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Patal Bhuvaneshwar

Today I will take you to, yet another Shiva abode located amidst the serene hills of Uttarakhand but this one is totally different from the groups of temples I had talked about hitherto. And I fore warn that this is going to be a long post.

We visited Patal Bhuvneshwar in 2002. The place might have changed quite a bit since then but as I had said earlier, these travel memories are an attempt to keep alive the previous glory, beauty, and persona of the places.

 

So that day in June 2002, we started from Pithoragarh at about 8 in the morning. Our night stay was booked at Chakauri, and we had planned to visit Patal Bhuvneshwar cave on the way. It had rained heavily previous night hence morning was fresh and gleaming. We had to reach Patal Bhuvneshwar via Gangolihat. As we crossed Gurna the rows and rows of tall, mighty mountains appeared to come closer to us. It was like walking hand in hand with them. The ribbon like road ran touching the base of the mountains. By then sun had marched in and tickled by its warmth the valleys as if loosened their traces and up came the swirling columns of clouds. In a batting of an eyelid everywhere from roadside to the tip of the hills there were groups and groups of clouds. From strong muscled mountains to fairy like clouds, nature is magical in its every form.

 

 

 

 

 

As we progressed further, we could see Saryu river lazily flowing encircling the rocks deep down in the valley. From the height we were at the moment, the river looked like a thin strip of water but as we came down to its level, we realised how broad and springy was Saryu there.  The water of the river had a glass like transparency, the pebbles on its bed were glistening as the sun rays danced over the water

 

 

As we crossed the bridge over Saryu, the drivers of the vehicles coming from opposite direction informed us that the way to move forward is blocked due to land slide and traffic there is completely stopped for the time being. They also told that the cleaning operation had already started yet considering the size of landslide it would take a very long time. After discussing the matter with drivers and other local people we decided to take a detour and this change of plan added about 60 extra kilometers to our journey. Though such changes in preplanned route is very travelling in the mountainous areas yet hindrance on the way dampened our spirits a bit. 60 kms on hills is a long way and consumes lot of time yet we could not have done anything under the circumstances. Almost entire day was spent on the vehicle and by the time we reached Berinag we were quite tired. Berinag is point from where about 20 kms in one direction is Patalbhuvneshwar and Chakauri is hardly 3 kms straight way from there. As I told earlier for night stay our booking our already done at Chakauri so visiting Patal Bhuvneshwar meant another 40 kms journey. Somehow, we were not feeling that enthusiastic at the time. We asked Raju, our cab driver to drive straightway to Chakauri but he urged us not to miss Patalbhuvneshwar. We would have missed an experience beyond our imagination if we had not listened to Raju that day.

Reaching Bhuvneshwar village, we started walking on a very narrow path. on one side this path were high mountains and on the other deep valley. A railing on the valley side provided adequate protection. The path culminated at a small verandah and crossing that we reached at the opening of the Patal bhuvneshwar cave.

Peeping through the small crevice like doorway we could feel that we literally were on the starting of our journey to Patal, womb of earth. Bending, crouching, very cautiously we moved step by step on the narrow slippery stairs leading downwards, moreover those were not well-formed steps rather portion of rocks jutting down here and there. It would not have been possible to cover that distance of the steep decline of about 50 to 60 feet in the semidarkness without those thick iron chains on the side walls. Even while we held those chains there was a danger of slipping on the slippery rocks. If at all at any point, we tried to straighten our body beyond a point there was danger of head hitting on the rocks jutting down from the ceiling. With every downward step our connection to the  world above was getting severed gradually.

Putting our feet on the uneven, rocky floor of the cave we straightened our back. One cursory glance all around us and we felt to be truly in Patal lok. The cave was quite dark. It is said that earlier the bark of pine trees was burned to light the cave hence the walls and ceiling of the cave had become darker. At the time we visited electric bulbs were glowing here and there in the cave, but the light was inadequate to brighten the caves. In a way it was good as the mystical, magical aura came alive in that darkness only. Moreover the light was adequate enough to see the structures inside the cave.

As we stood there getting accustomed to darkness, the then Pujari Umesh Bhandari ji approached us. He gave us an exhaustive tour with detailed description and explanation of every form and shape in the cave and believe me, it was like a tour of microcosm as depicted in Hindu mythology. So let us begin our tour.

