Not many knew that there was an old Ram Mandir tucked away in the Mumbai suburb of Oshiwara, between Jogeshwari and Goregaon, until a local railway station by that name was inaugurated here in 2016. While naming the station ‘Ram Mandir’ raised eyebrows, my research has revealed the existence of a much older Shiva temple on the same site. It has also thrown up some fascinating leads on the region’s history.
Right next to this Ram temple is a Shiva temple which is over 800 years older than it
Located on the bustling Ram Mandir Marg in Oshiwara, the Ram temple is a 19th century structure. However, it is incorrectly believed that this shrine is the oldest in the area. My research reveals that right next to this Ram temple is a Shiva temple called ‘Rameshwar temple’, which is over 800 years older than it.
To study the early history of Mumbai, we have to refer to the Bimbakhyana, a literary text first published in 1877 C. E. by Raghunath Putalaji Rane, a native Pathare Kshatriya (a community that settled in what is now Mumbai in 12th Century C. E.). Later, in 1924, historian V. K. Rajwade edited and published a copy of the same text, which he renamed as Mahikavatichi Bakhar urfa Mahimchi Bakhar.
Mahikavatichi Bakhar names three prominent Shiva temples in the region
A bakhar is a form of historical narrative written in Marathi prose and this one not only talks about the local history of the region but also documents administrative, socio- economic, political and genealogical details. It records the names of a number of temples in this region, including three prominent Shiva temples – Yogeshvara (present-day Jogeshwari Caves), Valukeshvara (modern-day Walkeshwar) and Mukteshvara (at Madh island, near Malad) in the city.
Interestingly, the Mahikavatichi Bakhar makes no mention of a Shiva temple at Oshiwara, or of Oshiwara itself. Hence, we don’t know much about the early history of the region. However, in the year 2011, as part of my research, a trustee of the Ram temple, Shri. Pradeep Goregaonkar invited me to see the temple during the Ram Navami Utsava. During this visit to the Ram temple, I noticed broken sculptures and other architectural fragments of an old Shiva temple next to the modern Rameshwar temple.
An old Shivalinga, a head of Shiva, a kichaka (pillar capital), the head of a lion, four pillars, five mason marks, a gadhegala (ass curse stone) and an inscription were discovered at the same site. The Shivalinga, Shiva head and kichaka can be stylistically dated to the 10th-11th centuries C.E.
The old Shivalinga is still under worship inside the Rameshwar temple sanctum. The inscription and the Shiva head were discovered in the old well behind the Shiva temple. The inscription is weathered and not clear. It is in Devanagari script and has three lines in the Marathi language. The Shiva head has a jatamukuta (crown of matted hair) and a crescent moon in the centre. Stylistically, it is very similar to the Shiva icon in the Yamantaka panel at the Ambarnath temple in Thane district on the outskirts of Mumbai.
The pillar capital adorned with a kichaka or bharvahaka, the mythical load bearers of the temple, has four hands and is highly ornamented. The head of a lion at the back of the modern Shiva temple reminds us of the lion sculpture placed on the vedi or platform at the same level as on the top of an old temple Shikhara. Four pillars, broken at the top, are still standing near the entrance of the temple.
What is fascinating is that the marks of five different masons are identified here, something that is also observed at the Ambarnath temple, which was completed in 1060 C. E. These masons’ marks indicate that at least five families were involved in the construction of this temple. A donor's inscription at Kanheri Cave No 3, in Mumbai, refers to such artisans as shelavadhaki or ‘stone carpenters’. Hence, such artisans were employed on contract basis in this region in the Shilahara period.
Another artefact found at the Rameshwar temple in Oshiwara is a gadhegala or an ‘ass curse stone’. A gadhegala is a stone stele with a sculptural panel that depicts a sexual act between a donkey and a woman. These gadhegalas served as land grant charters, where the sexual act depicted served as a warning to those who did not comply with the charter.
Such stone steles also have the sun, moon and a kalasha on top and may or may not have an inscription as well. The gadhegala found in this temple premises is broken at the top and has no inscription on it. The panel seen on the top perhaps formed the central part of this stone stele. Other artefacts found at the site include architectural fragments embellished with diamond and floral motifs.
I published a research note titled The Shiva Temple at Goregaon And Gadhegala at Worli, on this discovery, in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, in Vol. 86 in the year 2012-13. These discoveries point out that an early medieval-period Shiva temple once stood where the current Rameshwar temple stands. This temple must have played a significant role in the history of the Oshiwara-Goregaon region. However, it is odd that there is no reference to this temple in the Mahikavatichi Bakhar.
Let us return to the Ram temple, after which the local railway station was named. This Ram temple in Oshiwara was originally built in 1835. The plague of 1896 took hundreds of thousands of lives in Bombay and the population of this area too drastically fell. The temple also fell into disuse.
When parts of the old temple structure started falling, it was rebuilt by late Bhikoba and Harishchandra Jagannath Goregaonkar. As their last name suggests, they were originally from Goregaon, a suburb close to Oshiwara, before they migrated to Gamdevi in South Mumbai in 1855-56. The reconstruction was completed in 1897.
The temple’s sanctum has three marble images of Lord Rama, Lakshmana and Sita. The then patriarch of the family, Harishchandra Jagannathji, was a reputed building contractor in Bombay, credited with constructing the building that houses the office of the Commissioner of Police, opposite Crawford Market. In 1897, he started the Ramanavami Utsava at this temple from his own expense and invited the people of Sashti or Salsette island (modern Mumbai suburban region) to celebrate the same.
Today, the Ram temple that lends its name to the local railway station stands on the busy Oshiwara road but few who pass it realise that, nearby, is the site of a much older Shiva temple. It is a piece of history that is fast being swallowed by the ever-expanding metropolis of Mumbai.
Sandeep Dahisarkar is a Mumbai based Indologist and art historian, who has published several research papers on the pre-British history of Mumbai.
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