One of the things I love about India is the element of complete surprise. No matter how many times you have been to an area or done extensive internet research prior to arriving at a destination, there is always something new and unexpected to stumble across.
Having now been to the Pune area on 20 separate occasions in the last 15 years, I was starting to wonder if I had exhausted new heritage places to visit that would be of interest to me. The Pateshwar Shiva temple complex was a completely unknown location to me until this year, and is a timely reminder that in reality I’ve probably only scratched the surface of potential locations to visit around Pune.
Pateshwar is located 12 km south-east from Satara. Having reached the small village of Degaon via the MIDC road, a 3 km drive up a twisty narrow ghat road takes you to the end of your drive and the start of a short and easy 1km trek that runs along the crest of a hill heading east. Pateshwar can be found on Google maps, and the road you need to take is clearly marked on it.
The location certainly has a remote feeling to it, and the chances are you will not come across many people on your visit. The temple complex is revered by the people of Satara and its adjoining villages, but they only visit this place during Shivratri and on Mondays of the Hindu month of Shravan.
There are a few temples to visit at Pateshwar with a short walk between them. I’ve produced a simplistic map of the complex using both internet resources and my memory which should ensure you don’t miss out on anything that this site has to offer. You can click on the image to view a larger version of it.
Having parked your car, continue on foot heading east (away from the road) and you will shortly come to a statue of Ganesh accompanied by Riddhi and Siddhi, his wives, by a short flight of steps.
Shortly beyond the flight of steps the path evens out and you’re walking along the top of the ridge. The views are spectacular, I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to do this short trek during or just after the monsoon season. I would imagine this area is blessed with quite a few wild flowers similar to the Kaas Plateau, but sadly in January I wasn’t going to blessed with any of that.
After an easy 1km trek you will come to a large tank on your right and the start of the Shiva temple complex at Pateshwar.
Main Shiva Temple
Take the path around the east side of the tank and up a flight of stairs to the main Shiva Temple which is located near the top of the hill surrounded by a wall. The main temple does in fact have two entrances, the one to the north (which I took), and another on the eastern side via a flight of steps that hardly seems to be used.
Prior to entering the north entrance be sure not to miss the second largest Shiva Pindi in the complex which is located in the temple verandah to your left, and also a massive Hanuman sculpture slightly hidden away in the verandah on your right.
Also on your right on the outer plinth under a ficus tree there is Shiva pindi and a wonderful sculpture of Garuda.
Accompanying the main temple here are three smaller temples, a nandi mandap, and two large Dwipstambhas (lamp posts).
Whatever you do, don’t dismiss these smaller temples. Take a look inside, they have some exquisite and unusual carvings.
The interesting carvings continue inside the main temple, despite the fabric of the interior remaining relatively plain and simple.
I visited the Pateshwar Shiva temple complex with a group of people, but tried to experience the place on my own and at my own pace. My overriding feeling was a sense of peace and tranquility, although exactly why this particular site was chosen remains a mystery to me.
Likewise, you won’t find much information on this place on the internet, so it’s entire history remains clouded unfortunately. From some of the architecture it appears as though some of the structures were built around the 16th century, but as we will see next, some of the temples almost certainly have much earlier origins.
Agnivrush (or Agnivrish) Temple
Retrace your steps down to the main tank, turn right and continue on the path you were previously on for a short while, heading east once again. Before long you will reach the Agnivrush Temple, and a cluster of four cave temples set behind.
The outer wall of the Agnivrush temple has a statue of Hanuman, and it’s interesting that whilst clearly this is a standalone building, the interior does very much have a cave-like feeling to it.
But it is the interior that houses an interesting and (for me) unique sculpture that is both spellbinding, mysterious, and quite unlike anything I have come across before in India.
This mysterious Agnivrish appears to manifest the seven hands of Lord Agni along with the body of a bull (Vrishabha). Agni is describe in the Vedas as having two heads, seven hands, and three legs. If you observe the deity from the front you can identify all of these aspects. You can see two faces (one human and one bull), seven hands, and three legs (with two human legs and one bull leg).
The Rig Veda 4.58.3 describes Agni as follows :
“Four are his horns, three are the feet that bear him; his heads are two, his hands are seven in number. Bound with a triple bond the bull roars loudly; the mighty god hath entered into mortals.”
