Wai, Maharashtra is a religious town on the southwestern edge of India. Located on the banks of River Krishna, Wai is famous for its ghats and temples. Cultural history flows through this small town and its scenic views make it a favorite tourist destination. Once the cultural capital of Maharashtra, remnants of its historical fame are all over town.
More than 100 temples can be seen and visited through Wai with rich mythological connections. Along with its monuments and charming views, Wai is also a hotspot for Bollywood films. Its picturesque appeal and historic relevance make Wai an interesting river town.
Wai’s Temple Wonders
Peshwas, or appointed Prime Ministers, served Maharashtra for over a hundred years, from 1713 to 1857. The wife of Nanasaheb Peshwa from the Raste family, Gopikabai, had her origins in Wai. Other locally important families, such as Ranade and Phadnavis, were the builders of architecturally significant temples throughout the city.
Mandhar Devi Temple, also known as the temple of Mandhardevi Kalubai, is said to be more than 400 years old and sits almost 5,000 feet above sea level. Lower caste Hindus perform the annual Kalubai Jatra pilgrimage at the Mandhar Devi Temple, spanning over ten days.
The main event is a day-long festival that includes animal sacrifices to the goddess. This annual fair, which takes place in January, is in honor of Kaleshwari Devi, respectfully called Kalubai by the loyal. The temple of Mandhardevi Kalubai has no recorded date of construction but is known to be built during Shivaji’s Maratha rule in the late 17th century.
The largest and most known temple in Wai is the Dholya Ganapati temple. Built during the Peshwa dynasty in 1762 by Wai’s ruler, the temple was erected as protection to the town. The seven ghats of Wai surround the temple, also known as Dakshin Kashi.
The architecture of the temple incorporates a quadrangular courtyard to protect from floods and a triangular-shaped rear wall to symbolize fishing boats. In the sanctum sanctorum sits the massive idol of Lord Ganesha or Ganapati. Shri Ganpatrao Bhikaji Raste structured and designed Lord Ganesha’s temple in 1762.
The idol is close to ten feet tall and eight feet wide, carved out of a single black stone from Karnataka, a town south of Wai. The magnificence of the idol can be seen at first glance. The name of the temple comes from the idol and is translated to, ‘huge or fat’ in Marathi.
Designed in a happy posture, Lord Ganesha’s idol is decorated with ornaments including Yajnopavita, a sacred thread. The statue’s background stands over nine feet high in a crescent shape. The sanctum sanctorum roof is the highest of all temples in Wai at 80 feet from the base to the crown.
Bollywood and Wai
As mentioned before, Wai’s scenic beauty and historic temples make it a tourist destination and Bollywood shooting location. In 2004, the shooting of the film Swades made the village of Wai all the more famous.
According to a report by Hindustan Times, permission for filming is easier to obtain in Wai because of the employment opportunities that present themselves in the process. Local comfortability with the shootings also limits the issue of crowd management.
The film team for Swades even extended their stay for seven months to shoot music videos. In fact, a lot of songs are shot in Wai such as Yeh Tara Woh Tara and Mar Maari. Director Rohit Shetty’s film Chennai Express was also filmed in Wai, including Deepika and Shah Rukh Khan’s confrontation scene.
The temple filming locations are near Brahmanshahi ghat. The Chakreshwar, Chineshwar, Kaunteshwar, and Kaleshwar temples are the four locations used in Bollywood movies and songs. The village of Wai appears in 250 films throughout Bollywood, Marathi, and Bhojpuri.
The River’s Stories
Adding to Wai’s scenery is its rich history and culture. The main festival celebrated in Wai is Krishnabai Utsav. For eight days, the festival celebrates the River Krishna that flows through the town. The river has a long history that tells the story of Wai’s development and people’s everyday lives.
For example, it was considered holy to dip oneself into the river before and after worshipping Lord Ganesha at the Dholya Ganapati Temple. The Krishnabai festival dates back to the Maratha Empire, founded in 1674. Before going out to defeat King Chatrapati Shivaji, Shendye Shastri of Wai prayed to the River Krishna for victory. From this, the Krishnabai festival came to be. On each of Wai’s ghats, it is celebrated for up to eight days.
Different activities include carrying an idol of the River Goddess Krishna in procession with drums, lezim, or traditional group dance, and gulal, a red colored powder. The powder is thrown around the ghats where Wai’s people are dressed up, offering their prayers. Followed by the procession is the distribution of prasad, or offerings, from each house. Nightly cultural events take place on the river banks for the remainder of days.
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