Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pune's Underworld: Pataleshwar Cave and Temple

Located in the heart of the city of Pune, India is a little known gem of ancient history; Pataleshwar Cave and Temple.

Small Sign at the Entrance to the Park that houses the Caves

The cave dates back to the 8th century, but surprisingly not much is known about the cave, and as a result, very little has been written about it.


Inside the Pataleshwar Caves

What I did learn is that it's name is derived from two words: Patal meaning "underworld" and Eshwar meaning "god". I believe this to be a name given to it during more modern times..........One can only wonder what the original name of the cave was to be known as.

It was impossible to conduct any meaningful research on the cave, unlike many of the heritage sites I have visited in India...........

An example of an unfinished carving inside the cave

Perhaps it remains a mystery to scholars and archaeologists due to the fact that the cave and it's carvings remain incomplete..........sculpting on the rock walls was started but never finished..........leaving behind the mystery of what was meant to be there.......

Example of an unfinished carving on the wall of the cave

What I have learned about Buddhist cave construction is that work began at the ceiling and flowed downward. Work was carried out to remove large sections of stone to create the cave like structures and pillars of roughly chiseled stone were left for the artisans to carve and smooth to perfection.......

The carved Columns inside the cave and an unfinished carving in the distance

I have been on several construction sites as part of my work here in India.......since much of the work is done in concrete I am no stranger to the sound of a worker with a chisel busy at work.

Carved Columns and unfinished work on the wall of the cave in the distance

I have seen the hands of many workers carefully curving their fingers around a cold steel chisel........watching them raise their weighted hammers above their heads and, with expert aim, strike it solidly to remove unwanted material .......the sound is very distinct.........

Carving on the floor near the Nandi statue inside the cave. Note the two elephants..this is my favorite!

Pataleshwar today stands in almost complete silence........much like it must have been when the last chisel struck stone sometime in the late 8th century A.D.  A visitor to the caves today, captivated and calmed by the serenity of the silence, may not give thought to what the site sounded like at the time it was being constructed.

Up close view of one of the unfinished wall carvings


The sound would have been deafening.......hundreds of workers with hammer and chisel, all striking at the raw black stone; some in sync and some at differing times.........hard work.....chips of rocks flying everywhere, rock dust in the air and in their lungs. I would imagine that the work carried on in shifts...perhaps 24 hours per day...hurrying to make it ready in raw form for the more skilled stone artisan's to do the final work......shaping the square columns and beginning to create the stone carvings on the walls if the cave.

The beautiful interiors of the cave with sunlight filtering in

Then nothing..........silence.....the work stopped........the Buddhist's left their mark in the area, but did not complete the work.

I have read that work ceased due to a geological issue that exists making the cave unstable.....a fault line that exists at the back of the spot they chose to construct this monument. However, it has stood the test of time....and surely the deities they began carving on the walls of the cave would not likely cause any considerable structural damage if they would have continued....so why did the leave this place of worship unfinished?

An unfinished wall carving

I have read about other unfinished caves in the Maharashtra area of India.......could it have been a political upheaval, religious conflict,war, famine, drought, that drove all of the monks from the area around the same time? Was the practice of Buddhism stopped due to a change of power and no longer tolerated in the area?

The ceremonial bell worshipers touch before entering the shrine of Lord Shiva

The Buddhist workers left behind the massive columns and three small rooms that are approximately 3-4 meters squared......an inner sanctum of sorts...........while the two outer rooms were perhaps originally intended for priests, the center room houses a shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.....a cobra stands guard over the gold lingam that gets anointed daily by devotees.

Inside the middle room of the inner sanctum that houses the shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva

Just outside the center room, resting on the floor of the cave is a small Nandi, Lord Shiva's bull........hanging from the ceiling above above this Nandi is a ceremonial bell that all who visit the shivalingum touch before beginning their worship.

Nandi - Outside of the shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva

The two rooms on either side of the cave now house other deities that I did not recognize.


Inside the room to the left of the Lord Shiva shrine

The god that is housed in the room to the right of Lord Shivas shrine

Just to the left of the inner sanctum, placed in the center between some columns and only lighted by the sunlight that filters in from the open from of the cave, is another temple that pays honor to the deities of Sita, Rama, and Laxmana........small beautifully carved white marble statues that sit upon a black marble stand.....when the sunlight hits the white marble in this darkened area of the cave the deities take on a glowing effect.

Sita, Rama, Laxmana

In front of the cave area, centered in a courtyard of sorts,  is a round structure, which some have described as unusual or peculiar...........I am not sure of the reason for these adjectives........however, I will present a theory that I have not read while doing my research..........this too appears to be an area that may have started by the Buddhists as a STUPA.......... the round shape lends to this theory.......but like the cave was either later finished or added by the Hindu's who began worshiping Lord Shiva at the temple area.

The "peculiar building" ! Nandi Mandapa.

Today, under the umbrella like stone covering, supported by perfectly spaced stone columns sits another statue of Nandi, Lord Shiva's bull........clearly added at a later date, which lends to my theory that this was an area not originally designed as a Nandi Mandapa. This Nandi is annoited daily as well and worshiped throughout the day by the hundreds of devotees that come to the temple daily.

Up close view of the annointed Nandi in the Nandi Mandapa

There is one more Nandi.......oddly placed in a far corner all alone.......it is about the same size as the Nandi inside the temple......but its placement in the courtyard seems to be random.....almost as if it was transported to the area and was never used or installed, yet, since it was delivered to the temple area for a purpose, it has never left the area.....it has just been placed in an "out of the way" area and serves no distinct purpose.

The 3rd Nandi on the site........all alone in the corner of the courtyard

Today the area is silent........the distinct "pinging" noise of the chisel has been replaced only by the sound of the bell ringing from the hand a faithful devotee of Lord Shiva.......

Whether a devotee of Lord Shiva or not, I highly recommend a visit to Pataleshwar Cave and Temple during a visit to Pune, but please, remember to remove your shoes before entering......enjoy!

Sign at the entrance to the cave reminding visitors to remove their shoes

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

i loved it the place and ur blog!
i myself have visited the place but the minute detail which u hav captured r marvelous!!

Manasi Chewoolkar said...

i loved it the place and ur blog!
i myself have visited the place but the minute detail which u hav captured r marvelous!!

Manasi Chewoolkar said...

i loved it the place and ur blog!
i myself have visited the place but the minute detail which u hav captured r marvelous!!

Manasi Chewoolkar said...

loved the minute detail

Manasi Chewoolkar said...

love the minute details it's an awesome place!

Manasi Chewoolkar said...

34love the minute details it's an awesome place!

Anonymous said...

Good article and resear attempt on a little know archelogical gem in Pune.

DD said...

Good article and resear attempt on a little know archelogical gem in Pune.

shridhan said...

Maharashtra is full of ancient caves. Ajanta and Ellora are the largest ones, both are UNESCO world heritage sights.

Ellora has Buddhist, Hindu and Jain caves side by side. These caves were carved at different periods of time. Different era had different caves and associated political support.

But older caves were not destroyed by the latter. They lie next to each other even today. Just like today's India. Although imperfect.