Monday, 2 June 2014

Patal Bhuvaneshwar - A heaven under earth and its Sathya Sai connection

The Himalayas are possibly the only place on earth where you find all kinds of 'climates' of the world!
Himalayan beauty is a joy forever

The glorious Himalayas are the youngest mountains and mountain chains on the face of the earth. However, they are the abode to some of the most timeless treasures too. The mesmerizing beauty of nature, the almost-infinite variety in the flora and fauna and the millions of waterfalls formed by the thousands of streams and rivers draw a gasp of awe, wonder and joy from any visitor. While the senses indulge in this sublime beauty, the mind is surprisingly stilled with great ease. The peace that the mind immerses in brings the best out of poets, writers, singers, painters, photographers, scientists, doctors - you just name the vocation! But the impact of the Himalayas is not restricted just to the body and mind. While the immediate impact influences the peripherals of the being, the greatest impact is on the deepest recesses of the human complex - the spirit or the soul.

Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba says, “You are not one but three - the one you think you are; the one that the others think you are; the one that you really are.”

The archway leading to Patal Bhuvaneshwar.
While there are several spaces on earth which help you discover what you think you are and what others think you are, the Himalayas house several sanctuaries which help you discover who you really are! The ability of the Himalayas to please the body and the mind may be near infinite, but it is nothing compared to its ability to slake the spiritual craving of every thirsting soul. While it has given birth to several perennial rivers that sustain the body and mind of India, it has also been the spring of eternal knowledge and wisdom that sustain India’s soul.

And so, when one such ‘Himalayan’ trip was planned in the summer of 2014, I was naturally thrilled and excited. The previous such trip in 2012 had been to the Garhwal Himalayas when we had lovely experiences at beautiful Badrinath, glorious Gangotri and kaleidoscopic Kedarnath and refreshing Rishikesh. This time, we would be visiting the north-western part of the Daivabhoomi, the state of Uttarakhand which is home to what is referred to as the Kumaon Himalayas. At the heart of the trip would be a visit to the cave shrine known as Patal Bhuvaneshwar, a place where apparently all the 33 crore Gods of the Sanatana Dharma had (and continue to) worship Lord Shiva. Our trip was being organised by the efficient and economical, government-run organization, Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam.

The underground abode of Lord Shiva

I had heard a lot about Patal Bhuvaneshwar before the trip. The legend about the cave and the history I had heard were summarised with great brevity on the message board at the entrance of the cave:
This awesome cave is believed to be as old as the earth itself. The first human who entered this cave was king "Rituparna" of the Solar Dynasty during the Treta Yuga. In Dwapara Yuga this cave was rediscovered by the Pandavas. In Kali Yuga, Adi Shankaracharya consecrated this cave and, since 1191, this has been a place of visit, both for sightseeing and worship."

The glory of the cave is delineated in the Skanda Purana, the largest among the 18 Puranas. Named after Skanda, the son of Siva, this Purana expounds doctrines and worship of Siva.  It also contains legends of Siva, especially his battles with Daityas (devils) and Danavas (demons).  This Purana is divided into seven parts or Khandas.  The first three Khandas include episodes related to Trinity of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. The last four deal with the holy places of pilgrimage, including this special cave. Apparently, it is this Skanda Purana which gives the precise location of Patal Bhuvaneshwar too in a verse which runs as follows:
“He who wants to feel the presence of eternal power should come to the sacred Bhuvaneshwar situated near the confluence of Ramganga, Sarayu and Gupt Ganga.”

The first of the thrilling experiences happened as we spoke about Skanda on the way to Patal Bhuvaneshwar. A cloud in the unmistakable shape of Skanda's mount, the peacock, appeared
above the hills. 

That apart, it also names the hill where the cave is located as Darukagiri meaning ‘mountain of Deodhar trees’. Here are two stanzas from the Purana which glorify Patal Bhuvaneshwar.

