“This awesome cave is believed to be as old as earth itself.” – is the first line of the inscription outside the temple summing up the history of the mysterious Patal Bhuvaneshwar Cave situated in the village of Bhuvaneshwar in Pithoragarh district in Dev Bhoomi Uttarakhand. The second line of the inscription runs thus, “It has been mentioned in detail in the 103 chapter of Manas Khanda of Skanda Purana.” – referring to the powerful proclamation – “He who wants to feel the presence of eternal power should come to the sacred Bhuvaneshwar situated near the confluence of the rivers of Ramganga, Sarayu and Gupt Ganga.”
Located at an elevation of 1,350 meters above mean sea level, this extraordinary place has been mentioned in every yuga. In Treta Yuga, it is said that Rituparna of Surya Vamsha was the first man to discover this cave. The story goes that King Nala had been defeated by his lovely wife, Damayanti. To escape Damayanti’s punishment, King Nala sought the help of Raja Rituparna to stay hidden for some time. Raja Rituparna surprised by this request took him to the dense forest of the Himalayas and asked him to stay there. On his way back, a graceful deer wandering about the forest caught the eye of Raja Rituparna and he swiftly went after it. However, the deer soon ran into the thick woods and Raja Rituparna lost sight of it. Weary from the chase, he decided to rest under a tree. He had a vivid dream in which the deer asked him not to chase him. When he woke up, he saw a cave ahead and a man guarding it. After seeking permission from the man to enter the cave, Raja Rituparna, much to his amazement was met by Sheshanag. Sheshanag very kindly offered to take him around the cave carrying him on its hood and Raja Rituparna had the rare honour of meeting all the 33 crore devathas of the universe and at the end of his marvellous journey had darshan of Lord Shiva. Spellbound by the cave’s splendour and energy, Raja Rituparna realized the sanctity of this place and the blessings bestowed upon him.
However, this place remained forgotten for the rest of the Treta Yuga and was again discovered in Dwapura Yuga by the Pancha Pandavas who visited this cave to have darshan of Lord Shiva and performed penance here before leaving for their final journey to Swargarohini (a mountain situated in the Saraswati range of Garhwal Himalayas). This cave yet again remained obscure for the rest of Dwapura Yuga and early part of Kali Yuga.
In Kali Yuga, Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya visited this holy place in the early 1100s and opened it up for all to worship and since then, havan, puja and other spiritual activities have commenced. This cave is now a protected monument of the Archaeological Survey of India. Locals say that one must visit Varadh Bhuvaneshwar temple first before entering Patal Bhuvaneshwar. It is said that paying obeisance at Patal Bhuvaneshwar is equal to visiting Char Dhaam.
This cave or rather maze of caves is built by the perennial flow of water over centuries and is a staggering 160 meters long and 27.4 meters deep! The entrance is enough for one person to squeeze through and rough natural steps form the way. This underground labyrinth is extremely narrow and at times, one has to lie down flat to get inside the cave. There are several caves which have still not been explored owing to either fear or darkness or lack of oxygen. There is supposed to be an underground route from here that leads to Mount Kailash. Though the cave is quite gloomy and dark at times, the incredible power of this place can be surely felt by everyone. The passageway of this cave is said to be the backbone of Sheshanag. It is believed that every story that has been narrated in the Hindu scriptures has a connection to this remarkable place. Every stone, every rock formation, every cave and every wall has its own story and its magnificence renders you speechless.
It is said that the severed head of Lord Ganesha who was created as a man by Parvathi Devi has been hidden in this cave by Lord Shiva. There is a striking lotus formation or Brahmakamala on the rock above the head of Lord Ganesha from where water drips down continuously and the larger droplet falls into the mouth of Adi Ganesha. It is believed that Lord Shiva created this Brahmakamala to bestow the elixir of life to Lord Ganesha. The limestone rock formations seen inside the cave are stunning speleothems i.e., breathtaking structures of stalactites and stalagmites resembling many Gods and Goddesses. There is Lord Ganesha, Bhuvaneshwari, Sheshanag, Hamsa, Kalpavriksha, eight-petalled lotus formation, the udders of Kamadhenu, jatas of Lord Shiva, the Saptha Rishis mandalam, descent of Ganga, thousand legs of Airavata, the mouth of the dog of Lord Kala Bhairava and others.
There is a kund made by Vishwakarma for the Pandavas during their visit to the cave. Three different stone formations are worshipped here representing the trinity of the universe and water falls on these stones from above. It is said that the copper plates that covers the deities were installed by Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya. There are four entrances to the cave namely Paapdwaar, Randwaar, Dharamdwaar and Mokshadwaar. Of this, Paapdwaar closed after the death of Ravana, Randwaar closed after the war at Kurukshetra and the remaining two are still open.
There are four stones representing the four yugas. It is said that the fourth stone is growing and when this Shiva Linga reaches the ceiling of the roof, the end of Kali Yuga begins. The havan kund inside here is supposed to be the place where Janmejaya performed the yagna in which all the snakes in the universe were burnt alive.
Locals say that even today on Trayodashi, the 13th day of the Lunar month the entire gamut of creation and galaxy of Gods and Goddesses descend to this cave to offer their salutations to Lord Shiva.
The radiance of this place fills you with excitement and deep sense of peace and bliss that is inexpressible. This ancient cave sends you to a different place where the wonders and spectacular beauty enchants you to such an extent that the world you think you have lived in ceases to exist.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)