India

Naneghat

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Naneghat is an ancient mountain pass in the Western Ghats range near Junnar in Pune district of Maharashtra. During the reign of the Satavahana (200 BCE–190 CE), the pass was extensively used as a trade route between Kalyan (Konkan coast) and the Junnar region.

The name Naneghat has two parts – nane, which means coins, and ghat which means pass. The presence of a large stone vessel in situ (which is locally known as “Jakatica Ranjan”, or “a pot for toll collection”) at the beginning of the pass would seem to indicate that this was used to store coins collected as toll taxes at Naneghat from traders coming from the Konkan coast.

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Interestingly some other local place names seem to indicate activities that were occurring here. There are two habitations at either end of the pass, named Vaisaghara (traders habitation) and Pradhanapada (main centre).

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The large stone vessel still in situ sits at the very top of the pass, clearly once fragmented it has been pieced back together and probably resides where it always has. Interesting directly opposite on the other side of the path is what appears to be another man-made vessel of some description. Although completely different in form, it did make me wonder if this was a second toll pot for people going in the opposite direction, and perhaps time has not been quite so kind to it.

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Nearby these is a small Ganesha shrine, and there is a path you can take to the left of this that will take you up to a small summit with fabulous views over the valley below (sadly, I only know about this having done some research after visiting!).

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Moving on from what exists at the summit of the pass, it’s now time to start descending. At this point you feel as if you’re about to step off the edge of the world ! The modern paved path abruptly ends as the sides of the mountain start to rise and enclose you, and you slowly start to descend through the narrow gorge that I presume is partly natural but largely excavated by hand over 2,200 years ago.

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The going is of course quite steep and very uneven, not such a problem in the dry but during the monsoon season you would certainly want to be treading very carefully.

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The descent down this first section, even though a relatively short stretch, seems to go on for quite some distance. After what is in reality just a handful of minutes you’ll reach a series of rock cut caves, a large one on the left with some cisterns which is complete, and others that seem to be mostly abandoned.

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The path here continues the steep decline, twisting and turning down to the valley floor.

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The large rock-cut cave here is quite unlike any other in the Junnar region, and is in fact unique in western India. This is not the work of any Buddhist activity, it has purely Brahmanical features.

Inside the cave is something of a surprise, and not one I was not expecting. The walls are almost completely covered with inscriptions dated between 60 and 70 B.C.

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The inscriptions in the cave indicate that they are the work of the consorts of the Satavahana ruler Satakarni. It is believed that Satakarni’s wife Naganika commissioned the cave, the statues (now missing) and the inscriptions which mention her and her family members.

The statues that were once here were life size relief sculptures of eight persons. These sculptures have now disappeared, but some of them can be identified using the Brahmi labels carved over their heads.

Their names being :

  • Raya-si (illustrious king) Simuka Satavahana
  • Sirimato Devi (queen) Naganika/Nayanika
  • Rano (king) Satakarni
  • Kumara (prince) Bhayala
  • (The fifth name is lost)
  • Maharathi (great charioteer) Tranakayira
  • Princes Haku-shri
  • Prince Satavahana

The walls of the cave contain a long and partially damaged inscription of a queen. Her name is sadly unknown for sure, but is it believed to be Naganika who appeared as one of the eight sculptures along the back wall.

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According to the inscription, the queen was the wife of Satakarni and mother of Vedashri; her father was a great warrior from the Angiya family of the Nagas. The inscription suggests that she was leading a life befitting a widow, and describes 18 sacrifices she had participated in. Some of these sacrifices including two ashvamedhas (a horse sacrifice ritual) and one rajasuya (imperial sacrifice, possibly involving cattle) would have been performed when her husband was still alive.

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Some historians have argued that the Naneghat portrait gallery was created when the kings and the princes were dead. Others have suggested that the figures were carved in instalments: the first six during the reign of Satakarni, and the last two after the death of the princes Haku-shri and Satavahana.

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These inscriptions have proved very important in establishing the history of the region. Despite some of the text being missing, what remains is in very good condition. It’s all too easy to forget that most of what is written here is nearly 2,000 years old. There are of course some more modern inscriptions/grafiti as well, but for the most part they do not interfere with the much older Brami texts.

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Returning to the path, it’s a short but steep scramble back up to the summit, where you’re once again reunited with the toll pot, and the wonderful views that surround it.

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My thanks to Rashmi Gajare for coming along on the day adventure out of Pune 🙂

 


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Categories: India, Maharashtra, Naneghat

14 replies »

  1. Dear my friend,
    I am Dr.Gamini from Sri Lanka. I have visited to Naneghat few days ago, it was wonderful place. I show your blog with picture, Please I want to know whether can I used your pictures with crediting to you, those pictures are very nice, and descriptive. Those pictures are very useful my research.

    Thank you,
    Kind regards
    Gamini

    Liked by 1 person

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