बसतस्या महादेवः पातालभुवनेश्वरः l
ब्रह्माविष्णु महेशानां कृत्वैकत्वं नरेश्वरः ll
क्षयस्त्तिशेवगणाः सेवितु भुवनेश्वरम् ll
निवसन्ति हि पाताले महेन्द्रप्रमुखां इह l

The actual limestone cave shrine is located at a distance of about 14 kms from Gangolihat in the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand (which, in the Vedic times was called as Kedarkhand or Manaskhand). Gangolihat itself is famous as a Shakti Peetha, a spiritual power center consecrated by the Shakti or female/mother principle according to Sanatana Dharma. The legend of Emperor Daksha’s sacrifice explains the presence of several such Shakti Peethas all over the Indian subcontinent. Our wonderful driver-guides recommended that we visit the Mother before offering obeisance at Patal Bhuvaneshwar. However, the tight schedule that we were following did not allow that to happen and we reversed the recommended order of visit. I must confess that the reversal did little to reduce the mind-stilling and unimaginable impact that Patal Bhuvaneshwar had on me.

The Shakti Peetha at Gangolihat. 
I admire and pay respects to all the Gods and Goddesses that mankind today worships. However, this love and devotion stems from my conviction that Sarva Deva Namaskaaram Sathya Sai Prathi Gachchati. (The prostrations offered to any being gets offered to Lord Sri Sathya Sai.) So, while I was fascinated and excited about Lord Shiva who almost singly dominates every Himalayan shrine including Patal Bhuvaneshwar, a good amount of that excitement was due to the intense yet intricate manner in which my Swami, God and best friend, Sri Sathya Sai, is connected to the underground shrine.

The Sathya Sai connection with Patal Bhuvaneshwar

Major-General Kanti.A.Taylor
Our bus halted at the end of a motorable road. A little archway welcomed us and we had to walk about 250 meters to reach the entrance of the cave shrine. The only big shop near the arch had a huge welcoming picture of Swami and the mere sight of it made me happy. The picture was the external evidence of the connection which is at least 25 years old today. It was in 1989 that Late Major General of the Indian Army, K.A.Taylor (the 65th name in this PROA directory of retired officers from the Delhi Chapter) spearheaded what could be considered as the re-discovery of the cave shrine.

Swami's picture above the window in the hotel cum shop was a joyous sight for me.
Taylor had come to know of Bhagawan Baba in the 1970s. In 1975, he was commandeering a convoy of jeeps through the treacherous trails at the Himalayan heights when one of them slipped of the road into the deep ravine below. The driver was killed on the spot. Taylor was not ready to accept this and he ensured that the ‘dead man’ was brought to the road and sent to the nearest hospital by another jeep. He was sure that the driver would be declared dead on arrival. That was when he decided to pray to his newly found ‘God’. It would be an acid test to his Swami who was thousands of miles away in Puttaparthi, a hamlet that was bracing to receive lakhs of people for Baba’s Golden Jubilee birthday celebrations. Imagine the major general’s thrill when the driver came out from the embracing arms of death to lead a healthy and happy life! Just like the driver, that incident became the turning point in Taylor’s life too as he confesses in this special documentary on Patal Bhuvaneshwar.

Taylor sharing his experiences galore in a candid
interview which is part of the documentary.
A few years later, when he was at Prasanthi Nilayam in Puttaparthi, Swami granted him and his wife an interview. Among the other things, Swami asked him,
“There is a huge responsibility which you will have to shoulder. Are you ready?”
The army man replied that when Swami was by his side, he was prepared for any responsibility. After that day, whenever any assignment came his way, he would wonder whether that was the ‘responsibility’ that his lord had referred to. He got a promotion in 1986 and again wondered whether this was the ‘big responsibility’ he had to shoulder. Years rolled by before Taylor had another tryst with Swami. This time it was in a dream.

Swami had taken him to some spot in the Himalayan mountains. He stood next to a temple complex from where Swami pointed out a winding path towards a mountain. He then told Taylor about the location of cave at that particular place. Then, the dream ended.

