May-Jun 2011 Essay: Lonar A Heritage Site

 

Lonar - A Heritage Site

 

a k bhole

 

We all have our own favourite film genres - social themes or historical events, science fiction or adventure. My personal favourite genre is science fiction, especially those movies related to outer space. Thus, I immensely enjoyed “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon”. Both dealt with the subject of a giant meteorite falling on earth creating an unimaginable disaster of huge proportions. These films aroused my curiosity about the impact such a collision leaves on the earth’s surface. I started gathering information on the subject and was overjoyed to learn that such a site exists in the form of a crater at a small town called Lonar in Maharashtra.

The first time I visited Lonar was along with a nature lovers’ group from Pune, who had organised a special excursion there.

Since Lonar is about 400kms from Pune we journeyed by the night bus. When we reached the crater it was the beginning of dawn. The crater itself was still submerged in darkness. We stood on the edge, savouring the mysterious silence until the first rays pierced the dark cover and revealed the immense size and beauty of the crater.

The crater at Lonar is nearly 1800 metres across and is completely round. It has a conical shape, with a depth of 130 metres. At the bottom is a huge lake, an accumulation of rain water as well as a few perennial stream sources. It is an awesome sight. After a hurried breakfast, we climbed down into the crater for further exploration. As we started going around, we observed some small temples, old and falling to ruin. But they still had beautifully sculpted stone pillars and ceilings.

A sandy strip of shore surrounds the lake. We took a sample of the water and tested its pH. It was 10.5 - very salty! And yet, we saw a few species of duck in the lake. There was some wildlife too - wildcats, monitor lizards and peacocks, all making for a unique ecosystem in the crater.

It isn’t surprising that a phenomenon like Lonar has its own share of mythology. One legend goes that a powerful but wicked demon called Lavanasur lived in the crater, which back then was covered with a hill. Lavanasur terrorised the population and even the Gods. Finally, Lord Vishnu accepted the task of killing the demon. In the form of a young, handsome youth he attracted the attentions of Lavanasur’s sister Ashadha. She showed him the secret path into the crater. Lord Vishnu then kicked off the top of the hill (which fell some distance away) and challenged the demon to a duel. Following Ashadha’s advice, he placed his toe in the demon’s navel and twisted it until the blood oozed out and became the salty water of the lake, while the demon’s body became the muddy shore.

The depiction of this killing can be seen with the aid of a good torch, on the ceiling of the Daityasudan temple in Lonar town. This temple, nearly 800 years old, has a unique architectural style with its tall exquisitely carved pillars and plinths.

We ended our day’s tour at this temple, and retired to the State Government Rest House on the crater’s edge. There is also an MTDC Tourist Hotel a little way from the crater’s edge which is more comfortable.

Lonar is 150km east by road from Aurangabad and can be a day’s trip from there. On this route is the small fort of Lakhuji Jadhav, grandfather of Chhatrapati Shivaji, at Sindkhed Raja.

Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to Lonar and have revisited too, with different groups. My wish of witnessing the site of a real life meteoric collision has been truly fulfilled.

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