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Patal Bhuwaneshwar
Nurturing mysteries of nature 
By  Sandeep Silas and Satbir Silas


Here is a story which was written by Time not on the face of earth, but within it mysteriously.

This fable of the world is contained in the womb of earth, inside the deep dark black stone caves, which live to relate the tale of not years but yugas (ages); not of ordinary men, but of those who shaped the destiny of earth, the entire Hindu pantheon. Patal Bhuwaneshwar, 1350 m above sea level, is still hidden from public glare by mountain sentinels and an unaccessed village, 185 km. from the hill station of Nainital in Uttar Pradesh. That the Kumaon hills would contain something so unbelievable, so amazing, and a secret so well guarded, can hardly be guessed till you see it with your own eyes. 

The entrance to Patal Bhuwaneshwar cave is ordinary, unpretentious. There are no indications to reveal the mysteries it holds within. There are no claims to glory. It is a simple three feet high opening kept ordinarily barred by the priest. Looks can surely be deceptive! You descend 82 steps into this cave, which is an over 100 feet deep wonder. The descent is sharp, sometimes you have to sit from step to step in your downward journey, sometimes you have to recline and pass the stone-way. As you move you become conscious of descending inside the earth. When you pause to heave a sigh of relief in the first cave enclosure, you realise that it is not one cave but many more. It is actually a cave city. There are caves within caves, caverns clinging to caves, niches peeping our of caves, holes leading to hollows, steps revealing platforms, cave doors unmasking deep secrets, water sources and narrow pathways. All within this cave. It is a natural wonder, not carved or created by hammer and chisel! It is surprising that not many enthusiasts and pilgrims have ventured to discover these secrets held by the nether.

What makes it more interesting is the fact that the cave is not silent, it is a speaking cave. Each stone, each stalagmite, each stalactite, each hollow, each cavern, each doorway, each step, each stone erection, each drip of water reveals the story of Hinduism down the ages. It is believed that King Ritupurna of the Sun dynasty discovered the cave in the Treta era, which has been described in chapter 103 of Manas Khand in Sikandpuran. The first Guru Shankaracharya in Kaliyug (The current age) consecrated this cave, and since 1191 A.D. a Hindu priest performs worship. Each day, from the times of the Kings of Chand and Katyuri dynasties, the priest descends 82 steps down into the cave and performs worship, keeps the incense burning, the flower petals fresh... 

The journey inside the cave begins as you let go of the iron chains, which helped you alight and steady your steps to the feeble incandescent light of some electric bulbs. In the cave enclosure you can make out the massive hood of a snake, in one corner. Do not be alarmed, for it is the Sheshnaga holding the earth on its hood as per Hindu belief. You are in patal, the world below the earth. The teeth, jaws and poison sack of Sheshnaga can be seen in stone. It is surprising how all this shape came to be naturally acquired by stones. It is believed that there are three loks (worlds) - Patal (below earth), Prithvi (earth) and Akash (sky). The Sheshnaga performs its relentless duty, holding the earth on its hood, preventing it from sinking into the Patal.

The stone body and ribs of Sheshnaga escort you to the rocky torso of Adiganesh, the son of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati. Adiganesh had lost his head due to the anger of Shiva in a misunderstanding. To the wails of Parvati, Lord Shiva realised his mistake and gave new life to Ganesha, by placing an elephant head on his body. Ganesha, the elephant headed god is highly revered by the Hindus. The stone commemorates the headless Adiganesha. The Sastradal Kamal (lotus flower) rock just above this torso lets water drip into it, regularly. It is believed to be a divine abhishek (anointing).

Ahead is seen the Kali Kamli asan of Lord Shiva in a rock. This asan (meditative pose) is believed to be the supreme. Lord Shiva used to carry a jhola (cloth bag), and so we have inside the cave a porous bag like representation. If you knock on it with your knuckles, the sound shall tell you that the rock is hollow inside. Some truth! Next comes the figure of Patal Bhairavi with a lion mouth to one side – amazing!

A turning brings you to a curious combination of cave doors. Four cave doors reveal a story of their own – Randwar, Paapdwar, Dharamdwar, and Mokshadwar, together called Chardwar (four doors). Two of them are closed. The Randwar (door to war) was closed after the Mahabharata war. The Paapdwar (door to sin) was closed after the slaying of demon king Ravana by Lord Rama. Both Dharamdwar (door to path of religion) and Mokshadwar (door to salvation) are still open to man. The doorways exhort Man to take the path of dharma and achieve moksha, which is salvation.

To your left is seen in black rock the Parijat Vraksha, the tree that grants wishes. Legend has it that Lord Krishna brought this from Amravati. The stone tree inside the cave started growing and it would have broken the earth, had Lord Shiva not stopped its growth. You look wonderstruck at the tale and the trunk. It looks an actual tree trunk. On top of this trunk is a dense leafy structure, which leaves you stupefied at its shape. How can this be? The marvels of nature are too intriguing to be understood.

The huge stalactites, called the jatas (locks) of Lord Shiva are a beautiful sight. They flow down in stony silence and appear a real-life mane of hair. A part of them are white, which adds colour to the black stone cave. Tiny representations of Hindu gods and goddesses in stone eruptions relate how these are in perpetual attendence to the Lord. The famous Pandavas meditated inside this cave, below the jatas of Shiva.

As you move past this region the path is narrow and very slippery. Your feet must find stone cuttings and depressions lest you should lose balance. The Patal Bhuwaneshwar Mahadev – shivalinga in a trimurti image, is being anointed by the jatas of Lord Shiva. It leaves you expressionless as you observe that water drops, which drip from the jatas above, fall one by one over all three representations of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh in the trimurti linga image. Truth can be stranger than fiction!

All this while, inside the cave city, there was no insect, no bird or flying mammal, not even a whiff of stale odour that is associated with caves. It was most surprising that all life representations within were forzen in stone. Stone was the master of the cave city; it gave it a shape, a meaning and a reason to exist.

You return stunned after a two-hour sojourn. There are still three reminders, which the priest has not yet spoken of. First is the narration in rock of the yugas (ages) of the earth – Satyug (11,000 yrs.), Tretajug (9,000 yrs.), Dwaparjug (4,000 yrs.) and Kaliyug (4,000 yrs. completed). The stone erection representing Kaliyug has grown to its one-fourth length in 4000 years. Once this stalagmite grows the remaining three-fourth length in years and touches the roof, there would be pralaya (deluge) leading to the creation of yet another yuga. It is believed that the speed of this growth is determined by sin committed on earth. How rapidly would sin grow and along with it this stalagmite is to be seen. That this is the key to the world’s destiny is indeed surprising.

Second is the one thousand feet representation of mythological elephant Airawat. The five trunk bearing elephant came out of the churning of the ocean between the gods and the demons. The gods have him and so will those whose deeds are godly. Between Airawat’s feet flows the mythical river Saraswati, which is seen in white streaks. Third was the priest himself, Dan Singh Bhandari, whose family has been conducting worship here for the past 900 years. He is the 18th in the line of succession. Truly it is said that the meek shall inherit the kingdom of God.

The author, a senior civil servant, is a noted freelance writer.



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