Sree Ranbireshwar Temple: The Jewel in the Crown of the City of Temples
By Sayan Lodh
The city of Jammu was established by Raja Jambulochan (1320-1290 BCE) along the banks of Tawi river. According to a legend, while on a hunting trip Jambulochan saw a lion and a goat drinking water together from one of the waterholes in the forest. Inspired by this coexistence of rival species, he founded a city where people from different regions and religions could peacefully coexist and prosper.
Maharaja Ranbir Singh (1857-1885), son of Gulab Singh (first ruler and founder of Kashmir’s Dogra dynasty) planned to make Jammu a ‘City of Temples’ akin to Varanasi (erstwhile Benares or Kashi). As part of the plan, he constructed many temples and shrines within and on the outskirts of Jammu. The Ranbireshwar temple (officially “Sree Ranbireshwar Temple”) was constructed between 1882 and 1883 as a part of that process. This temple dedicated to Hindu God Shiva (a part of the Trinity of Hinduism comprising of Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwar or Shiva), can easily be termed as one of the ‘rarest jewels’ in the crown of Jammu’s temples. The murtis (idols) were acquired from Rajasthan, the big black lingam from the Narmada river bed, and the small white lingams (a symbol of divine generative energy, especially a phallus or phallic object as a symbol of Shiva) from the Ganga river bed at Kashi. These were brought by trains into Jammu. Despite his illness, the Maharaja pulled the ropes of the chariots alongside the troops for bringing these holy idols from Jammu station to their current location.
There are many legendary tales associated with the place. One states that Shiva appeared in the dream of Maharaja Ranbir Singh, commanding him to construct the temple at the location where Arjuna (third Pandava brother of Mahabharata epic) attained special powers after worshipping Jambu Devi. Accordingly, the construction started. (Anonymous, Ranbireshwar Temple in Jammu Kashmir n.d.) During the inauguration ceremony, the Maharaja fell severely ill and was unable to attend it. Instead, his younger brother, Raja Ram Singh tried to conduct the ceremony. Despite their best efforts the gigantic (between 7-8 feet tall) Shiva Lingam could not installed in the Vedi or Jalhari (a raised platform for keeping the deity statues to give them an exalted status, akin to a ruler’s throne). Subsequently, an ailing Maharaja personally visited and offered prayers to Lord Shiva, and was successful in getting the majestic Lingam installed in the holy vedi amidst chants of Hara Hara Mahadev [literal meaning “O Great Lord Shiva Save us from the ocean of births and deaths!”] and other Shaivite bhajans (devotional songs) sung to by devotees. (Gupta 2015) Another tale narrates that the Shiva lingam was made so tall on the advise of a sage who used to perform meditation at the current location of the temple. The saint’s samadhi (tomb) was built in the open land below the temple. (Anonymous, Ranbireshwar Temple Oldest historical temple of Jammu City 2022) Due to the height of the primary lingam, the shikhara (spire) of the temple is the highest in Jammu.
The temple was named after its patron – Maharaja Ranbir (Ranbir and Ishwar equalling Ranbireshwar or the Lord of Ranbir).This is perhaps the largest Shiva temple in North India. The west-facing three-storeyed shrine is situated at a prominent location in Shalimar Road overlooking the Secretariat of Jammu and Kashmir in central portion of the city. It overlooks the parade ground in the east. (Anonymous, Ranbireshwar Temple Oldest historical temple of Jammu City 2022)
The temple follows Nagara (the temple architectural style prevalent in Northern parts of India) style architecture. The garbagriha (sanctum sanctorum) on the second floor is located atop two-storeyed raised platform with access being provided through a flight of stairs. The shikharais topped by four gold-plated kalasha (pots).The rooms in the ground and first floors for accommodation of pujaris (priests), yatris (pilgrims) and other staffs of the temple compound. Unlike most temples of north India, Ranbireshwar temple houses a special meditation hall for the devotees where they can sit and pray in solitude away from the hustle and bustle of city life. (Seth 2018, 273)
Besides the humongous black marble lingam, there are five small Safatik (a special white crystal-like semi-transparent stone) lingams (about 2 feet each) on its either side within the garbagriha. This combination of black and white stones forming Ekadasha (eleven) lingams is very rare in India. Outside the main entrance, there is a life-size brass statue of Nandi bull (companion and transport of Shiva) which faces the main idols. On Nandi’s side, there is a heavy metallic bell weighing over a quintal (100 kg). In the same pathway, there are big statues of Shiva, his consort Parvati, and their two sons Ganesha and Kartikeya.
The walls of the temple contain many paintings of Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati, and some stories of Shiva Puran. One such painting depicts Lord Vishnu worshipping Lord Shiva offering his eye and the Sudarshanachakra (a divine discus-like weapon of Lord Vishnu) in place of the 101 lotuses. Another one shows Shiva visiting Krishna right after his birth. Others show Rama worshipping Shiva before attacking Lanka to rescue his wife, Sita; and Lord Shiva destroying Kamadeva. There is an image of the descent of Ganga (goddess and river) on earth through Lord Shiva’s highly knotted hair. (Gupta 2015) These images subtly uphold the superiority of Shaivism over Vaishnavism. Nowadays, it is mostly peaceful between the two orders with both the Gods being assimilated into the larger Hindu pantheon of deities.
There have been some renovation, and many additions within the temple since its construction. However, its basic structure has been kept intact. In the 1980s, a metal statue of Maharaja Ranbir Singh was installed outside the main temple atop a pedestal. The statue overlooks the main temple with its head bowed down, and the hands folded in prayer to the deity Shiva. Idols of Mahakali (1983), and Hanuman (1984) were also added. The current big brass Nandi idol acquired from Mysore replaced the original smaller stone one. (Anonymous, Ranbireshwar Temple Oldest historical temple of Jammu City 2022) From the statue’s positioning, it appears as if Maharaja Ranbir Singh, and Nandi are acting as servants-cum guards of the Lord.
During the month of Sawan/Sraban (falls between the months of July and August of
the Gregorian calendar) of the Hindu calendar, thousands of devotees gather at the temple compound to offer their prayers and seek blessings. Annual fairs are also held on the occasion of Maha-Shivratri, and Raksha-bandhan with people coming from different places. Throughout the year, devotees visit this temple on their way to Vaishnodevi, and Amarnath temples. Even the website of Incredible India mentions the period between April to September as the best time to visit the Ranbireshwar temple. (Anonymous, Ranbireshwar Temple n.d.)
Regarding Jammu’s temples, Chander Seth remarks, “These temples are part and parcel of the daily life of its citizens and preserve the cultural heritage of the city. In the past, these temples were centres of social and religious activities.” (Seth 2018, 263) The Ranbireshwar temple is easily one of the. if not the only jewel in the crown of the city of temples, Jammu. Besides devotees, many tourists also visit the temple during their stay at Jammu to marvel at the temple architecture, and craftsmanship of the innumerable unnamed masons, and artisans who built it. Akin to other temples, this temple remains open for visitors from 6 am to 8 pm with there being no entry fee. A visit to Jammu remains incomplete without a look at this magnificent jewel.