That winding path of Taylor's dream today has become a cemented roadway leading to Patal Bhuvaneshwar.
Taylor had no doubt that dreams of Swami are always true. But, he had no idea as to what Swami was indicating. He assumed that Swami wanted him to meditate in the mountains. He began to do it sincerely though he had no idea as to which mountain Swami had pointed out. One day, when he was in the Pitoragarh district as part of his duties, a colleague suggested that he should visit a nearby Devi temple. Even as he stood outside the temple complex, Taylor had horripilations! It was deja vu as he felt that he had been in this place before. He turned around and at once saw the mountain which Swami had pointed out to him in the dream. Instantly, he looked down and saw the winding path too. Needless to say, he trekked along that path in great excitement to come face to face with the Patal Bhuvaneshwar cave. Entering it, he had the spiritual experience of his life! Thus the cave was ‘rediscovered’, so to say.

The final archway before on arrives at the "cloak room" near the cave where on has to deposit cameras, cellphones, wallets, handbags etc. 
A discovery follows the rediscovery after which it is popularity for Patal Bhuvaneshwar

Please note that the Patal Bhuvaneshwar caves have been known for more than a hundred years. According to the South Asia Cave Registry (2001), the cave was identified by Atkinson as Patal Bhuvaneshwar of Manaskhand. in 1884. However, that was only for academic interest and the only ‘bright spot’ in the cave’s history was in 1941 when it was visited by the deputy commissioner of Almora as well as Swami Pranavananda. The next ‘bright spot’ literally happened with the rediscovery in 1989 when Taylor got a diesel generator commissioned to power the lighting in the cave complex. He also began to share his experience and ‘discovery’ with like-minded people.

The 8-petaled Lotus hanging upside-down from the ceiling - a terrific rock formation. 

The 8-petaled lotus constantly drips water on to a rock that is shaped like Lord
Ganesha's body sans the head. Legend is that, till the elephant head was found
and fitted, Lord Ganesha was kept alive via nectar dripping on His body
from a 8-petaled lotus. 
Dr.Gopal Karnavar, a professor at the University of Kerala, was on a pilgrimage in the Himalayas when he got to know about Patal Bhuvaneshwar. As he reveals in the special documentary, he immersed himself in the study of the Skanda Purana where he came across a reference to a ‘Valkhal’, who would rediscover the cave complex in Kali Yuga. Now, though the term ‘Valkhal’ translates directly to one who wears an attire made from the bark of trees, in spirit, it also means a soldier. He was not surprised that the rediscovery had been made by Taylor, a soldier in every sense of the term! This was another thrilling discovery. It was then that Taylor completely understood the meaning of the huge ‘responsibility’ which Swami had asked him to be ready to take up.

From then on, the popularity of the cave began to rise and it began to attract spiritual aspirants and tourists alike. The documentary entitled, “The secret cave in India” documents several thrilling spiritual experiences of many westerners who claim to have had thrilling experiences in the cave - experiences that teach them the futility of the mundane world and inspire them to learn the Reality about themselves, who they truly are! In fact, during the travel, I heard the story of one young westerner who had been sent by Swami to Patal Bhuvaneshwar to do spiritual practices for 3 months at a stretch. This person had shared his thrilling experiences of several visions with my friend, S.Sai Giridhar (doctoral research scholar in the Department of Chemistry at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning). Two years later, when Giridhar visited the cave, he was able to confirm that a ‘white foreigner’ had indeed spent 3 months at the cave complex!

The holy vessel of Lord Shiva. One has to visit the cave to get an actual idea of the massive sizes. 
Tourists too have been pouring in large numbers and the respectable Hindu newspaper too (which has circulation only in South India) carried a detailed article in 2003 on this holy cave.

