The Shelter of Caves, Part 3

BY: SUN STAFF - 11.1 2023

Entrance to Patel Bhuvanesvar

A study of famous caves in ancient Bharat.

Patel Bhuvanesvar

Patal Bhuvanesvar is a limestone cave temple complex situated 14 km. from Gangolihat, in the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand. Pithoragarh is in the Kumaon region of the western Himalayan Range. Located in the village of Bhuvanesvar, Patel Bhuvanesvar is not one cave, but rather a whole cave complex built by to the flow of water. It is said to be the abode of Lord Shiva and thirty-three crore divine personalities. The caves are said to connect by underground route to Mount Kailash.

Patal Bhuvanesvar is mentioned in Skanda Purana (Mana-skanda:

"He who wants to feel the presence of eternal power should come to the sacred Bhuvanesvar situated near the confluence of Ramganga, Sarayu and Gupt-Ganga."

The cave complex, sitting over 4,400 feet above sea level, is 525 feet long and 90 feet deep from the point of entrance. The limestone rock formations include various spectacular figures, of many hues and forms. The cave has a narrow tunnel-like opening which leads to numerous caves. The caves are fully electrically illuminated, albeit dimly lighted, and are visited by many pilgrims.

Traveling down into the caves is a somewhat daunting trek. 100 steps descend into the narrow cave's sanctum sanctorum, which gives visitors an overwhelming feeling of entering the centre of the earth. Pilgrims must carry their own light for the descent, and hold onto protective iron chains along the walls.

In the caves, rock formations of Sheshnaga can be seen, along with the tongue of Kali Bhairav, Aravati of Indra, Lord Shiva's hair and many other divine representations in the caves. Offering worship to the devatas at Patal Bhuvanesvar is said to be equivalent to worshipping at the Char-dham, yielding a thousand times the fruit of tapasya at Kashi, Badrinath or Kedarnath.

According to recorded history, the first human to discover this cave was Raja Ritupurna, who was a king in the Surya Dynasty, ruling Ayodhya during Treta Yuga. It is said that once, King Nala was defeated by his wife, Queen Damayanti. In order to escape his wife's prison, Nala requested King Ritupurna to hide him. Ritupurna took him to the forests of the Himalayas and asked him to stay there. While going back home he was fascinated by a deer which ran into woods, and he went after it. He could not find it and took rest under a tree. He had a dream, in which the deer was asking Ritupurna not to chase him. His sleep broke and as he woke up, he came upon a cave where a guard was standing. After enquiring about the cave he was allowed to go inside. Right at the entrance, Ritupurna met Sheshnaga, who agreed to take him through the caves, carrying the king on His hood. In this way Ritupurna saw the marvels of countless demigods inside, including Lord Shiva.

It is said that after King Ritupurna's visit, the cave was closed for ages, with the hint of a prediction in Skanda Purana that it will be re-opened again in Kaliyuga.

In Dvarapa-ryuga the caves were rediscovered by the Pandavas, who meditated here on their final journey, taking darshan of Lord Shiva. During his visit to the Himalayas, Shankarcharya is said to have again rediscovered the caves, in 1191 A.D. Since then, regular worship and offering are being done at this place.

Fire sacrifices are performed here regularly. The Bhandaris are the priest family who have been responsible for performing religious rites at Patal Bhuvanesvar since the time of the Adi Shankar. More than 20 generations in their line have done so, and they are said to be a rich repository of historical record about the caves.

Patal Bhuvanesvar is believed to be as old as the Earth planet itself. One can see the gateway of the great ages in the caves, with four entrances that are named Randwar, Paapdwar, Dharamdwar and Mokshadwar. The Paapdwar was closed shortly after the death of Ravana. The Randwar, which literally means 'the road to war', was closed down after the great Battle of Kurukshetra. At present only the remaining two gateways are open.