Baner is a suburb of Pune I’m extremely fond of. I used to work there for a few weeks every year and I have many great friends that I still visit as regularly as I can.
For anyone familiar with the suburb, you will appreciate how much change there has been over the last decade. Widespread rapid development as small villages once detached from the city get swallowed up with high-rise accommodation and new business/leisure complexes. The rate of change is quite astonishing, it does make me wonder how much has been lost as a result of these developments.
One such place that is perhaps less known to the residents of Pune but thankfully not lost to development, is the ancient Baneshwar cave temple in Baner.
The cave temple is located just a few metres up from the foot of Tukai Hill. Anyone wishing to climb the steep steps up to the Tukai Devi Mandir will in fact go past the entrance to this cave temple on their right, although this isn’t immediately obvious. The way to the cave is marked by a simple doorway, in the olden days it would have been a hidden place of worship with just a mast to mark the temple site.
Folklore says that the Pandavas once lived in the Baneshwar cave temple
during their exile almost 5,000 years ago. Alternative tales say that they were founded during the reign of Rashtrkut Raja some 2,500 years ago. We are of course unlikely to ever discover its true origins.
This is considered a Svayambhu temple. The word ‘Svayambhu’ is derived from two Sanskrit words- ‘Svayam‘ (स्वयम्) which means ‘self’ or ‘voluntarily’ and ‘bhu’ (भू) which means ‘springing’ or ‘arising’. So the definition of the word is ‘arising on its own’.
Whilst in its original form it may well have been a natural cave, it has of course been subjected to a serious amount of alteration by the hands of humans. This of course is not unusual, we have been augmenting the landscape around us to create our own shrines, temples and ritual monuments for many thousands of years.
The cave contains a Shiva linga as well as a natural spring. Sudhir Kalamkar, the trustee of the temple, says that the entire cave does get flooded with water which they often have to pump out. It’s a simple, small, but atmospheric interior – one certainly gets a sense that the cave is ancient and has been in use for many centuries.
The cave also has hero stones or victory pillars at least 700 to 800-years-old but badly worn (not photographed). These depict the warrior’s fights, him praying to Lord Shankar and the last piece depicting him gaining entry into heaven.
The Baneshwar cave temple is well worth a quick visit for anyone living or passing through the area. I imagine aside from the far more well known Pataleshwar Caves, it’s probably the oldest site in the city (please correct me if you think otherwise!).
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