Where experience exceeded expectations

It was with this huge baggage of stories and expectations that I reached the entrance of the cave complex. With growing number of people visiting the shrine, the rules had come in and a committee to take care of the place had been constituted. We were not allowed our cameras, cell phones or any other electronic item into the complex. (Though sad in the beginning, I felt good later on because I believe that this pristine underground world should not be polluted with the world outside! The photos you see throughout this article have been gathered from the internet and from the photo-seller outside the cave-complex!)

A file photo of the entrance to the cave. It is still like this but a door frame and a grille have been added
for security purposes. The cave shrine shuts after 6pm. 
With the name of Lord Shiva on my lips and the name of my Sai in my heart, I began the 120-meter descent into the underground world. This was physically challenging and yet, every member of the entourage, irrespective of age, wanted to enter. The huge iron chains that have been let down on either sides helped in the descent. I really don’t want to go into the description of all that is present in the cave because that is easily available on the internet. For instance, the pilgrimages of India site has a detailed description of the all interesting rock formations while Mrs.Anuradha Shankar has a detailed personal description of the whole experience from the travelling road to the cave in her blog. Most of the interesting sights are presented as photographs (though I could have taken much better ones if I was allowed!) I just want to share my experience in the cave.

Having descended about 50 steps, we came to a landing area which was pretty big. In my estimate, about 200 people can easily sit here. Waiting for the others, I sat with my wife opposite to formation which was introduced to us as the 100 legs of Lord Indra’s elephant, Airavata. Sitting and waiting there, I closed my eyes. Meditation has never been my forte when it comes to spiritual activities. On the few occasions when I have tried to actually meditate, I have found it so hard because suddenly, I become aware of a million sensations all over my body and my ears become extra sensitive to the slightest sounds.

The 1000 legs of Airavata. The photo is not that good. However, it was near this space that I felt my Swami.
In the cave landing, there were the loud chants of ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ punctuated by the shrieks and cries of people descending the scary slope. In spite of that, within moments of closing my eye, a calm descended on me. The sounds seemed to automatically shut out as if I was wearing some sound-proof Bose headphones! And then it happened.

Without the slightest effort on my part, I could ‘see’ or ‘imagine’ Swami walking towards me. In my mind’s eye, I saw Him grant darshan to so many people. I cannot say it was a vision for I don’t know what a vision technically is. But well, if you close your eyes and imagine Swami giving darshan, how would it be? It was exactly like that with one BIG difference. Here, I was not ‘controlling’ Swami’s movements. I had no idea of what Swami would do next during that darshan. This is not the case when I imagine a darshan right? I ‘make’ Swami do whatever I wish when it is my imagination!

Swami was smiling as He moved gracefully. He was showering His blessings on all and I was just so lost in the darshan. I had totally lost bearing that I was in Patal Bhuvaneshwar for I was in Kulwant hall. But I was not in one place. I was like a camera tracking and moving along with Swami. I could see each and every expression of His and study every action He did. It felt so awesome and magical. It was thrilling to say the least.

Suddenly, I was rudely jolted. I opened my eyes and realized that my wife had held my hand. I looked at her and she said in an overwhelmed voice,
“Swami is here.”
That was amazing.
“Yes”, I nodded and closed my eyes again as she too closed her eyes.

Later, as everyone gathered, we were taken on a tour of the cave. That was definitely entertaining. I heard whetever the guide said but my whole being was throbbing with love for Swami. I was feeling so happy and alive. Half an hour later, we were at the sanctum sanctorum - a linga that had been constituted by representation of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva with three differently textured and coloured rocks. Meters above these were three ‘udder-like’ rocks from which water dripped in a rhythm on each of the Gods of the Trinity in the linga. The 40 of us chanted the Rudram full-throatedly and the whole complex resounded and reverberated with the chant. Many might consider that and the touching of the linga as the most thrilling experience at Patal Bhuvaneshwar but I had already experienced the best at the beginning I felt.

The sanctum sanctorum at the Patal Bhuvaneshwar cave complex.
Even as people poured their love and adoration to the linga, I walked back to the ‘Airavata spot’. I wanted to immerse myself in that experience again. As I closed my eyes, I felt an inner voice which prompted me to sing a bhajan. I started,
“Bolo Bolo Sab Mil Bolo Om Namah Shivaya.”
To my pleasant discovery, there were 4-5 voices that followed the bhajan. It was evident that several others too had found something magical at this spot. The bhajan session went on for almost 20 minutes.

Another file photo of a part of the cave. This picture gives a better feel of the cave.
That was when one of the guides came and asked whether we could end the bhajans.
“There are so many people who have to crawl out of the cave. We will do bhajans till it is our turn to crawl out”, I said.
“But sir, all the groups of people have just sat down and are singing bhajans - not only your group. Nobody is moving out and it is already 5:20pm. The cave has to close in a few minutes, so kindly co-operate!”

It was with rich feelings and an overwhelming love for Swami that I exited the cave complex. I did not feel the need to speak to anyone and I silently decided that if not for any other place, a trip to the Himalayas would be justified with just a visit to Patal Bhuvaneshwar.

{When we visited this cave, we had booked our itinerary with Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN). You can visit their "Contact us" page with your queries and they will arrange for you lodging and travel plans for the Kumaon Himalayas region. In my experience, they have the best resources and coverage in the most remote tourist spots of the state.}

To know more wonders of this region, please go over to the detailed article on the wonders we witnessed in Kumaon Himalayas during this visit.

For all readers:

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  1. Sai Ram. Very good experience...

  2. This is great.. A visit to this cave is almost entering a parallel ancient world. I was unable to share my experience in this cave as what transpired there was beyond words. People known to me who went there in the 90's, almost each and every one of them had a divine experience for sure.

    Later in an interview Swami shared with one of the devotees that owing to conflicts in that area over the cave which were political in nature, He has withdrawn the power of the cave which may be reinfused perhaps in some distant future.

    But this cave, as Aravind mentioned is pulsating with tangle divine energy. We too were forbidden meditation or bhajans inside.. But Swami is tangibly there for sure. There was only 3 of us in the cave as we went during off season in the cold.. so we made another request and this time the priest quietly nodded. So not only did we do Swamis bhajans and Aarti to Him, but the priest insisted on giving us 'special prasad'. And guess what the prasad was?? - His vibhuti of course!! ..

    That day was special because later Swami literally teleported us to our train which we by every human logic and reason should have missed by hours...

    1. A yogi gets yogic experiences! :)

      Thank you for sharing this personal yet profound experience with all of us...

  3. Great, Aravind... Mr. Karanavar is a good old friend of mine...

  4. Thank you Bro. As always it was wonderful reading your experiences.

  5. Great job Aravind.... Feeling blessed... G. Karanavar is a good old friend of mine

  6. SaiRam,
    Incidentally I met you in B'lore on 28th at the summer camp in SaiDarshan,Indiranagar.
    I had been to Patal Bhuvaneshwar with a group where there were no Sai devotees.I was praying to Swami to let me know the significance of this place as per Swami.and today I got my answer through your blog.Thank you for this !

  7. The write up is very interesting. I felt that I am in Patal Bhuvaneshwar and going round the cave with all of you. Experiencing Swami's presence is touching!

  8. anna thank u soooooooooooooo much.... after reading living with himalayan masters ive always wanted to go there..... u almost quenched that thirst but rekindled he urge at the same tym....

  9. This is such a virtual tour to both Pathal bhuvaneswar and "Swami's darshan sessions"!!! Thank you so much...

  10. i have always wanted to go to Uttarakhand.. my mother is from Badrinath... after reading this article i wish the trip materializes some day soon ! Its amazing how in all the great pilgrimages one inevitable finds Baba's potrait... even in places where you can never imagine... the Lord of the universe is here :)

  11. Esha Narayanan3 June 2014 at 13:26

    super awesome !

