Also known as Ghorawadi, Ghorawdeshwar and Shelarwadi Caves, Ghoradeshwar Caves are a small group of rock-cut excavations about 32 km north-west of Pune, close to the old Mumbai-Pune highway.
Their location is clearly marked on Google maps, and it’s a relatively short trek initially up 350 steps and then on a clear path that ascends a neighbouring hill before you finally cross a ridge and come to the site itself on level ground.
At a height of approx 500m above sea level, there have been over 40 excavations found here, including 28 cisterns created for the storing of rainwater. However, there are just three caves that are worthy of any serious attention, many of the other subsidiary excavations you will see as you visit these three caves.
It is widely thought that the Ghoradeshwar caves are located on an ancient trade route from Kalyan to Ter, passing via Bhorghat and past Kondana, Bhaje, Bedse and Karla caves. Unlike those caves, there’s a remarkable lack of decoration in these caves, although there are enough clues to suggest that some of them certainly have Buddhist origins. From the architecture of the caves found here, a date of 2nd – 4th century AD has been attributed to the majority of the excavations.
Having crossed the ridge and with some caves clearly starting to appear (the handrails is a good clue!), the path diverges into three different routes; to the left, to the right, and a less clear path that takes you straight ahead offering a scramble up the hill. Turn left to the first cave on your right, this path terminates here.
The temple is still in active use today with idols of Lord Vitthal and Goddess Rukmini, and on visit the local priest/attendant was meditating here.
2nd Cave (Cave VIII)
In many of early A.S.I. reports on Ghoradeshwar, this cave is referred to as Cave VIII. It’s considered the main cave in the complex and is the easiest to find. Retrace your steps back to the the original path and continue ahead by the side of some railings. Note some simplistic excavations on your left before reaching the cave itself with a bright orange Hanuman shrine outside.
Clearly at some point the whole front of this cave has collapsed, and now replaced by a thick wall with two arched doors. This is the largest cave in the complex, with a hall and four cells on the right, two out the back, and three on the left (the fourth is now entirely ruined).
The shrine recess shows clear evidence that there was once a Buddhist stupa here. Remains of the stupa capital that was once attached to the cave roof is still there, and the circular footprint of the stupa can still be partially seen on the floor, but the entire structure has been hewn away to make room for a low shiva shrine.
To the left of shrine recess above a doorway to a cell is an inscription.
This records the excavation by a person from Dhanakataka, the capital of Andhras (Dharanikota in modern day Andhra Pradesh).
3rd Cave (Cave III)
This cave is the most challenging to reach, and probably not recommended during the monsoon season. In terms of location it is higher up on the hill almost directly above the 2nd Cave, but to reach it you have one of two options.
- Option 1 – Turn left out of the 2nd Cave and follow the white painted arrows along the side the hill. A little distance on the arrows will point up, and from there you need to scramble up to reach another level area, turn left and the cave will appear on your right.
- Option 2 – Retrace your steps back to the path junction, and turn right. This is also quite a steep scramble, the path will turn right to run parallel with the path you were on below, and will take you to the cave on the left.
Given a choice, option 2 is marginally easier.
Often referred to as Cave III in texts, this cave consists of a vestibule with four cells at the back. Between each cell door are two half octagonal pillars attached to the door with water vessel bases and capitals. Three of the pillars depict animals; elephants, lions and tigers, supporting a rail-pattern frieze.
All these architectural elements of course point to a cave that has Buddhist origins. Today however, and even when the caves were visited in the 1840s, the cave is now under Hindu worship. As was first observed 180 years ago, the third cell from the left now houses a shiva linga.
To the left of this cell between the doorway and the pillar is an inscription consisting of six lines in Marathi Nagari script.
This has been translated as :
The shivalinga of Siddhanatha was installed by Malideva on the 5th bright moon in the auspicious month of sravan in saka era 1361, siddharthi samvatsara.
This equates in our modern calendar to an inscription that occurred on Thursday, 16th July, 1439 AD.
Outside the cave there are some additional subsidiary shrines to take a look at, including a Nandi and the base of a Deepstambh (lamp post).
On the opposing hill, the one you will have climbed up, there are a couple of very simple cells that completes the set of caves at Ghoradeshwar. Also on this hill (but I didn’t investigate) is a newly discovered natural lava cave which is 20m in length and was created over 66 million years ago. It does make you wonder if some of the Buddhist caves at Ghoradeshwar started out as lava caves and were then subsequently augmented. You can read more about this discovery here.
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