Pachmarhi, also known as Satpura ki Rani (Queen of Satpura ranges) is the only hill station in Madhya Pradesh situated at an elevation of 2500 feet. This colonial hill station was discovered by a General Forsyth who stumbled upon this beautiful place while heading back to the Bengal Lancers in 1857. Soon, Pachmarhi was developed into a summer capital of the Central Province with typical cottages and buildings built in colonial style.
Pachmarhi is home to five prominent sites namely Pandava Caves, Jata Shankar, Chauragarh, Mahadev and Dhoopgarh. There are several sacred Shiva shrines as well inside the caves of the hills of Pachmarhi and one can easily get lost in the splendour of the Satpura ranges.
Jata Shankar – jata means dreadlocks and Shankar refers to Lord Shiva is a natural cave temple situated in a gorge with enormous boulders perched above. Jata Shankar Dham as it is also known is considered by locals to be the second home of Lord Shiva with Kailash Parvat being the first.
Legend has it that Bhasmasura wished to please Lord Shiva and performed penance observing very severe austerities. Lord Shiva became pleased with him and offered him a boon. The wicked Bhasmasura asked for a boon where the person on who’s head he were to place his hand would be reduced to ashes. Lord Shiva bound to His word awarded the boon. Suddenly, Bhasmasura decided to place his hand on Lord Shiva’s head. Lord Shiva quickly realizing the cruel intentions of Bhasmasura started running.
Lord Shiva escaped through a tunnel through Tilak Sindur near Itarsi and finally reached the remote cave of Jata Shankar in Pachmarhi. Seeing the widespread branches of the banyan trees between the mountains and the rocks, Lord Shiva hit upon the idea to spread His jata and lo! Jata Shankar came into existence.
On closer inspection, the jata is seen even today as the distinctive formations on the rock. The matted hair of Lord Shiva is so well-defined that it will leave you awestruck. There is a stunning naturally formed Shiva Linga inside the cave and above that appears to be an impressive snake-like formation (Sheshnaga, thousand-headed divine snake) in stone formed by the dripping water from the roof of the cave. This snake-like formation is believed to be Lord Shiva’s matted hair.
The water falling over the Jata Shankar Shiva Linga is the origin for the Jambu Dweepa stream. The water in the cave flows from some unknown source which, till date has not been discovered. This stream of water is popularly known as Gupt Ganga (secret Ganga). There are two different types of ponds here fed by springs – one of cold water and the other of hot water.
The cave is probably very ancient created from the perennial flow of water and has magnificent speleothems – i.e. breathtaking structures of stalactites and stalagmites and these 108 naturally formed Shiva Lingas inside the cave are highly revered. There are other formations as well of a snake and tiger that can be seen. There are idols of Lord Shankar, Goddess Parvathi and Shiva Linga worshipped on the upper part of the cave. There is also a Shree Rama temple where you can find the stones used for building Rama Sethu.
This place is considered to be a treasure trove of rare herbs of great medicinal value. People throng this cave on Maha Shivaratri with holy water from the Jambu river offered for abhishekham. The sanctity and serenity of this place is enhanced by the lush green vegetation, natural waterfalls and the timeless rocks of the hills that are privy to many secrets.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)