Bhandari ji asked us to stand facing the opening of the cave and look upward and lo there on the ceiling was Sheshnag with his flaring hood spread, literally giving a feeling of holding the earth on his hood. The formation was so clear and distinct that one could recognise it without anybody telling. Patalbhuvneshwar is mentioned in Manas Khand of Skand puran. According to this reference King Rituparna had the divine darshana of the place in his dream and he is believed to be the first person to enter this cave. Later on, the cave was cloistered by the dense vegetation growth and was lost amidst the forest. In about 10th century Chand and Katyuri kings launched an expedition to search the cave after tracing its existence in Purana. Once the caves were found and the path to it cleared pilgrims started visiting.

Every shape and figure sculpted by nature on the rocks in the cave has a mythological connection. It is believed that a visit to Patal bhuvneshwar is equal to visiting all the teerth sthanam.

Under the hoods of Sheshnag there was a hawan kund. It is believed that King Janmejay performed Sarp Yagna on the place for  Sadgati of his father king Parikshit. On the rock just above the havan kund is a symbol of Takshak Nag.  You might remember the anecdote of death of King Parikshit due to biting by Takshak Sarpa.

As We moved forward, pujari ji directed the light of his torch to the floor of the cave. The floor has protrusion exactly like vertebral column, the explaination being that it was the mid body of the Sheshnag and cave ends where the tail is.

At one place there is an Ashtakamal like shape on the ceiling near the side wall and water drops from it drip continuously on a Lord Ganesha idol on the wall just below it. Just opposite to this idol on the wall are replica of Kedarnath, Badrinath and Amarnath lingas. And it’s all-natural tapestry of rock formation, nothing inside the cave is man-made.

With every step forward heart fills with wonderment and humbleness seeps in. Patal chandi with garland of skulls, Parijat Vriksha, Markandey Rishi engrossed in Tapa, narmadeshwar Mahadeva, saptkund, the swan that was cursed by Brahma, Akash Ganga, Koteshwar mahadeva and so many other symbols from Hindu mythology are there. All this in that one cave. It is not an exaggeration when it is said entire cosmos as depicted in Hindu mythology is reflected in this one cave.

At one place in the cave on a wall at a height of few feats from floor there is a very narrow tunnel. The door of the tunnel is an open mouth with tongue hanging out. This is called Kal Bhairava’s mouth. The passage inside tunnel looked to get narrower. Normally no body tries to go through that passage.

At another spot in the cave there is a face, known as fifth face of Brahma. A thin stream of water pours down from the ceiling of the cave on the face. On this place’ Pitro ka tarpan’ is performed. Normally Hindus perform pitro ka tarpan in Kashi and Gaya but here on this place people who do not have near relatives and feels that tarpan for them will not be done after they leave the world, can do pooja for their own tarpan themselves. Alive they can conduct their tarpan here.

At the rear end of the cave there are few steps and is scene of swargarohan of Pandavas. Nearby is Eravat, the divine elephant and a kamandal of lord Shiva. At the stop on the floor is a natural/ swayambhoo shivalinga with trimurty on it. It is said that this trimurty linga was established by Adi Shankracharya while on his way to Kailash.

There are many other natural formations in the cave which could very reliably be related to our various mythological references. At one spot there are four pillars. These four pillars are said to be representing four yugas. In one the pillars was some gap in between. I mean there was space between the portion hanging from ceiling and the one arising from the base. We were told that the gap is ever decreasing very very slowly. At the end of Kalyuga both the portion will touch each other.

The post has become quite long and I have not yet said anything about what I experienced while in the mystique cave. Any way it was a feeling my words will never be able to capture. Performing Pooja of trimurty, doing jalabhishekam while the resounding echo of mantras chanted by Pujari ji felt like weaving a protective covering around us, all this was an other- worldly experience. It truly transported us to the land of bliss. I was grateful to almighty that both the boys too were with us in this trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All pictures by Sunder Iyer.

All the pics were clicked by reel camera but luckily had the pics with us in CD. As it was quite dark inside the cave not many pictures could be clicked.

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Namita Sunder

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Suresh Rao
1 month ago

Scenic pictures, good narrative Namita. Thanks for sharing details of your trip/

Navneet Bakshi
2 months ago

Brilliant. Mystical and totally engrossing narrative. How old is Snatan Dharma I wonder, and how vast and deep the philosophy of life and rich heritage that we have. My heart goes to what heritage we have lost in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So sad, that even in the twenty-first century we have the barbarians living around us. Coming back to your post, I would say that this series on these unheard temples itself will be unique and perhaps the first attempt to showcase their beauty. I am indeed indebted to you for choosing to preserve them here.

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