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The cave shrine of Uttaranchal

Patal Bhuvaneswar is a wonder of nature that surpasses human creativity. G. BRINDHA describes...



Patal Bhuvaneswar temple ... reaching it is a challenging experience.

KUMAON IN Uttaranchal is famous for its striking natural beauty and religious beliefs. Deep inside this land, one can find many famous temples, caves which make an impact on the visitor, who is left with a sense of wonder about the creation of God, enhanced by the effort of man.

One such example of this phenomenon is Patal Bhuvaneshwar nestling between River Sarju and east Ramaganga in Pithoragarh district. It is also one of the seven subterranean wonders of the world.

The big beautiful temple of old Bhuvaneshwar is visible even as one wends one's way from the station. There are numerous small temples of Nala, Neel and Batuk Bhairava in the main temple compound. In the outer room of the main temple there are two big statues of Jai and Vijay with broken idols of Siva and Parvati and other statues. In the main room is a Sivalinga in a triangle. Outside in the compound there is a large statue of Hanuman. On the right side is a beautiful temple of Chandika Devi, containing idols of metal and stone including an eight-handed Devi statue, Seshavatar and Sun God. These temples were built by Chand and Katyuri dynasties during the 12th century. It is said that there lived a Brahmin of Parashar caste at Chitagal, in those days. He had a cow that used to pour its milk on the lingam of old Bhuvaneswar, hidden in the bushes. The Brahmin's wife, who followed the cow, to learn what was happening, in a fit of rage hit the lingam with a darati.

Ahead of these temples, abutting a natural spring, one reaches a small compound made of rocks, the walls of which bear some carvings in Prakrit language. After depositing the baggage on the ledge, one has to descend 82 steps to reach the underground tunnels. One has to squeeze in, crawl and worm one's way into the tunnel, holding on to the supportive chains on the walls and taking care not to slip. Between the stairways there is a footlinga of Lord Narasimha. At this point, one can see both ways up to the entrance and down to the main cave. On reaching down, one sees a big idol of Seshnag, holding the Earth on his hood.

There is a Hawan Kund in front. It is said that King Janamejayan performed Nagayaga here, as instructed by Rishi Ullanga to avenge the death of his father King Parikshit. Hanging above the kund is the adder Takshaka ready to strike at Janamejayan. From thereon, one scrambles on the spine of Seshnag to reach the point where water trickles from an eight-petal lotus on the head of Ganesha. Legend has it that when mother Parvati had gone for her bath she ordered son Ganesha not to allow anybody in. When father Siva tried to enter the cave Ganesha promptly restrained him. A furious Siva chopped off his head and on Parvati's plea he restored the head by sprinkling water on it with the help of an eight-petal lotus.

Just ahead, the idols of Badrinath, Kedarnath and Amarnath are seen in the form of Linga. By the side is Kalabhairava, mouth open and tongue protruding. It is said that the passage from its mouth to tail depicts the path to Brahmaloka. It is believed that if somebody can pass through the narrow path, they will attain moksha.

In front of Kalabhairava is the seat of Lord Siva with Patalchandi, wearing a garland of human skulls, enthroned on a lion. After this are four doors related to four eras. The first door stands for sin, which was closed after the death of Ravana, the second door of war was closed after the battle of Kurukshetra, the third will shut at the end of this era, Kaliyug, and the fourth, that of Moksha, will be closed at the end of the next era i.e. Satyug. Skandapurana says that people who pass through the door of Moksha with faith will attain it. In front of the door is a rostrum with an image of the Parijatha tree full of beautiful flowers and leaves. It is said to have been brought by Lord Krishna from the abode of Devendra.

The other end of the ground leads to a place, where as the legend goes, the battle of Hanuman and Aiyiravan took place. Moving further, we find a cave where Rishi Markandeya composed Markandeya Purana. Ahead of this is Kamadhenu bathing the head of `Brahmakapali' ( the chopped head of Brahma) with her milk. Here the devout performs `Pitrutarpan'.

After moving a few yards one can find the seven ponds and a swan with his head turned back. It is said that in order to protect the water from snakes Brahma appointed a swan, but the bird itself drank the water.

Brahma cursed its head to be turned. Ahead the Ganges flows out of the matted locks of Lord Siva with all the gods and goddesses offering worship in the form of small projections.

At the centre is the lingam, Narmadeshwar Mahadev, Nandi and a pond made by Viswakarma. The Milky Way and the Saptarishi constellation can be seen by moving a few steps ahead. Now, we enter the main sanctuary or Garbagriha. Three diminutive lingams covered with copper plates representing the three natural powers are consecrated here. This copper adornment was presented by Adi Sankara. Huge drops of water fall on these lingams alternately.

One who worships here on Sani Pradosha gives peace to the souls of ancestors dating back 21 generations.

Next comes a burrow to Kashi and Puri. It is said that to give the news of yagna of King Yaksha to the King of Kashi a dog went through this tunnel, chasing a deer.

Above this is `Koteshwar Mahadev' with his locks open and snakes around his neck. Proceed further. There is a way to heaven. It is said that the Pandavas went to Swarga Rahani this way and the idols of Pandavas, Shiv and Parvati playing `chaupad' can be seen. It is time to return. One has to take another route to join the main path. On the way, a set of four lingams representing four eras can be seen.

The linga of Kaliyug is relatively big. It is said that when it meets the cone from up that will be the end of Kaliyug. Beside this linga is a cave to Rameshwar.

From here we come back to the previous path. On the way is the Airawat elephant with a thousand feet and the Kamandal of Lord Shiva on the right side.

The journey to Patal ends here. Visiting this place is equivalent to visiting the Char Dhams,it is said. The walls of the caves are blotched due to the use of firewood for light. Now the tunnel is lit up by power drawn from a generator provided by the Patal Mandir Committee.

* * *

A wonder that woos tourists

THERE IS a reference to Patal in Manskhand of Skandapurana. The temple was discovered by King Rituparna of Ayodhya. He used to play Chaupad with King Nala.

Once King Nala was defeated by his queen Damayanti. He asked Rituparna to hide him in the forests of the Himalayas with his face besmirched so that Damayanti could not recognise him. Both of them, with some warriors reached the deep of part of the woods, the Daruka Vana. On seeing a deer, the king ordered his men to catch it and announced chastisement for the man who allows it to escape. The stag escaped from the King's side.

The king followed the deer and reached a cave. He halted there overnight and sent back his companion, determined not to return without catching the deer. The animal appeared in the king's dream and asked him to give up the chase because he was not a deer.

The king worshipped Kshetrapal for two months. Kshetrapal appeared before him and informed that there lay the idols of all the Gods in the caves. He introduced Rituparna to Adisesha (Seshnag), creator of the cave.

Seshnag lifted Rituparna on his head and toured the cave all around for six months and sent him back with the warning that revelation of this secret place would result in his death. But unable to suppress the truth from his nagging wife (queen) he revealed the secret and lost his life. After sometime, with great difficulty, the queen reached this place. She went inside the cave with the help of a rope and later built the stairs. The queen could see only the idols and did not have Divyadarshan. On her return, the queen, described the region that had remained unknown for thousands of years, and later the Kings of Chand and Katyuri dynasties found this place on the basis of the purana. Emerging as a place of interest on the international tourism map, Patal Bhuvaneshwar is a wonder of the Nature.

Situated about 37 km from Chaukori and 14 km from Gangolihat in Pithorgarh district in Uttaranchal, this underground cave of Patal Bhuvaneshwar has a vertical 120-metre tunnel-like path to go inside. The temple is amidst a thick forest of oak and deodar.

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