Thursday, November 15, 2007


Throughout the history of humankind, structures related to death rituals have been given speacial attention - the Buddhist Stupas, the Pyramids and the Islamic Tombs. When we visited Mahabaleshwar last year we were surprised to see Parsi cemeteries near the golf course of the Mahabaleshwar Club.

Traditionally, Parsis do not bury the dead bodies of their deceased - they keep them in an open space for vultures to clean them off to the bone. However at Mahabaleshwar, which was once the summer capital of Bombay Presidency, the small community of Parsis intermingled with British culture. During this time, some Parsis started burying their dead through erecting beautiful memorials over those graves, a practice still being continued.


I lived in Pune for nearly seven years, yet never heard of Wai, a town of ghats and temples located on the foothills of Sayadri at a distance of 90 km from Pune. In the winter of 2006, Kalini, my wife, my in-laws and I had a vacation at Mahabaleshwar, a popular hill station at Sayadri. Before we planned the trip I had a look at Outlook Traveller to enquire about the nearby places. The description on Wai fascinated me…may be due to my association with archaeology and history.

In one of the days of our staying at the Mahabaleshwar Club, I decided to visit Wai. Kalini could not accompany me due to her back problem.

When I climbed down from Sayadries, I could see a settlement from the top, beside a beautiful reservoir, but no ghats and shrines as mentioned in the Outlook Traveller. I was slightly disappointed. Even the Wai State Transport bus stand was dull with no glimpse of any heritage shrines. Once I crossed the river bed and entered the town, the real treasures of Wai were unfolded one after another.

The first attraction of Wai was the Ganapati ghat on the bank of River Krishna. It was nice to see laidback bullock carts and the bulls resting on the ghats along with pilgrims. The main attraction was the bulls whose horn cores were decorated with bright red colours. In western part of Maharashtra it is a common sight to see such pilgrims wandering from one holy town to another in their lovely carts.

The Ganapati ghat has a cluster of temples, the most significant being the Dholya Ganapati. The temple has a beautiful idol of Lord Ganesh. The idol has been sculpted out of basalt and painted red. Ganapati Rao Bhikaji Raste, the ruler of Wai had built this temple in 1762. The next major temple in the ghat is the Kashi Vishveshwar – a splendid one with stuccos depicting an array of Bhakti saints of Medieval Maharashtra. The temple also shrines a huge Nandi and two beautiful dipmalas. Such dipmalas are a typical feature in the temples of Western Maharashtra and Konkan regions. The Kashi Vishveshwar temple along with other Shiva temples located across the seven ghats of the town suggest the importance of the place as a centre of Shiva worship. Due to these associations, Wai is also known as Dakshin Kashi. Bhikaji Raste's daughter Gopikabai had married to the Peshwa ruler Balaji Bajirao, who was also known as Nana Saheb. The Rastes had helped the Peshwas in their millitary campaigns at Gujarat, Malwa and Karnataka. They had built palaces, temples, ghats and gardens at Wai. All most all the temples of Wai had been built in the late Peshwa period (1761 - 1818).

From the Ganapati ghat I walked along the river and entered to a WADA (HAVELI). The WADAS are typical house types of western Maharashtra that had evolved in the Peshwa time in and around Pune. The WADAS of Wai have plenty of intricate and charming wood work.

Another major attraction of Wai is the temple of the Dattatreya or Dattoba cult. In western Maharashtra Dattoba is a popular cult – Dattatreya in an incarnation of the Divine trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. According to historians Dattatreya was a holy Brahman, who lived about the 10th century. According to some, he is an incarnation of only Vishnu; and at Wai the image of Dattatreya has only one head along with attributes, to represent the Lord Vishnu. There is an interesting story about the origin Dattatreya cult.

Once upon a time in a forest retreat lived Anusuya with her husband sage Atri. Anusuya was known for her extreme pativratayam (devotion to her husband). Sage Narada once visited their retreat and was very impressed with Anusuya’s pativratayam. After returning to the devlok, he praised Anusuya before the wives of Brahma – Vishnu – and Shiva making them jealous of her. They requested their husbands to do some thing. The gods went to Anusuya as guests in the absence of Atri and asked her to serve them food. When she agreed to do so, they asked her to serve without wearing cloths. Anusuya’s intuition felt that the guests were not normal people, since they asked for alms saying “Bhavati Bhikshan Dehi” (Oh Mother! Give us some food). Anusuya decided that she would consider them as requested. When she came to serve food, the gods became small children and her breast started producing milk. She then breastfed them and put them to sleep in a cradle. When they woke up in their original form they praised Anusuya’s pativratayam. They gave her boom, and were born to her as her child. The child was known as Dattatreya.

I saw a number of men clad with typical Maharshtrian dress engaged in earnest devotion before the temple entrance.

I spent nearly 3 hours at Wai. But the experience was wonderful.