Lord Ganesha or Vinayaka is very close to the heart of all Maharashtrians. Any auspicious occasion and Ganesha is the first one to be worshiped. He is the God of wisdom, patron of all knowledge and remover of obstacles. Ashtavinayak Yatra (pilgrimage of the 8 Ganeshas) is common after any major events in life or after a special wish fulfillment.
These eight Ganesha shrines are supposed to be ‘Swayambhu’, (meaning the idols appeared as such, without human efforts) and ‘Jagrut’ (Alive) along with being very powerful. There is a sequence to be followed in visiting these temples and it is sacrosanct. The pilgrimage ends where it started.
It starts with Moreshwar temple, the most important of the eight, is 55 kilometers from Pune city. The name literally means Peacock God. The temple was built in black stone during the Bahamani reign. The first thing that strikes you from far is that it looks more like a Mosque rather than a Temple owing to its minarets. A clever tactic used to save it from Mogul vandalism. In the sanctum sanctorum, the idol is riding on a peacock. Legend says that the demon Sindhu was killed by this Ganesha. His consorts Riddhi and Siddhi are on either side. He holds a cobra in his hand.
To visit the second of the Ashtavinayaka, Siddhi Vinayaka, we need to travel to Ahmednagar. This shrine is built during Peshwa regime and is on a hillock. To do one perambulation of the God, you need to go around the hill. Even in this temple, his two wives, Ridhdhi and Sidhdhi are sitting on his lap. This is the only Vinayaka with his trunk on the right. Right trunked Ganesha is supposed to be very strict with his devotees but also great at granting wishes.
The third Vinayaka is Ballaleshwar in Pali. The story goes that Little Ballala was a great devotee of Ganesha and was beaten up for it by his father. Ganesha saved him and punished his father. On the request of this boy, he settled in Pali. In the1700s Nana Phadanvis reconstructed this wooden temple in stone. This idol is accompanied by his vehicle, a mouse (Mushaka) and is studded with diamonds. The eight pillars in the hall are carved exquisitely.
The next Vinayaka is Varadvinayaka in Mahad. The name means the giver of boons. He is the God of bounty and success. The idol was found immersed in a lake nearby in the 1700s. The oil lamp here is burning continually since 1890. This is the only temple where devotees are allowed to touch the deity directly.
Fifth in the Ashtavinayaka is Chintamani in Theur, 22 kilometers from Pune. Ganesha retrieved a precious jewel Chintamani for Sage Kapila, who in turn gifted it to him and hence the name. Chintamani is a wish-fulfilling jewel, red in color.
Sixth Ashtavinayaka is Girijatmaja, which literally means ‘son of Goddess Parvati’. This temple is in a complex of 18 Buddhist caves, carved out of a single stone. You have to climb 300 odd steps to reach the shrine and the God is worshipped from the back of the temple.
Vighneshwar in Ozar near Pune also has an interesting story. A demon called Vighnasur (Vigna means obstacles) was defeated by Ganapati here and hence the name.
The last Vinayaka is Mahaganapati in Ranjangaon. The idol is in a seated position. It is said that the original one is kept safe in the basement and it has 10 trunks and 20 hands. The legend goes that Lord Shiva himself worshipped Mahaganapati before he fought the devil Tripurasura.
And that brings us back to the Moreshwara temple. Thus we complete the Ashtavinayak pilgrimage. Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.