It has been widely accepted by historians that Lord Rama along with Sita Mata and Lakshmana lived in the picturesque Dandakaranya during His exile, a part of which has been identified as the thick forest area of Koraput district in Odisha. According to legend, it was Lord Rama who stumbled upon this ancient swayambhu (self-manifested) Shiva Linga in a cave deep inside the wooded area.
Lord Rama, the epitome of dharma soon realized that this Shiva Linga seated in the cave was extremely rare and extraordinary and began worshipping it. As this Shiva Linga’s existence was a secret to the universe, He called it as Lord Gupteshwar. There is also a mention of this in the Ramayana.
According to locals, this cave and the Shiva Linga were forgotten for many centuries and it was King Vikram who ruled over Jeypore who entered this cave quite by accident while hunting a deer. It is said that as he approached the cave, he observed a man guarding the entrance. Upon asking the man who he was and whether he saw a deer run into the cave, the man replied that he was a hunter and he did not see any deer.
King Vikram who was overcome with fatigue sought to quench his thirst at a small waterfall that he chanced upon near the cave. Feeling refreshed, he decided to rest awhile before heading back to his hunting party and soon fell asleep in the cave. Lord Shiva appeared in his dream revealing His presence within the cave.
King Vikram woke up excited about the dream and looked around for the hunter who had been watching over the entrance of this cave but much to his disappointment was unable to find him. The king decided to venture inside the cave and lo! there in the cavern was a Shiva Linga that seemed to have appeared from nowhere! The king overcome with joy and ecstasy prostrated himself on the cool floor of the cave and suddenly realized that both the deer and hunter were Lord Shiva Himself! It is said the king used to travel on foot to worship Lord Gupteshwar during the holy month of Shravan.
The temple was abandoned for some time as the inaccessibility of this place probably kept away devotees. However, a hunter or tribal found this cave in the latter part of the 19th century and since then, the tribals living in this area have been assiduously worshipping Lord Gupteshwar. This place is also known as Gupta Kedar and the nearby hill is called Ramagiri after Lord Rama. There are two kunds near this temple namely Rama kund and Sita kund.
The exemplary classic Sanskrit author, Kalidasa also has described the scenic beauty of Ramagiri forest in his famous poem, Meghadūta. Gupteshwar cave in the Gupteshwar hill is a natural limestone cave quite similar to Borra Caves. It is enclosed by a dense forest of sal trees and the soothing sound of the strong waters of the river Sabari or Kolab as it is known in Odisha runs very close to the cave adding to the loveliness of this place. Underground water here is matter of great fascination and the view of Davis falls from the farthest end of the cave is absolutely stunning.
Gupteshwar cave is accessed by steps that have now been carved out from the bottom of the hill. The sweet smell of champaka trees fill the air as you reach the entrance of the cave which is about 9.5 feet wide and 6.5 feet high. The perennial water flow over the limestone deposits over years has created stunning speleothems i.e., breathtaking structures of stalactites and stalagmites. The cave is very dark and it is probably advisable to take a guide along with you. There are other caves close by but are no longer open to the public.
The Shiva Linga is at a height of 3 feet with a circumference of 10 feet. An interesting point to note is that the Shiva Linga here grows in size every year! There is a large stalactite inside the second cave that is revered as the udder of Kamadhenu. People wait for long periods of time to collect drops of water that fall from the udder that is accepted with devotion as milk of the Divine Cow. Scientists however claim that this water is mixed with limestone rendering it white in colour and hence, resembles milk.
But, the faith of the people in Lord Shiva is seen in the large crowds that throng this place in the month of Shravana, Maha Shivaratri and Purnima. People take a dip in Maha kund and spend a lot of time in bhajans, chanting and meditation here. Those suffering from incurable diseases come from far-flung places to have darshan of Lord Gupteshwar and locals say that the ever-merciful Lord hears their prayers and grants their wishes.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian