If unique art motifs in temples are what attract you, the group of temples of Markandi or Markanda Deva in Gadchiroli district of Vidarbha would be worth a visit for they certainly stand as an embodiment of the finest traditions of sculptural and architectural art of the Vidarbha region. Also, the surrounding landscape of small hillocks and the river flowing below have made Markandi a pleasing tourist attraction.
Located about 216 kilometers southeast of Nagpur, the village Markandi is believed to have acquired the name probably after the main temple of Shiva at the site, known as Markanda Deva or Markandi. The group of temples here is situated on the eastern periphery of the village and has acquired sanctity over the years as it stands on the bank of the perennial and holy river Wainaganga. The main temple in the group is assigned to Markanda Rishi. The ‘Puranas’ also refer to Markandeya, the son of Mrikanda, to whom another temple in the complex is dedicated. Markandeya is referred to in several of the Puranas and it is stated that he was very famous and long-lived. He is believed to have practiced severe penance to get the favours of Shiva.
Four of the 20 temples viz Markanda Rishi, Yamadharma, Mrikanda Rishi and Shankara Temple are still well preserved. Of these, the main temple draws the maximum number of devotees as well as tourists and connoisseurs of art. Unlike any of the temples not only in Vidarbha but also in Maharashtra, the exterior of this temple is full of lavishly carved sculptures. It has human sculptures modeled with rhythm and grace, and the images of gods and goddesses represent interesting aspects in iconography.
In fact, some of the imagery found here has unique characteristics. As for example, the image depicting Lord Ganesha engaged in dance. It occupies a prominent place on the south face of the temple and is one of the most enchanting icons in the entire range. Here, Ganesha is shown holding a battle axe, tooth, serpent, flower, etc. Equally fascinating is the image of Saraswati who is shown with six arms with a lotus flower in her upper right; rosary in her lower right; the third right playing upon a musical instrument; the middle left with a manuscript; and the lower left having a fruit. She is seen wearing all her usual ornaments of which the armlets are noteworthy. The peacock, her mount, is shown in a shallow niche below her.
It is said that when Bibhishan, the brother of Ravan, the prince of the Rakshasas, was sick, Hemadpant, the minister of the Yadavas, cured him and the grateful patient told him to ask for a wish. Hemadpant asked for the aid of Rakshasas to build temples wherever he might require them. The boon was granted but on condition that the Rakshasas were not to work for more than one night at a time. Hemadpant accordingly built all the temples at Markanda, Bhandak, Neri, etc., in one night. This is a legend told about the temples of Hemadpanti origin in this district as also the rest of Maharashtra.
How to reach:
Nearest airport is at Nagpur.
The nearest railway station is at Chandrapur, 80 km from Gadchiroli. The distance between Markandi and Gadchiroli is about 30 kms.
From Mumbai, it’s a long drive via Nashik, Aurangabad, Jalna, Yavatmal and Chandrapur before finally reaching the town of Markanda.
From Nagpur, Markanda is a pleasant three and a half hour drive via the Nagbhir-Nagpur highway.
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