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Thumb worshipped instead of linga at this Shiva temple

There is a deep ditch in the middle of the statue of Arbud Naag in the garbhagriha of the Achaleshwar Mahadev Temple, inside which Shiva's thumb is worshipped

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Amid the thousands of temples of Shiva, including 12 jyotirlingas, in the country where the deity is a Shivalinga (or linga) or a murti, there is a rare Shiva temple in District Sirohi of Rajasthan where His thumb is worshipped: Achaleshwar Mahadev Temple located at Achalgarh in Mount Abu.

While stories of faith are associated with most shrines, legend says this temple is 5,000 years old whereas history says it was built in the 9th century AD by the Paramara dynasty. These rulers are recognised for constructing the original Achalgarh Fort as well, which Maharana Kumbha later rebuilt, refurbished and named Achalgarh in 1452 CE.

Arbuda, which came to be known as Mount Abu, is the place where sage Vashishtha meditated. The Arbud section of Shiva Purana and Skanda Purana mention this temple.

As one enters the sacred place, two elephant statues greet pilgrims at the entrance. There are numerous small temples in the compound.

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A mix of history, legend and faith: Why thumb is worshipped

In front of the main temple, there is a statue of Nandi made of Panchdhatu, which weighs about 4 tonnes. There is an inscription on one of the walls of the main temple. The inscription is dated 8 Chaitra Shukla Paksha of 1464 Vikram Samvat (1407 CE).

Here, history and legend mix. Nandi is believed to have defended the temple from an assault by Muslim invaders by unleashing countless bumble bees on the attackers. While the Muslims indeed attacked the temple during the reign of Kumbha but mysteriously retreated, the part about bumble bees is a matter of faith.

The murti of Nandi weighs 4 tonnes. It is crafted from panchadhatu, an alloy consisting of five metals: gold, silver, copper, brass and zinc.

Adjacent to Nandi is the brass figure of the renowned 16th-century Charan poet and warrior, Dursaji Arha. The inscription on the brass statue of Dursaji Arha is dated Baisakh S. 5, 1686 VS (1629 CE).

There are 108 small lingas in the main temple. Many ancient statues are installed nearby. There is a deep ditch in the middle of the statue of Arbud Naag in the sanctum sanctorum. Shiva’s thumb is worshipped inside this ditch.

No matter how much water is poured into this ditch, it never gets filled. There are many murtis of gods at the sanctum sanctorum, like Kalabhairava installed by Maharaja Kumbha.

Arbud Naag in the ditch is sheltered under this canopy
Arbud Naag in the ditch is sheltered under this canopy

Temple priest Pannalal Rawal says, “Indradev had made a Brahma ditch here. The celestial cow Nandini lived in Vashishtha Ashram, falling into the ditch off and on. The sage invoked Goddess Saraswati and took the cow out.”

The gods told the sage about the deep ditch outside his ashram and urged the saint to do something about it. Vashishtha brought Arbudanchal Mountain and Arbud Nag and established them in the Brahma Khai.

Later, when earthquakes began, the gods went to sage Vashishtha. While in samadhi, the sage saw that due to the absence of Mahadeva, earthquakes were occurring in the region due to the movement of the serpent Arbud. That is when Vashishtha installed the thumb of Shiva here.

Since then, the Arbudanchal mountain has been immovable. With Shiva established in the shrine, the name of the temple became Achaleshwar.

The term “Achaleshwara” is derived from Sanskrit, combining ‘achala‘ meaning immovable and ‘Ishwara‘ meaning God. Typically, names suffixed with “~ishwara” are associated with Shiva. “Mahadeva” is a combination of “maha” (great) and deva (god); it is the title of Shiva, the deity to whom this temple is devoted.

Even today, a stream of water flows from the mouth of Nandini in Vashishtha Ashram.

Present-day maintenance and a discovery

The temple underwent substandard repair and renovation, with a layer of lime concealing the intricate marble carvings and filigree work that Rajasthan artisans were renowned for. This obscured the temple’s beauty, rendering it insignificant. However, this unintentional blessing safeguarded the marble from harm.

In 1979, the Sirohi princely state’s crown prince stumbled upon exposed marble beneath the lime, prompting the renovation efforts under his guidance. Skilled artisans meticulously removed the lime to unveil the temple’s former splendour. Pillars and columns were expertly refurbished before being reinstalled.

As the garbhagriha, the temple’s sanctum sanctorum, underwent restoration, it was discovered that it was constructed not with marble slabs on bricks but with massive marble blocks. Additionally, a path for parikrama, the Hindu ritual of circumambulation around deities, encircling the garbhagriha was unearthed.

Alcoves featuring sculptures of Goddess Chamunda, one at the rear and another on the left, were adorned with red vermillion, indicating regular worship predating the repairs.

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