According to Sayanacharya (a Vedic and Sanskrit scholar who lived during the reign of the Vijayanagara Kings), the four horns of Agni are the four Vedas. The three feet are the three daily sacrifices (morning, noon and evening). Others say they refer to the three fields of time (past, present and future). The two heads are the Brahmaudana and the Pravargya ceremonies (others say day and night). The seven hands are the seven metres of the Vedas (others say the seven rays of light). The three bonds are the three lokas, or planes of existence; bhuh (earth), bhuvah (atmosphere) and svah (heaven).
Some scholars interpret the 4 horns, 3 feet, 2 heads, and 7 hands as the period of 4,320,000,000 solar years, the duration of a single day in the life of Brahma.
Whatever the interpretation (and I am sure there are countless others), this is a remarkable image. Encountering something like this in such a remote location, almost hidden away from the outside world, only adds to the whole experience. This should be world famous in my opinion, and yet, thus far, it is not.
Just behind the Agnivrish are a further set of two carvings of Brahmini, Vaishnavi, and Maheshwari on the floor of the temple.
I confess I was a little spell-bound by the Agnivrush/Agnivrish Nandi carving, and it’s frustrating that I’m not in a position to add any more information about it. I spent a good amount of time trying to adequately photograph it, but with poor light and lack of tripod (which I just don’t bother with at ASI managed or in-use temples), it was an almost impossible task.
The cave temples behind are well worth exploring for the volume and variety of both Shiva pinds and other sculptures. The fact that these are partially cave temples with a stone built frontage may lead to speculation that the origins of Pateshwar stretch much further back in time. In these caves you will find sculptures of Navagraha (the nine planets; Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rahu and Ketu),
Sursundari, and avatars of Vishnu (Narasimha, Waman, Sriraam, Parashuraam, Balaraam, and Rushabh)
Continuing on the path you will encounter a couple of smaller temples; a Chamunda temple and another Shiva temple. Note the detail on the Chamunda deities, with a scorpion on the belly, and a demon under her feet (click image below to view in larger format).
A short distance further on takes you to the last major set of structures, the Varhadghar Temple, with a single Dwipstambha (lamp post) outside the entrance.
The temple has been augmented from a natural crevice in the bedrock, so the front is constructed from basalt rock bricks, but the back is essentially a small rock cave. The temple has three chambers, with a Nandi mandap at the entrance and a central courtyard space that is open to the sky.
The central courtyard space has a number of sculptures, including a wonderful Chaturmukhi pind that very much reminded me of the four-faced Shiva lingam at the Brahma Temple in Khajuraho.
Right next to this is another interesting pindi with twin pots, quite unlike anything I have seen before, known as Kumbeshwar.
The entrance to the main chamber has a couple of carvings on either side of the door, with male figures holding tridents and the females (Ganga and Yamuna) holding water pots.
The main chamber itself is simply staggering, and I don’t think my images nor the description are going to do it any justice whatsoever. Measuring approximately 5m square and 2m high, the chamber is supported by four pillars, two of which are heavily carved.
If you thought you had seen a lot of pindi in the other temple spaces at Pateshwar, then brace yourself. In this central chamber alone there must be thousands, ranging in size from the tiny thumb-nail sized representations, through to the almost monolithic. The main central Sahasra Shiva pind is itself so impressive at nearly 2m long and 1m high.
Equally impressive are the carved serpents on the pillars, each one with separately carved pindis; over 200 on one column, over 300 on the other.
But it doesn’t stop there, this chamber alone houses an additional 11 shiva pindi in the central chamber, almost all of them are unique in design.
Adorning the walls, the flourish of Pindi continues in the form of three Sahasra Pindi panels. Each one has a deity carved at the uppermost center of the panel, the one of the left in the chamber is believed to be the deity Ganga with a crocodile at her feet. Each of these panels is said to have around 1,000 pindis, but I wasn’t going to start any attempt to count them !
The common thread of Shiva Pinds littering this complex continues in the two remaining spaces I explored, the chambers to the left and right of the main chamber of the Varhadghar Temple.
The Pateshwar Shiva Temple Complex is completely off the tourist map as far as I can see. Although I did know of it’s existence prior to my last trip to Pune, I owe a lot of gratitude to Shantanu Paranjape and Anurag Vaidya who by chance had just started running heritage trips at the weekend from Pune, and this was only their second or third outing. I’m not sure I would have made it to Pateshwar had it not been for their timely organisation.
They were also extremely kind in helping me get to the pick-up point for the transport, and essentially providing a hassle free day exploring this site and two other nearby locations. We also enjoyed breakfast, lunch and numerous chai stops – what better way to spend a day !! :-).
If you are planning on visiting the Pateshwar Shiva Temple Complex, here are two other nearby sites that are could be combined to offer a great day out of exploring :
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