval times who were followers of the Goddess, like Saint NivruttiNath, Saint Dnyaneshwar, Peshwa Sarkar, Dabhade, Holkar, were closely associated with this place. There is verdant forest around this holy place.
Along with the temple, there are other holy places of importance in the fort, like SuryaKund, JalGunfa, ShivTeertha, TambulTeertha, the Math of Rishi Markendeya.
Many holy festivals are celebrated with great pomp and devotion at this temple, like GudhiPadva, ChaitrotSav, Gokulastami, NavratrotSav, Kojagiri, LaxmiPujan, HariHar Bhet etc. A large number of devotees throng here eagerly to celebrate these festivals.
The deity is located in the western ridge of the Sahyadri, about 65 Km from Nashik. Devotees from Maharashtra and outside the State visit this deity. There are excellent lodging and boarding facilities at the fort. There are about 500 steps leading up to the temple on the hill. The idol is eight feet tall and covered with Shendur. This deity, adorned with beautiful ornaments, is believed to be compassionate towards her devotees and rushes to their aid.
2. Mahur – (Goddess RenukaMata)
Goddess RenukaMata of Mahur is one of the complete Jagrut Shakti Peeth of the Goddess. She is also recognized as the mother of Shri Parshuram. She is the tutelary Goddess of many families in Maharashtra.
It is said that the temple here was built by Yadava king of Devgiri in the thirteenth century. The fort in Mahur here has other holy places along with the Goddess’s temple, like Parshuram temple, Dattatraya temple, Anasuya temple, KalikaMata temple etc. Devotees believe that the Lord Dattatreya was born here.
The Fort RamGad is close to the Mahur fort, which has caves with carvings.
This place is in Nashik district, Mahur taluka.
3. Shri Kshetra Tuljapur (TuljaBhavani)
Goddess TuljaBhavani of Tulajapur is one of the complete Jagrut Shakti Peeth of the Goddess. This deity is famous as Devi Bagvati (Bhavani). She is the tutelary Goddess of Maharashtra, being the inspirational, motivating deity who was revered by King Shivaji who established his kingdom.
This village is located on a ridge of BalaGhat. Some part of the temple is built in the Hemadpanthi style of architecture. Historically, this temple is considered to be built either by Rashtrakut or the Yadava. Some even consider it to be built in the seventeenth to eighteenth century.
The Sahyadri section of the SkandaPurana contains the story of this deity: in the KritaYug (1,728,000 years ago), when Rishi Kardam’s wife Anubhuti was meditating, the demon Kukar tried to assault her. The devotee Anubhuti entreated Goddess Bhagvati to save her. Goddess Bhagvati revealed herself and fought with the demon Kukar and killed him. On Anubhuti’s further entreaty, the Goddess agreed to reside on the mountain ridges. This Goddess is also called as DeviTwarita-Turja-Tulaja (Bhavani ) : Goddess who rushes to the aid of a devotee and fulfils wishes.
This Goddess is recognized in the entire nation as a family deity. This Goddess has been the inspirational, motivating deity who came to the aid of her devotee in each of the Yuga : Anubhuti in KrutaYuga, King Ramchandra (of Ramayana) in TretaYuga (1,296,000 years ago), King DharmaRaja in DwarpaYuga (864,000 years ago) and King Shivaji in the KaliYug (the current Yug). Devotees from various castes and sects from various States visit here.
The south facing entrance of the temple here is called Parmar doorway. The door has a edict carved on it which says that a great devotee by the name of Jagdev Parmar offered his head at the feet of the deity seven times. The inner sanctum is to the west of the community hall in which the artistic and pleasing idol of the deity is seated on a silver throne facing east. The idol is carved out of a stone found in the Gandaki river bed and is proportionate in form. The deity is recognized as AshtaBhuja MahishasurMardini (Eight handed Goddess who killed the demon Mahishasur). The walls of the inner sanctum have small beautiful carvings.
The idol here is also unique in that it can be moved. To the north of the community hall is the deity’s bedroom in which there is a silver bed. Thrice in a year, the idol is rested on a bed. This isn’t found anywhere else. Devotees believe that perambulation around this bed blesses them with progeny.
Along with this historical Shakti Peeth, other holy places around the temple like Kallol Teerth, Gaumukh Teerth, SiddhiVinayak temple, Shri Bahavani Shankar temple, HomKund, other small temples of Gods and Goddesses, Matangi temple, etc are also famous.
This site is located in Osmanabad district and the Osmanabad and Solapur railway stations are close by. The distance between Osmanabad and Tuljapur is 19 km. There are buses plying directly here from Osmanabad, Solapur, Aurangabad, Jalgaon, Mumbai, Pune, Kolhapur.
Tuljapur also has other holy religious places like GharSheel, the Math of BhartiBua, PaapNash Teerth, Dhakte Tuljapur, TeerthaKund, RamVardayini temple, etc.
4. Kolhapur (Shri MahaLakshmi)
Shri MahaLakshmi of Kolhapur is one of the complete Jagrut Shakti Peeth of the Goddess. Researchers haven’t so far been able to conclude who built the temple. Some researchers opine that the temple was built by the King of Sind lineage from Karharak (today’s Karad) before the Shilahar dynasty reign. The Shilahar’s of Kolhapur were devotees of the deity and have recorded several time of having been blessed by the deity. Records have been discovered of the King KarnaDev of Chalukya dynasty from the seventh century having built this temple.
Many researchers are of the opinion that a lot of the ancient structure of the current temple is dated post the Chalukya period. The main structure of the temple is two storied. It is built out of the black stone found in the vicinity of Kolhapur. It is said that the dome and steeple of the temple were built by ShankarAcharya, the Chief of the Sankeshwar Math, at the cost of one lakh Rupees. The temple is shaped like a flower or asterisk. Using large square stones and mortarless construction, the temple has been built in the Hemadpanthi style architecture. The temple is west facing and the main entrance is grand and has a NagarKhana (place where Nagaras – large kettledrums – are kept) built over it. The sanctum is designed such that once a year for a period of 3 days in the lunar months of Kartik and Magh as per the Hindu almanac, an amazing phenomena occurs: the setting rays of the sun fall through the entrance of the temple, reach the inner sanctum and light up feet of the image of MahaLakshmi, gradually rising up to finally fall on the face of the image. This phenomena takes place in a matter of five minutes; devotees throng to experience this.
The Shri MahaLakshmi idol is 1.22 m tall and has been placed on a black stone pedestal which is 0.91 mtr high. There are intricately carved objects inside the temple like the Ghati Darwaza, Garud Mandap etc. The Garud Mandap and Sabha Mandap were built between 1844 to 1867. During the month of Ashwin , in Navratra a silver image of the Goddess is placed on a stone pedestal placed here and is revered through traditional rituals. Several stone edicts have been found in different parts of the temple.
A large number of devotees flock here. There are twenty Pujari (one who is adept at making traditional offerings to the deity) here to facilitate the large number of devotees to make their offerings to the deity. Every Friday, the image of the idol is taken around the premises in a procession.