26 September 2016

Pataleshwar Temple, Pune, Maharashtra

Through many years, at great expense,
Journeying through many countries
I went to see high mountains, I went to the oceans.
Only I had not seen at my very doorstep,
The dew drop glistening, on the ear of the corn.
– Rabindranath Tagore

Among Pune’s inhabitants, only an infinitesimally tiny fraction is aware of the tremendously enthralling monuments that their beautiful city camouflages as derelict mansions, tumble-down edifices and long forgotten shrines. Overshadowed by towering Banyan and Kanak Champa trees of unimaginable antiquity, the very appropriately christened Pataleshwar Temple in fact masquerades as a colossal crater in a secluded corner of a densely-vegetated garden. It isn’t everyday that you look down a hole and find a temple peeping back! (unless if you're in Talakadu! Refer Pixelated Memories - Talakadu, Karnataka)

Dedicated to the “Pataleshwar” (“Lord of the Netherworld”) aspect of Lord Shiva, the Hindu God of death and destruction, the rock-cut shrine was commissioned some 1,200 years ago during Rashtrakuta Dynasty reign (AD 753-982) but the endeavor never came to fruition as further sculpting was rendered dangerous and eventually entirely abandoned after a fault line was discovered at the back of the sanctum. What remains is a massive underground rectangular cell, forbiddingly dark and damp, supported by thick unembellished pillars, and convincingly reminiscent of the macabre “netherworld” term in its nomenclature.

Forgotten dreams, unfinished missions

The shrine was referred to as “Bhambavade temple” during Maratha reign after the miniscule village it adjoined, but the name was corrupted to “Bhamburde” by British administrators and afterwards totally disappeared from the annals of history as the area slowly mutated into what is now known as Shivajinagar.

Blanketed by disquieting silence, the austerity is disturbing, and a strange terror of being buried underneath the whole enormity slowly creeps in without premonition. Even light seems to be frightened of venturing within, restraining itself short of the sanctum and the adjacent chambers, further deepening the foreboding darkness until every shadow ominously merges into the next. Amidst the almost impenetrable gloom, only the polished bronze Shivalinga (the universal rounded-cylinder primordial symbol of Lord Shiva) and the brilliant white marble sculptures of the trinity of Rama, Lakshman and Sita nearby seem aglow with a subdued magnificence.


Stepping back outside, the most unusual aspect of the shrine is the enormous umbrella-shaped pavilion in the courtyard underneath which reclines the bull-demigod Nandi perennially adoring Lord Shiva, his master.

Contemplating the velvety, vibrant green moss on the rain-drenched rock surfaces, the glistening droplets enchantingly draping the convoluted cobwebs, and the perpetual squish and crunch of sweetly-stinking semi-rotten foliage under my feet on the ground level, I cannot help recall a Kannada verse by the renowned 12th-century scholar-social reformer Basavanna wherein he addresses his personal deity “Kudalasangama Deva” (Lord Shiva) thus –

“Maneyolage maneyodeyaniddano illavo? Hostilalli hullu hutti, maneyolage raja tumbi;
Maneyolage maneyodeyaniddano illavo? Tanuvolage husi tumbi, manadolage visaya tumbi;
Maneyolage maneyodeyanilla, Kudalasangama Deva”

“The master of the house, is he at home, or isn’t he? Grass on the threshold, dirt in the house;
The master of the house, is he at home, or isn’t he? Lies in the body, lust in the heart;
No, the master of the house is not at home, Our Lord of the Meeting Rivers”

Down the rabbit hole!

Location: Jangali Maharaj road, less than a kilometer from Shivajinagar Railway station (Coordinates: 18°31'36.9"N 73°50'59.4"E)
Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 45 min
Suggested reading -
More land-submerged temples - Pixelated Memories - Talakadu, Karnataka