You wouldn’t think it possible to find a quiet, oasis of calm in the heart of Pune, but that’s just what a friend and I discover at the Pataleshwar Caves, located along the busy JM Road.
A small, insignificant gate leads the way in, and a smaller, obscured-by-plants board assures us that we are at the right place. We find ourselves facing a large, open space, in the centre of which stands a huge Banyan tree creating a beautiful green canopy above us.
Further along, the path takes us to the site of the caves, sunk a few feet below where we stand. Wide, gently sloping stone steps take us down to a circular, pillared Nandi mandapa carved entirely from stone.
Another stone-carved Nandi sits forlornly in a corner, while a shrine occupies space under a Peepal Tree, atop a platform built around it.
The Nandi mandapa faces the 8thcentury, rock-cut Pataleshwar cave temple, which by its name, indicates that it is dedicated to Lord Shiva. We take off our shoes and enter a pillared sabha mandap or hall.
In the inner sanctum sanctorum we find a Shivling, with a gilded snake’s hood rising over it. Another stone Nandi mutely faces this.
The outer hall contains other deities, of which I recognize Lord Ram, Lakshman and Sita. Among this profusion of Hindu gods, I find the time to send a quick prayer to my own God, to watch over my shoes and keep them from getting stolen.
The caves extend on either side of the inner sanctum, and circle back to connect through a passageway behind it. This passage is pitch-black, but we capture some great silhouettes where the light finally shines through!
The caves at the back are incomplete and not properly carved, hinting that the caves may have been left incomplete for whatever reasons.
The Archeological Society of India, which maintains the caves and grounds, does not provide any information about the caves, so we’re in the dark about its history. But the Pataleshwar Cave Temple does afford a glimpse into the architectural genius of a bygone era and the religious sentiment of people today, who continue to worship here.
We step out of the gates, and are swallowed by the busy crowd that walks and drives past these caves, perhaps completely unaware of its existence.