No one seems to know about the origins of Ganpateshwar Temple in Shukrawar Peth; in its place stands the resilient Akara Maruti Mandir.
A Grade II heritage structure,the Ganpateshwar Temple is difficult to trace. On the list,the address 245,Shukrawar Peth,leads to nothing concrete. Locals around give doubtful glances when one enquires about the temple. In fact,the structure does not exist at all. Quaintly,at the same place,one finds the Akara Maruti and Ram Mandir complex,which also find a mention on the list. The Darshetkar family,caretakers of the Maruti Mandir,can offer no explanation for this. “There was never a temple by that name,” says Sai Darshetkar,who has been staying next to the Maruti temple for the last six years. “We know the heritage list mentions such a temple,but at this same address,nothing like that has ever existed. Sometimes,students and researchers come searching for the Ganpateshwar Temple,but we don’t really know of its existence,” she says.
While the Ganpateshwar Temple seems to be just a name on the list,the Akara Maruti and Ram Mandir is well-known in the area. The street outside the temple is called the Akara Maruti Chowk. Situated next to the Paranjape Wada,the temple is cocooned by huge wooden constructions on all sides. The space inside is a respite from the cacophony of the street. The smell of fresh jasmine,sound of birds reared in captivity,thatched roof and wooden pillars greets one here. The inner courtyard is made of thatched roof. Several passers by take refuge to ward off the sun.
Next to it,there are 11 statues of Lord Ganesha. “The Akara Ganpati name is derived out of these 11 statues. It is believed that this was constructed around 400 years ago,” says professor Mohan Darshetkar. The Darshetkars have been taking care of the temple for six generations now. “This property actually belongs to the Paranjapes,but we have been taking care of the temple. The last Peshwa,Bapu Gokhale,had constructed it,while around 1818,Rajasaheb Paranjape purchased it.”
In the temple’s sabhagruha,one can see a huge statue of Lord Ganesha. “This was the first statue that was made during Lokmanya Tilak’s time,specifically for the Ganeshotsav celebrations,” says Darshetkar. On the right,there are statues of Gopal Krishna Gokhale,Shivaji Maharaj and Dagdu Sheth Halwai,all seated next to each other. The life-size colourful statues were made during the occasion of Dagdu Sheth Halwai Temple Trust’s shatabdi completion. “These have been part of the temple since then,” says Darshetkar. Interestingly,till around 1984,the Dagdu Sheth Halwai temple statue was also kept in this premises.
For a structure which has so many years attached to its history,the Akara Maruti Mandir still stands strong. Four iron pillars hold the structure up. Wooden arches are now supported by newer bamboo sticks. The tinted ceiling,and wooden doors offer contrast. Newer support solutions have maintained the aesthetics of the place. Outside,is the bustling Shukrawar Peth,but inside,there is calming silence.
(Akara Maruti and Ram Mandir complex is situated at 245,Shukrawar Peth)