  12. SaiRam Aravind,

    As I went thru this wonderful article on Patal Bhuvaneshwar today, I got reminded of the video I watched a couple of years ago (which is part of this blog). Also I got reminded of the beautiful unique experience of a Nepali devotee residing in Canada, who was directed to go to Patal Bhuvaneshwar by Swami. He had narrated for 2 hours at Prashanthnagar Sai Samiti,Bangalore all about his amazing journey within Patal Bhuvaneshwar with SWAMI PHYSICALLY especially to remote parts of the caves where it is humanly impossible to venture. Am trying to reach out to the Samithi people to get any recorded talks by this above said devotee (probably Amit-Alumnus SSSIHL)
    My Uncle who was at the talk around 3 years ago had told me what this devotee had shared with all of them:
    " I was told by Swami to go to a certain place I knew not in North India and to start on a particular day. Upon asking Swami the whereabouts He told I will keep instructing and guiding you. I did not start on that particular day and had to eventually face terrible consequences. When I finally did reach Patal Bhuvaneshwar with HIS GRACE, I went inside the cave and came back, but nothing much happened. At about 9 pm when I was alone in my room, Swami appeared before me in flesh and blood and asked "Are you happy?" I told "No.." Swami held my hand tight and took me with Him into the cave and it was all different as to what I had seen previously. Swami explained every detail within the cave. He showed me many saints who were doing penance for countless no of years. They were all ALIVE!! At one point Swami took me to some inner deeper chambers which He told is impossible for humans to visit, that was when He was showing Shiva in the walls and suddenly I began to see Swami in place of Shiva!! There was no Swami next to me at that particular moment!!. Similarly I saw all other forms of GODS and GODDESSES LIVE unlike what seems to be carving to the outer world. He took me on to this wonderful journey seemingly very lengthy, when we finally reached my room Swami asked me to look at the clock it was still 9 pm !!! "

    Looking forward to experience the same as exactly experienced by this Blessed Devotee. Hope to reach him soon.
    ( Have tried to share whatever was in my memory)

    JAI SAIRAM !!!

  13. Aravind, this was really way out of this world. While reading this, one was transported to the cave and was feeling the vibrations.

  14. absolutely riveting! In the long list of ' to visit' places, I've added Patal Bhuvaneshwar too. Hope Swami blesses me in my attempt.

  15. absolutely riveting! In my long list of 'to visit' places, I've added Patal Bhuvaeshwar too. Hope Swami blesses me in my attempt.

  16. Sairam. Wonderful experience.

  17. Sai Ram Bro...I loved reading about your experience with Swami in this cave.

    There was a thin book about this cave and Swami written in the 1990's. I lost it & I would like to get my hands on another copy. By any chance do you know how I can get one? eBook version would be perfect.

  18. Sairam nice article :)
    around 18 years back my father spoke about a cave being found by an army officer which is similar to Amarnath
    since then i was curious about this cave but had no info and lo its here
    hope to visit this place by Swamis grace

  19. What an amazing experience. Jai Sai Ram

  20. aum sai ram :), Im a South African student and really want to experience the divinity of the himalayas. Do you have any contact details for me to join a group?

    1. Dear Kriantha, Sai Ram. Have you made your trip to Patel Bhuvaneshwar? It is indeed a wonderful journey and experience. My post is below.

  21. Sai Ram Aravind, Patal Bhureswar is a new place for me. I think you will understand me when i say that your lovely wife Pooja actually gave me a jolt as well. Through you i saw Swami walking around blessing everyone there. I'm not sure what happened but i must have sat staring at a spot on the screen for some time lost in reverie because my eyes are now red and sore. Thanks to both of you, loving regards, chandanben

  22. My dad visited this cave in 1995. I also had the opportunity of meeting General Taylor and his wife who visited my home in 1996. I visited this cave in 2012 and all divine experiences and stories of this cave are as true as ever. I have had some amazing experiences at Patal Bhuvaneshwar and would advise anyone wanting to visit to make the journey.


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