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Ajgaibinath, the lost Shiva
Ajgaibinath : Introduction
If someone ever takes an opinion poll about the most popular Hindu deity, without doubt Lord Shiva will be an undisputed winner. Be it in the North or South or East or West of India, everywhere people worship Shiva, every village or town of this vast country possesses at least one temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and everywhere some fair or similar festival is organized with Lord Shiva as the central point of attraction. It can be safely said that Lord Shiva is the true democratic God with extensive following in the whole country.
The Eastern states of Bihar & Jharkhand contain three very important temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, viz. Baidyanath at Deoghar, Ajgaibinath at Sultangunj & Basukinath near Dumka. All three are associated with lots of mythological & historical stories & facts. This article is about one of them, viz. Lord Ajgaibinath.
The Shivalingam proper
Ajgaibinath : Mythology
According to a mythological legend Lord Shiva used here a bow known as Ajgav and so the place came to be known as Ajgaibinath. He stayed here in the form of a Lingam, & a temple was constructed later.
The Ganga connection
As per the mythology, the holy river Ganga was brought to the earth by King Bhagiratha with a purpose to liberate the 60,000 sons of his ancestor King Sagar from the curse of the sage Kapil. Bhagiratha was guiding Ganga from the Himalayas through the country towards the sea at southern Bengal . While they reached the area now known as Sultangunj, the noise of the rushing water of Ganga disturbed the meditating sage Jahnu who was staying at a hill called Jahnu Giri. Jahnu was furious at this disturbance & swallowed all the waters of Ganga. Bhagiratha was at a loss & was aggrieved too. Without the water of Ganga his mission would fail. So he prayed to the sage to liberate Ganga. Jahnu was ultimately pleased & released Ganga by incising his thigh. This incidence gave a new name to Ganga – Jahnabi.
There is still a place called Jahangira nearby, the name of which is derived from Jahnu Giri or Jahnu Griha (abode of Jahnu).
The hill that contained the Ashram of the sage Jahnu is still existing in the mid stream of the Ganga and the famous Shiva temple of Ajgaibinath is situated at its summit.
The temple & the sculptures on rock-face
The historical connection
The temple of Ajgaibinath & the hill on the summit of which it is situated were considered holy since time immemorial. It was already famous during the the rule of the Gupta empire.
The Shivlingam was somehow lost & it is believed that King Shashanka of Bengal re-established it in the 7th century CE. Later, during the tenure of the Pal empire it was considered holy too.
It is commonly said that the infamous anti-Hindu Muslim General Kalapahar, who destroyed countless Hindu temples, failed to demolish Ajgaibinath temple but he could destroy the Parvati temple on the neighbouring hill and built a mosque there. It is still there.
By the 15th century this Shivlingam was not visible and cannot be found. Mahatma Harnath Bharti found out this hidden Shivlingam and the devotees named this Shivling as ‘Ajgaibinath’ ( Aj meaning Shiva and Gaibi meaning hidden or lost).
Harnath Bharti & Ajgaibinath
The present-day Ajgaibinath Shivalingam was established by Mahatma Harnath Bharti in the 15th century CE. The temple was also renovated to some extent by him. He was the first Mahanta of this temple.
The temple of Ajgaibinath is situated on a granite hill jutting out from the bed of the river Ganga foirming a hilly island at Sultangunj which is a small town about 30 km from Bhagalpur in Bihar. At present, the flow of Ganga has changed its course a little, so the hill is now standing on the bank of the holy river in dry seasons. It becomes an island only during the monsoon or during the floods. The hill is connected to the mainland by a long narrow bridge. The hill has many temples & few caves. The main temple of Ajgaibinath is at the top, approachable by a long & steep flight of steps.
The temple is built in the traditional North Indian or Nagara style with a tall spire. At present it is painted reddish saffron. Inside, there is the main Shivlingam of Lord Ajgaibinath on the right side of the sanctum sanctorum as the devotees face it with the traditional Gouripatta surrounding it. There are two other Shivlingams inside the temple.
Outside the main temple, there are a number of satellite temples of many deities including Bhairab Shiva, Navagraha (the nine planets), Ganapati etc. Besides,there are residences of sadhus of different stature.
It is said that there were a number of caves in the hill, but all of them are closed now except a small one which is open to the public. It contains a large number of high bas relief images of different gods & goddesses including some Jain idols.
Sculptures on the rock-face
The granite rock-face of the hill bears a large number of high bas reliefs again of different gods & goddesses including some Jain (&/or Buddhist) idols. Notable among these are images of Lord Shiva with his consort Parvati, Lord Narayana or Vishnu, Goddess Lakshmi & Lord Ganesha. It is believed that these sculptures date back to the Pala period that existed from 750–1174 CE.
As a whole it is an awesome display of sculpture & art.
Ajgaibinath is one of the three major Shiva temples of Bihar-Jharkhand region, the two other being Lord Baidyanath at Deoghar (considered to be a JYOTIRLINGAM) & Lord Vasukinath near Dumka, Jharkhand.
There is a tradition of carrying holy Ganga water from Sultangunj after a holy dip in the Ganga [which is incidentally flowing towards North (Uttarvahini) considered to be very auspicious] & a Puja (worship) of Ajgaibinath to the temple of Lord Baidyanath at Deoghar some 110 km away, & then to the temple of Lord Vasukinath, a further 41 km. The devotees walk bare footed for three to four days to complete this walk.
This takes place every year during the months of Shravan & Bhadra (mid-July to mid-September) months of the Hindu almanac. Hundreds of thousands of devotees, all clad in saffron clothes & a slogan of “BOM BHOLE” in mouth & carrying pitchers of holy water from Ganga on a pole on the shoulders walk in a very long procession, often covering the total distance of 110 km, a sight incredible & mesmerizing indeed. This is known as a Kalash pilgrimage (Kalash means pitcher).
Every year on the occasion of ‘Magh Purnima’, a huge fair is organized at the Ajgaibinath temple complex and devotees take bath in the holy river offering prayers. This is a true example of divine faith of people.
How to reach
Sultangunj is situated about 30 km from Bhagalpur, the third largest city of Bihar. Bhagalpur is connected to all the major Indian cities.
Best time to visit
Unless you are very religiously inclined or want to perform the Kalash Yatra , winter is the best time to visit this beautiful place, though the receding Ganga denies the visitors the scene of an island jutting out from midstream.
In any case, this beautiful temple with its rich mythological & historical connections should be a must in every visitor’s list.