The Demon's Tears: Water And Worship At Lonar
Domus India|November 2018

Formed due to the impact of a meteorite, the Lonar Lake — located in the Buldhana district of Maharashtra — is surrounded by numerous temples, a majority of them in ruins. These temples are probably a reminder of the eternal cycle of life and death, and of the essential sacredness of the site, over the lake itself.

Anuradha Shankar

Since ancient times, water and water bodies have been considered to be sacred in Indic traditions, as they are believed to be of divine origin. It is, therefore, not surprising to see temples or temple ruins near ponds, lakes and rivers across the country. Known as tirthas, kunds and kalyanis, among other names, these water bodies serve as the main source of water for temple rituals.

Some towns and villages are so rich in the number of water bodies that one can often see a corresponding number of temples (if not more) located near them, as in the case of Lonar in the Buldhana district of Maharashtra. In addition to springs, wells and stepped tanks, Lonar also boasts of a lake, which is the largest water body there. Interestingly, though Lonar Lake is surrounded by temples — most of them in ruins — the lake itself is not considered to be sacred.

Lonar Lake was ‘discovered’ in 1823 by C.G Alexander, a British military officer. Though there was no doubt that the lake had formed due to the impact of a meteorite, it took another 140 years to declare that this was a one-of-a-kind impact crater in basalt and that it was more than five million years old. But the locals, who had always been aware of the Lonar crater and the lake within, have a very different story to share as far as its origin is concerned.

According to local legend, the lake was created when Lord Vishnu pushed the demon Lavanasura (also known as Lonasura) deep inside the earth as punishment for his wicked deeds. The penitent demon wept copious tears of remorse which then filled up the lake. The lake water is saline as befits tears and the name of the demon, the lake and the town it is located in, originate in the local Marathi word for salt – lavan.

Temples and Water Bodies at Lonar

The Lonar Lake, which has a mean diameter of 1.8 km, is almost circular in shape, tranquil, ringed with a thick green cover and dotted with temples around its periphery. One has to descend into the crater to reach the lake and explore the temples that surround it. There are well-trodden paths, goat trails, rough-cut and constructed steps that descend into the crater from all sides.

The lake is an unbelievable shade of green — not moss, not acid, not olive but a mix of all three — due to the presence of a blue-green algae. Standing at the edge of the lake and watching gentle ripples fan out and then come to a still, the imagination runs wild about the lake and what could lie beneath.

A rough path runs along the lake shore, sometimes passing through thick bushes and sometimes dense woods. The ground is littered with carved stones, which probably graced the pillars and lintels of the temples that once stood here. Occasionally, one also comes across temples that are still standing, but in a dilapidated state. Little remains of their grandeur, but it is not too difficult to imagine how they must have been in their original state. From the names painted on the stones, we know the names of two of the temples in the crater — Yagneshwar and Kumareshwar.

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