Pandavleni: The rock-cut caves of Nashik

We were in Nashik and decided to walk up to Pandavleni early on Wednesday morning before the sun came up. We met several joggers and walkers and also some people trying to trek uphill without using the cemented steps. It is a nice 25 minute walk uphill using the stairs.

These are some of the oldest caves in Maharashtra. In Marathi ‘leni’ means caves. Pandavleni is a group of 24 rock cut caves around 8 km to the south of Nashik. The truth is that these caves have nothing to do with the Pandavas. As legend goes the word ‘Pundru’ was used in Pali to refer to the yellow ochre robes of Buddhist monks. Pundru gradually became ‘Pandu’ and probably there lies the origin of this misnomer.

Cave no. 3 has intricately carved pillars. It is called Gautamiputra Vihara. It was built and dedicated to the Sangha in the 2nd century CE by Queen Gotami Balasiri, mother of the Satavahana king Gautamiputra Satakarni, and contains numerous important inscriptions
This chamber is probably the remains of a bhikshugriha or hermitage 
Cave no. 18 is a Chaitya which is like a prayer hall
Inside the chaitya, is a stupa and several octagonal pillars

These are caves carved in the Buddhist Hinayana tradition somewhere between the 1st century BCE and the 3nd century CE.

The real name of these caves are the ‘Trirashmi” caves. Tri-rashmi is derived from ‘Tiranhu’ which refers to the rays of sunlight which the villagers saw emerging from behind the caves. Some of these caves served as viharas or monasteries for the Buddhist monks. Some of these caves lodge statues of the Buddha and Bodhisattva. The architecture is impressive and there are also inscriptions in Pali and Prakrit. It is amazing that they had an excellent water management system here in that era.

Beautiful champa trees were in full bloom along the path up this time of the year. You can get a glimpse of the city of Nashik from that height. We had a scary moment when a young girl who was on a trek rolled off the hill a considerable distance after slipping. Though she looked shocked, she escaped with bruises and perhaps an ankle sprain. Medical help arrived soon enough. Trekking on this hill can be treacherous.

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