After crossing Lanco Hills, a two-kilometre travel will take you to the main entrance of a magnificent temple with huge wooden doors painted in dark brick red colour. The area is called Rangbagh, also known as old Mumbai highway.
History of the temple
It is said that Seth Shivlal Pitti purchased the land and the building for Rs 79,000 in the year 1861 from the Nizam. In the year 1935, Raja Bahadur Sir Bansilal Pitti, the grandson of Seth Shivlal Pitti, set aside a sum of Rs 75,000 the income from which was to be spent on meeting the expenses of the temple. Till 1954, the temple was part of the private property of the Pitti family. In 1954, late Pannalal Pitti, son of Raja Bahadur Sir Bansilal Pitti, created a trust to which the temple and appurtenant land, jewellery, silver, vahanas, and utensils were transferred.
From 1861, worship at the temple happened on a daily basis and rituals have been performed uninterruptedly. The present board of trustees is headed by the chairman and managing trustee Sharad Pitti, grandson of late Pannalal Pitti.
The temple is completely made of stone and stone pillars. As we enter, we can see the well-maintained premises while the quarters given to the pujari (priest) and the watchman are located just beside the temple.
There are three temples within the complex: the main temple is that of Lord Ranganathaswamy, the vigraha of which is made of a single piece black stone with the Lord in the reclining posture under the hood of five-headed snake with his consorts Sridevi, Bhudevi and Neela Devi sitting at his feet. Lord Brahma can be seen sitting in the lotus which emerges from the naval of Ranganathaswamy. And the Dasavataras of Lord Vishnu are seen carved on that stone.
The second temple is devoted to Goddess Lakshmi wherein the moola vigraha is made with a single black stone. And the utsavamoorthi is made with panchadhatu.
The third temple is devoted to Sri Ramanujacharya and other acharyas of Sri Vaishnava sampradayam. The temple and other structures were conferred with the prestigious Intach award in April 2002 for their unique architecture, state of the structures and their upkeep.
Revival of Vilasini ritual
Perhaps, this is the only temple in India which has revived and follows the Devadasi tradition. The Brahmotsavam for the temple is celebrated in the month of January, the utsavmoorthis of Lord Ranganathswamy and his consorts are brought out on a pallaki (palanquin) and on various vahanas daily, and special sevas are also performed, and some of these sevas are accompanied by the traditional temple dances.
Interestingly, these dances were customarily performed only by consecrated temple dancer (Devadasi). With the banning of all sevas connected to Devadasis in 1948, these devotional dances came to an abrupt end. After painstaking research and direct learning from the last living devadasis of united Andhra Pradesh, the obsolete dances have now been reviewed for the first time in the history of Indian classical dance.
These were performed during the Brahmotsavam in 1996 by the internationally renowned dancer Swapana Sundari.
“For the past 18-19 years, I am glad that I am participating in this temple’s rituals. When I started learning the Vilasini Natyam (performed by Devadasis once upon a time), many started asking ‘why are you learning this art form’? Are you going to wear a lady’s dress and perform? I did not pay any heed to their words,” says Sanjay Kumar Joshi, the only male Vilasini dancer from the city. Apart from reviving the dance ritual, certain traditional musical instruments, temple drums, and chanting were reintroduced.
The revival of ancient and ritualistic temple dances through ‘Vilasini Natyam’ performed at Rangbagh in 1996 marked the beginning of a new chapter in Indian classical dance. In order to ensure the temple dances don’t become extinct, once again, these are being performed on a continuous basis.
On all days of Brahmotsavam, artistes from national and international level come and perform in the evening. On the Rathostvam day, which falls on the seventh day of the Brahmotsavam, the ancient five-storeyed, 35-foot, decorated wooden chariot is drawn by the devotees to some distance where the effigy of Ravana is burnt after a grand and specular display of fireworks.