The mountains and beaches have their own charm but there is something about the temples which enchants you by taking you into a world of their own.
Pataleshwar Caves of Pune are Situated on a Super busy Junglee Maharaj road between Modern college chowk and Engineering college ground. It is a must visit for every visitor to Pune city and every Punekar. It is a rock cut cave temple of 8th Century AD of Rashtrakut Dynasty. Before we proceed with the travelogue, here are some insights about the Rashtrakut Empire.
History of Rashtrakut Empire: Rashtrakut (Rashtra = Province/Pradesh) and Kut meaning leader. Rashtrakut once ruled huge part of India. Sometimes their borders reached even Tanjawar in South and Kannoj in Uttar Pradesh. Their capital was in Manya Khet(malkhed) situated in current Gulbarga sitrict of Karnatak. Rashtrakut was a very important dynasty to rule for about 200 years (750 A.D. to 950 A.D.) Many brave kings like Dantidurg, Amoghvarsh Krishna, Govind etc. were part of this dynasty. The famous caves of Kailas in Ellora/Verul were excavated during the reign of King Krushna of Rastrakut dynasty.
Location of the temple: This temple is situated on the confluence of the two holy rivers Mula and Mutha (where Mula itself is a confluence of Ram and Pavna river). This part was earlier called Bhambwade which was later called as Bhamburda by Britishers. Acharya Atre changed its name to Shivajinagar.
Entrance of the temple :When you enter you see two short columns on both the sides of about 2 feet height. Both the columns have different designs and no symmetry, so one cannot predict if they were part of the entrance gate. One column is typical Yadav era column and other one shows the designs dominant in Peshwa era. So it must have been moved there in the later period. Located a few footsteps ahead is a huge banyan tree.
Whenever I visit this temple a feeling of calmness and peace always touches my heart.
Monolithic temple structure : This temple was carved in a single stone (monolithic temple). You need to climb down a few steps to enter the temple. The name Pataleshwar refers to Patal a place below the ground (netherworld). In some earlier records by britishers Panchaleshwar or even Pandoo caves name ( in James Wales painting ) is used. One can see a beautiful Nandi Idol of stone on the left hand side. You must take a few minutes to appreciate the nice ornament carvings on it. It is situated under a Champa tree. When visited during spring and rainy season one can see the natural shower of Champa flowers on this Nandi Idol.
In the centre, is a Nandi mandap. It is simple canopy structure and Nandi is at the centre. This Nandi Idol is worshiped daily. It is a unique structure very rarely seen ‘vahan mandap’. It is built on total 16 columns. It is possible that it was a Rangmandap where Dance, Music Singing recitals of Shiv devotees used to take in those times. One can see the ChandraShila, curved steps at the Nandi Mandap. After this Nandi Mandap a small cave based on four columns is seen on the left hand side. In the ancient times this might have been used by the travelers.
When you enter the main temple you can see its structure made up of 60 square columns 10 columns in each row.
After entering the main temple some unfinished carvings can be seen on both the sides. Few are unfinished where as few are partially destroyed. Experts believe that it a carving of Lingodbhav Shiv. Where Brahma and Vishnu competed against each other Lord Shiv appeared in front of them as a huge fire column and asked them to find the start and the finishing point of the column Bramha went upwards in the form of a Swan where as Vishnu entered the ground as Varaha (Boar) in search of the start. No one could find the Aadi(start) or Aant(finish) of this column. So they surrendered themselves to Lord Shiv.
Though not very clear still some carvings are believed to be of Saptmatruka. There is also one carving of Gajantak or Gajasur vadh where elephant could be easily identified. Lord shiv killed the Gajasur and stripped the entire skin of Gaja. This is depicted in the sculpture.
On the floor one can see Saripaat (ancient board game) carved. Also few flower and leaf carvings are found on the floor. The temple is carved out of Basalt rock.
In the inner sanctum (garbhgruha) the Shivaling can be seen. It is worshiped daily. Simple carvings are seen at the top of the door. Also one can see Monster mask (Kirtimukh) carved on the entrance step of the sanctum like all other lord Shiva temples. This monster is believed to be eating all our sins. On the Dwarshakha of this main deity one can see Dwarpala /Pratihar (the door guardians) on both sides
On the left and right of the Shivaling are the Idols of goddess Parvati and Lord Ganesh. Experts believe that earlier there were the idols of Trinity i.e. Brahma and Vishnu on the either side of Shiv. While taking Pradakshina (circumambulation) one can see idols of Lord Shriram, Sita and Lakshman carved in white stone and Lord Hanuman in the front of these idols.
Unfortunately this temple was not completed. One can see completed columns and incomplete ones and can understand the difference very easily. This is supposedly because of a fault line identified behind the main temple which may have made entire structure unstable if carved further. There was also one well which now covered by ASI. One earlier photo found on internet is as follows.
At the entrance of the main cave there is one stone inscription in Devnagari script but it damaged so it is very difficult to read.
This temple Patal (Underground) Ishwar (god) is frequently visited by tourists. This place is under the control of Archaeological survey of India. This place has tremendous importance for students of Architecture, History, Archaeology and Geology.
It is indeed a pride of every Punekar.