The temple of Shamlaji stands on the banks of the river Meshwo, in veneration of Vishnu. The river Meshwo meanders over its rocky bed in the valley immediately below, and the waters of a splendid natural lake, of great beauty sparkle amid the well-wooded hills.
Sakshi Gopal or Gadadhar is a black representation of Vishnu worshipped at the Shamlaji Temple. This is one of the rare temples of Lord Krishna in which cow idols are also worshipped depicting his childhood as a cowherd. For the Vaishnavites Shamlaji is one of the hundred and fifty four most important places of pilgrimage in India.
It is believed that this shrine has existed for at least 500 years. Built of white sandstone and bricks, it has two storeys supported on rows of pillars. It is profusely carved and episodes from sacred epics of the Ramayana and Mahabharata are engraved on the outer walls. Its beautiful domed ceilings and a traditional north Indian spire over the main shrine add to the magnificence of its open courtyard accompanied by the carving of a life-size elephant.
There are three very interesting legend behind the creation of this temple.
- According to one, Brahma once embarked on a journey to find out the best tirtha (sacred site) on the earth. After seeing a number of places, he came to Shamlaji, which he liked the most and performed penance there for one thousand years. Lord Shiva, who was pleased with him, asked him to perform a yajna (ritual). At the beginning of the yajna, Lord Vishnu manifested himself in the form of Shamlaji, and was enshrined at this place.
- Another legend has it that Vishwakarma, the architect of the Gods, constructed this temple in one night, but as it was morning by the time he completed it, he could not take it with him and had to return leaving it here.
- According to the third story, an Adivasi found the idol of Shamlaji while ploughing his land. He worshipped it by lighting a lamp everyday and was blessed for his faith by having an abundant yield in his farm. Learning of this, a Vaishnava merchant built the temple and installed the idol therein, which was later beautified by the Idar rulers. More recently, a prominent business family further renovated this temple.