The story of Patal Bhubaneshwar, a temple located in the Kumaon region in Uttarakhand, is so unique, that it will compel you to put your travelling shoes on and head to this ancient cave.
Located 14 kilometers away from Gangolihat, in Pithoragarh, this cave is situated in the Bhubaneshwar village.
Hidden inside this cave is a Shivlinga, along with 33 crore other Hindu Gods. The cave is 160 meters long and 90 feet deep. The entrance to the cave is uneven, slippery and narrow, however, it opens up into a much bigger cave. Exploring the cave is almost like opening up a Matryoshka doll; each cave is unique in itself and has a story to tell.
It is believed that the limestone rocks have formed various stalagmite figures, which vary in colour and form.
THE LEGEND BEHIND THE CAVE:
“He who wants to feel the presence of eternal power should come to the sacred Bhuvneshwar situated near the confluence of Ramganga, Sarayu and Gupt-Ganga.”
It is believed that King Rituparna of the Surya Vansha discovered the cave in the Treta Yug and has been described in Manas Khand of the Skand Purana.It is said that during his visit, he had encountered several demons and “Sheshnag” himself acted as his guide.
One can see the gateway of the great ages in Patal Bhubaneshwar. There are four entrances inside the cave named as ‘Randwar’ ‘Paapdwar’, ‘Dharamdwar’ and ‘Mokshadwar’. The Paapdwar was closed soon after the death of Ravana and the Randwar, literally, the road to war, was closed down after the great Mahabharata war.
At present, only two gateways remain open. You can see the tongue of Kali Bhairav, Indra’s Iravat, hair of Lord Shiva and several other wonders inside the caves of Patal Bhubaneshwar.
It is said that Adi Shankaracharya visited this cave in 1191 AD, which is considered to be the beginning of the modern pilgrimage history at Patal Bhubaneshwar.
The journey inside the cave has to be carried out in dim lighting while holding iron chains.
The stone formations of Sheshnag can be seen, holding earth, heaven and the world beneath, while ‘Havan’ is performed in a dimly lit, solemn atmosphere, under the spell of holy chants.
The Bhandaris, a family of priests, have been performing religious rites at the Patal Bhubaneshwar temple since the time of Adi Shankaracharya. More than 20 generations of men have been priests to this temple, and have a horde of legends, folklores and anecdotes in store for visitors.
AROUND THE BEND:
The motorable road ends about half a kilometer away from the cave’s entrance. Once at the cave, you have to descend nearly 100 steps into the narrow approach to be able to reach the sanctum sanctorum, creating a false sense of entering the centre of the earth.
Once inside the cave, each stalagmite within each cave, reveals the stories of the several Hindu Gods, Goddesses, saints and mythological characters.
On the outside, the cave is surrounded by lush greenery. An unpaved path leads to the cave, and the moment I walked down the path leading to cave, I witnessed lofty mountains and fragrant flora all around me.
When I reached the cave and there were a number of other people who had come to visit the place as well.
INSIDE THE CAVE:
To enter the cave, my hosts and I took the help of a guide, who assisted us in rappelling down into the cave.
Although it is slightly difficult to go inside the cave, but it takes barely a few minutes to get down the slope and enter the cave.
The cave then leads into several other caves, so I began walking, the guide in tow, exploring one cave after another.
There are many legends associated with the lime and stone structures placed inside these caves; ones which say that you will receive what you wish for. I too partook in the ancient legend, hoping that my prayers and wishes would be answered.
While inside the cave, I sat for a while and observed other visitors around me. Their unhindered faith in these stone and lime structures and the legends of this cave were intriguing to say the least. How they followed the traditional practices that have been passed down from years, and have only grown stronger with the passage of time.
The other visitors were following all that what was being explained to them, without giving it a second thought.
Somewhere deep down, I too had faith in the legends of this cave; as I stepped out of the cave, I sat under a tree outside the temple and experienced a genuine sense of calm.
There are many other stories and sacred places in India which have attained a stature based on myths and legends; yet, what keeps us coming back to these places is a sense of unexplained faith in their mystique.