Shri Trimbakeshwar Temple is located at a distance of about 30-km from Nasik in Maharashtra near the mountain named Brahmagiri from which the river Godavari flows. Trimbakeshwar Temple is revered as one of the 12 Jyotirlinga shrines of Shiva and as the source of the river Godavari. Just as Ganga is known as Bhagirathi and is one of the most important river in North India, in the same way, Godavari is also known as Gautami Ganga and is the most sacred river in South India.
According to Shiv Purana, it is because of the earnest request of Godavari, Gautam Rishi and other gods that Lord Shiva agreed to reside here and assumed the famous name Trimbakeshwar. Interestingly, locals refer to the river here as Ganga and not as Godavari. All the heavenly Gods promised to come down to Nasik, once in twelve years, when Jupiter resides in the zodiac sign of Leo. On this a grand fair is organized at this place. Devotees take a holy bath in the Gautami Ganga and then seek the blessings of Trimbakeshwar.
Legend goes that a sage name Gautam Muni resided on the Brahmagiri hill with his wife Ahilya. By virtue of his devotion, the sage received from Varuna, a bottomless pit from which he received an inexhaustible supply of grains and food. The other rishis, jealous of his fortune, arranged for a cow to enter his granary and caused it to die as Gowtam Rishi attempted to ward it off with a bunch of Darbha grass.
Gautam Rishi, therefore, worshipped Lord Shiva to bring the Ganga down to his hermitage to purify the premises. Pleased with devotion, Shiva requested Ganga to flow down and make Sage Gautam pure. After that Ganga flowed down. Lord Shiva told Ganga to stay there eternally for the good of everyone. All the Gods started singing the praises of Gautam Rishi, Ganga and Lord Shiva. On the request of all the Gods, Lord Shiva resided by the river Gautami by the name Trimbakeshwar (one of the Jyotirlingas). Hindus believe that Trimbak Jyotirlinga is one, which fulfills everyone’s desires. It emancipates all from their sins and miseries.
Another popular legend behind Trimbakeshwar Temple is the legend of Lingodbhava manifestation of Shiva. It says once Brahma and Vishnu searched in vain to discover the origin of Shiva who manifested himself as a cosmic column of fire. Brahma lied that he had seen the top of the column of fire and was hence cursed that he would not be worshipped on earth. In turn Brahma cursed Shiva that he would be pushed underground. Accordingly, Shiva came down under the Brahmagiri hill in the form of Tryambakeshwar. Trimbakeshwar Temple is the only place where Shivlinga is not out but it’s inside the floor.
Some scholars say that Goddess Parvati also came down along Lord Shiva and Ganga. The place is therefore called Tryambakeshwa (three lords). Others believe that the place is so called because of the presence of three Shivlinga of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. The Shivlinga of Lord Mahesh has always-flowing water among the three Shivlingas.
Trimbakeshwar Temple is an ancient shrine, however the current structure is a result of the reconstruction efforts undertaken by the Peshwa Balaji Bajirao in mid 18th century. The temple is built of black stone in the Nagara style of architecture and is enclosed in a spacious courtyard. The sanctum internally a square and externally a stellar structure houses a small Shivalingam - Tryambaka. The sanctum is crowned with a graceful tower, embellished with a giant Amalaka and a golden kalasha. In front of the garbagriha and the antarala is a mandap with doors on all four sides. Three of these doorways are covered with porches and the openings of these porches are ornamented with pillars and arches. Curvilinear slabs rising in steps form roof of the mandapam. The entire structure is ornamented with sculptural work featuring running scrolls, floral designs, and figures of gods, yakshas, humans and animals.
The Shivalingam is seen in a depression on the floor of the sanctum. Water constantly oozes out from the top of the Shivalingam. Usually, the Shivalingam is covered with a silver mask but on festive occasions a golden mask with five faces, each with a golden crown covers it.