The Talking Caves Of Lenyadri, Maharashtra
Neeraj Shinde Wednesday, December 17, 2014 Maharashtra
As old as a mountain – the simile seems so apt after one visits the ancient caves of Lenyadri. In the local language of Marathi, Leni means Caves and Adri in Sanskrit means a Mountain or a Rock. For past centuries, there are several Hindu myths and stories about these mysterious caves which date around the 1st century to 3rd century AD. However, the origin of these mountain caves relate to Buddhism. It was around 2500 years from now when Buddha Shakyamuni the originator of Buddhism gave his teachings to the masses. The human society then was very different from the one we see now. People truly cultivated themselves in religion and meditated for days and months. Several cultivators went to the mountains and carved caves where they cultivated for months. In fact, there are several such caves in certain corners of the world which are even today not trespassed and unknown to modern men.
|The Lenyadri Group of Caves|
The town of Junnar in Pune District of Indian State of Maharashtra is enriched by a series of hills on all sides. These hills consist of numerous Buddhist rock-cut caves. This is the largest number of caves at one place in the whole country, numbering over 200, spread over these hills All the caves belongs to the Hinayana (Theravada) phase of Buddhism They are date-able from mid 3rd century B.C. to late 3rd century AD. The Junnar cave complex is divided into various groups according to their locations in various hills, like Tulaja caves, Manmodi which is further divided into Bhimashankar, Amba-Ambika and Bhuta Linga - this name is derived from Buddha Lena, Shivaneri and Ganesh caves.
|The Octagonal Pillars of the Caves|
Mentioned as 'Kapichita' i.e. beloved of the monkeys in the inscriptions, the Lenyadri group is also known as 'Sulaiman Hill' or 'Ganesh Pahad'. This is one of the major groups at Junnar. There are nearly 40 caves in this group, out of which the main group of 30 caves is located in a line and are numbered from East to West, all facing South and overlooking the valley of river Kukadi. Out of these 30 caves, the caves 6 and 14 are the 'Chaityagrihas' (Prayer Hall) and the remaining are the 'Viharas' (residences of the monks) of which cave 7 is the largest. The rest of the caves are small residential caves for the monks that have two or three cells. They range in date from 1st century A.D. to 3rd century A.D. Cave 6 is the main Chaityagrihas in this group. It consists of a pillared veranda and an upsidal hall divided into three parts by two rows of pillars. The Stupa representing Gautam Buddha, is at the end of the hall. The ceiling has vaulted shape. A donator inscription, date-able to 2nd century A.D. is carved on the back wall of the veranda above the doorway. It records the donation of the Chaityagriha by Sulasadatta, son of a Goldsmith from Kalyan. Cave 7 is a huge Vihara and the largest cave at Junnar. This Vihara consist of a large hall with the cells on three sides. Entry is provided by a central door from a pillared veranda which is approached by a flight of steps. There are 20 cells in total with varying dimensions. Two central cells in the back wall have been converted into one at a later date and at present a Ganesh image is worshiped. Cave 14 is also a Chaityagriha, but with a flat roof and rectangular hall. It also has a pillared veranda and the inscription of the donor carved in the veranda. The inscription mentions that it was donation by a devotee 'Anand' who was the son of Tapasa and grandson of Kapila. This cave can also be dated to 2nd century A.D.
|Way Towards the Caves of Lenyadri|
There are more than 30 prominent caves at Lenyadri that are carved with different architectures. Most of the pillars form an octagonal design and are a wonder to watch. Today, the entire hill is governed by the Archaeological Survey of India and the place esp. the cave no. 7 has been transformed into a Ganesha temple. There are several stories in Hindu mythology about the birth of the Hindu Lord Ganesha who was supposed to be born to Parvati (Girija), the wife of Lord Shiva. Hindus believe that Lord Ganesha was born to Girija who herself is believed to be a daughter of the mountain. Lord Ganesha as per Hindu mythology is known by several names based on his many reincarnations. His reincarnation in Lenyadri is popularly known as the Girijatmaja i.e. Born to Girija. There are prominently 8 such reincarnations of Lord Ganesha recognized by the Ashta Vinayaka i.e. Eight Ganeshas. The Girijatmaja temple at Lenyadri is one of the 8 Ashtavinayakas.
|A Breathtaking View from the Lenyadri Cave 7|
Today, the caves continue to amaze every visitor visiting it. Knowing all the secrets of History, the Lenyadri hill looks so mysterious when one looks at it from the foothills. The caves, right at the center of the mountain look so much like windows on an aircraft or of that of a huge ship. I really wonder, how hardworking ancient men were. They had an amazing sense of architecture and dedication towards what they did. Although, the footsteps towards the caves seem to have been built lately, the Buddhist cultivators are believed to climb the mountain using a rope and cut down these ropes after they reach the cave until they reached enlightenment or failed and died of starvation or a disease.
The way to reach to the caves is a bit tiring and may be tiring for people with heart diseases and old men and women. As you continue your climb uphill, have a moment to turn back and observe the scenic view of the other mountains at the horizon. The view is much more beautiful if you visit the place sometime in August or September. I just can’t forget the greenery all around during my recent visit this year to this place. Cave no. 7 is well maintained and devotees of Lord Ganesha turn up here everyday. During the two days viz. Lord Ganesha Jayanti and Ganesh Chaturthi, festivals are observed at Lenyadri. These are the two days when devotees turn up at Lenyadri in large numbers.
|Hearing the Caves Talk at Lenyadri|
Throughout the course of history, several rulers including the Muslim and Hindu rulers have governed this land. Every ruler had his own vested interest and perspective towards these icons of history. Hence, there may be even more stories about these caves that may be a result of someone’s political interest. In such a scenario, I would like to go by the facts I see. The mighty hill of Lenyadri stands upright there as if screaming to tell me something un-understood. I could hear these caves talking. Something that can be only heard if we could just have a fresh outlook towards the universe around us.