Ask any Punekar what is the oldest surviving structure in Pune city, and they are likely to respond with Pataleshwar Caves. Situated on Jangli Maharaj Road (JM Road), these caves were carved out of the bedrock most probably in the Rashtrakuta period, around the 8th century C.E. Anyone living to the west of the city around Baner may alternatively suggest the cave at Baneshwar temple, hidden away just below Tukai Devi Mandir that overlooks Baner Road.
Unknown to most people in the city is a third site that could lay claim to being the oldest surviving structure in the city. In the Pune City Research News Volume 1 (1942), Karve describes :
[…at Parvati Hill]…There is an east-facing cave carved in the belly of the hill on the south side of the hill. There is also a water tank in this cave.
I was surprised to find that this site is accurately pinned on Google Maps, so finding the cave on my visit to Parvati Hill last year was relatively simple. While not located next to any well defined path, a few indistinct tracks do lead you in the right general direction about 1/4 of the way up the hill, and these can be seen on your left.
Sadly the condition of this cave is not great, clearly neglected and strewn with rubbish. The cave has three openings, which leads to a single room measuring approx 15m x 10m. Near the back of the space are four supporting pillars. Unfortunately the cave was full of water (and more rubbish), so it was impossible to actually get inside and examine the cave in any more detail.
It’s interesting to note that there appears to be evidence of three arched niches carved into the back wall, carefully positioned to be visible through the aperatures created by the supporting pillars of the cave. The niche to the far right appears to be the best preserved, whereas the remaining two appear to be incomplete. This may suggest that the cave excavation was abandoned prior to completion, but it’s hard to conclusively prove that.
The lack of any ornamentation or inscriptions coupled with the very simple plan of the cave makes dating it very difficult. In the 1970s the National Service Scheme at Shahu College attempted to remove the silt from the cave floor in the hope of finding some evidence of material culture (pottery or other artifacts), but their attempts yielded nothing. With the absence of any hard evidence, only a very broad date range can be attributed to this cave, perhaps somewhere between the 5th and 8th centuries C.E. Even that is just a personal guess, but does place the cave into (very) broadly the same timeframe as Pataleshwar and Baneshwar Caves in Pune city.
Exploring rock-cut caves in and around Pune has become a bit of a pet project for me, and I suspect one that I will never complete in my lifetime. This is my current list of rock-cut caves within a 50 mile radius of the city, some I have documented while others I have yet to visit. I’m fully aware that this list is also far from being complete.
If any of my readers are aware of more rock-cut caves easily reachable as a day trip from Pune (roughly 50 mile radius), please do get in touch !
As for the cave on Parvati Hill, I hope this little site of immense historical importance receives a lot more attention in the future, and efforts are made to both protect and conserve it for future generations.
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