The Sahyadri hills along the Konkani coast are volcanic hills. These hills were formed as a result of hot lava flowing out into peaks. The Sahyadri range is an escarpment that overlooks the sea with its steep slopes and numerous river valleys that carry the water to Arabian sea. And this unique geology has in its expanse, a series of thermal water tanks. The hot-water tanks or thermal springs are heated up from the exhaust gases from sub-surface area, and the boiling water is accessible at the surface (ground level) at numerous sites along the Konkan coast. The water tanks at Rajawadi, Aravali, etc are famous as sacred sites with hot water.
Sahyadri Khanda mentions the hot water springs as sacred sites to purify oneself and absolve of all the sins. The text mentions so-and-so acetic performing oblations at the hot springs to gain favour of the gods. Sacred or not, these springs with a generous dose of minerals make for a great dip in the warm waters. They come close to the Japanese hot springs – uh, not in the cleanliness around the built tank, but the actual water. It is hence, not difficult to imagine the popularity of these tanks in the medieval Konkani winters. And maybe as a way to secure or to make the area exclusive for some, the hot springs are accompanied by narratives and a neighbouring temple embodying the narrative to some extent. Instead of looking at all the hot springs and sites in the Konkan area, let us focus on one as a case example.
Shiva Temple at Rajawadi
Rajawadi (lit. area of the kings), the site near Tural, in Sangmeshwar taluka of Ratnagiri district, boasts of twin hot springs. A temple dedicated to Shiva is situated close to this site. Aravali Shiva temple is connected to the Durga temple on a fort nearby. The presence of under-ground passage connecting the temple near the village of Rajawadi to the hill fort makes for interesting tales during wars and successful escapes from the medieval times. The temple as it stands today, retains the non-glamourous look about it. An ornate wooden structure in front of the sanctum however reveals the royal association with the temple. The hot spring and the temple are connected through tradition and practice.
One washes the feet with warm water carried out from the steaming hot spring water. Once clean, the devotees then walk upto the Shiva temple, to seek blessings. The Shiva-linga is bathed with warm water from the spring. The association of Shiva and water bodies needs no elaboration for the manner in which it unfolds through the Hindu cosmogony. Water, as Ganga herself, and Shiva, the bearer of Ganga in his hair locks, repeats as a powerful metaphor through texts, places and narratives of performance. The narratives or Shiva or the legends of the hot springs do not find a place on the elaborate iconography at the temple. The iconography on the wood-work at Rajawadi temple, however makes up for an interesting thought experiments and an incessant will to unearth the esoteric narratives crystallized in wood.
13 of 30 in the series “Konkan: May-illuminate”