Hidden in plain sight – Pataleshwar temple in Pune

Said to have sheltered the Pandavas
But history says the Pataleshwar temple was built by the Rashtrakutas
Carvings left unfinished on the basalt stone
The cave temple was incomplete for reasons unknown.

When I first heard of the Pataleshwar cave temple in Pune, I imagined it would be somewhere on the outskirts of the city. I found myself completely bewildered with its location – right in the middle of the city, on the busy Jangali Maharaj road. For years, I have passed through this road and somehow never managed to spot this treasure. The only comfort I took to this is that like me, many Punekars have missed this heritage site. That said, I finally set it right with a visit to the Pataleshwar temple in Pune.

Pataleshwar temple in Pune - a heritage site on the busy Jangali Maharaj road
Pataleshwar temple in Pune – a heritage site on the busy Jangali Maharaj road

Looks are definitely deceiving and this is so true when it comes to Pataleshwar temple. At first glance, it does look small and insignificant but all you have to do is step in and discover the nuggets this place has hidden. Through this tour of Pataleshwar temple Pune, you will get a glimpse of what to expect. As always, I have shared all the tips that you need to visit Pataleshwar cave temple.

Facts about Pataleshwar temple Pune

Pataleshwar literally translates to the God of underworld – essentially Lord Shiva. The temple is also, known as Panchaleshwar and Bhambhurde caves. Here are some interesting facts about this place that will entice you to pay a small visit –

  • The cave temple of Pataleshwar dates back to the Rashtrakuta reign. The 8th-century cave temple is possibly the oldest structure in Pune
  • Pataleshwar temple is a monolithic structure – that is the entire temple is built out of a single rock.
  • The architecture and carving style is comparable to the Elephanta caves in Mumbai
  • Pataleshwar cave temple was left incomplete. The carvings are not fully done and the reasons for that – you got to just read on!
  • The temple bells of Pataleshwar temple have a very unusual sound – different from the usual temple bells.
  • The temple museum is home to a grain of rice that has 5000 letters written on it. The artifact has been mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records. – Amazing right?

Pataleshwar temple history

Inside the 8th century Pataleshwar cave temple Pune
Inside the 8th century Pataleshwar cave temple Pune

One of the most popular stories about the origin of Pataleshwar temple is that it was the place that the Pandavas used as their shelter when they were on the run. The temple was created magically within moments. However, if you are looking for a documented history of Pataleshwar temple, then it would go back to the 8th century. The cave temple in Pune was built by the Rashtrakutas. It is not known why this temple was built.

The temple remained around and a part of a community garden around the 19th century. It was then its historical significance was rediscovered and finally, it is under the protection of the Archaeological Society of India (ASI).

The architecture of Pataleshwar temple in Pune

The Garba griha or inner sanctum with three shrines at Pataleshwar temple Pune
The Garba griha or inner sanctum with three shrines at Pataleshwar temple Pune

Built on a small hillock, the temple has been carved out of single basalt rock. Like any other Shiva temple, this has an outer Nandi Mandapa in the form of a circular cloister. Within the main cave, there are three shrines that have been carved into the rock along with a circumambulatory passage or the pradakshina marg around them. The sanctum area is preceded by a small hall that resembles a sabha mandapa (audience hall). Unlike most other Hindu temples, the same feels quite bare with the lack of sculptures on the walls and ceiling.

Nandi Mandapa at Pataleshwar cave temple

The main Nandi that faces the entrance of Pune Pataleshwar temple
The main Nandi that faces the entrance of Pune Pataleshwar temple

Nandi mandapa is the first structure that you come across when you visit Pataleshwar temple in Pune. It is an unmissable round canopy-covered structure that faces the main entrance of the temple. At the first glimpse, the outer structure reminded me of the Durga temple in Aihole – which possibly might have been an experiment for this structure. Except, in this case, the stone structure is quite unfinished. However, the idol of Nandi seems well carved.

The Nandi Mandapa with its unmistakable shape
The Nandi Mandapa with its unmistakable shape

The structure still has most of its original pillars. Only a few on the east have fallen and have got lost with time.

Pataleshwar temple shrines & carvings

The incomplete carving in the Sabha mandapa part of the Pataleshwar temple
The incomplete carving in the Sabha mandapa part of the Pataleshwar temple

Through the tunnel like entrance, you first encounter the half-done Sabha mandapa. Here too, the pillars have been chiseled out of the same monolithic rock. However, unlike the other cave temples like Badami cave temples, these are quite simple and plain. At the far end of this passage, on either side, you can see unfinished carvings – one that seems to be that of Durga or maybe a family portrait of Lord Shiva and Parvati. The other end has an indecipherable scene from one of the Puranas.

The main sanctum with the Shiva Linga
The main sanctum with the Shiva Linga

The Garbagriha or the inner sanctum has three caverns – meant to be shrines for the Trimurti – Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma. The idols are no longer in these shrines, except for the central one where you have a Shiva linga along with an idol of Goddess Parvati.

Idols of Lord Ram, Sita and Laxman kept at the Pataleshwar temple
Idols of Lord Ram, Sita and Laxman kept at the Pataleshwar temple

As you walk along the pradakshina marg, you will encounter a set of white idols of Lord Ram, Sita and Laxman. The rest of the passage might just seem like pure barren rock but the wonder lies in the fact that it was cut out of a single hill rock and that too, in the 8th century. Just imagine how those pillars and caverns were created and I bet you will find this same passage wonderous!

The Pradakshina marg inside Pataleshwar cave temple, Pune
The Pradakshina marg inside Pataleshwar cave temple, Pune

There isn’t much within the Pataleshwar temple and shrines beyond this. Before you leave the place, do check out the small resting caverns created along the outer walls of the temple. These might have been the rooms for travelers and pilgrims, and there are a few nondescript carvings there.

Why was Patlaeshwar temple in Pune left incomplete?

The small caverns that might have been resting places can be seen outside the Pataleshwar temple.
The small caverns that might have been resting places can be seen outside the Pataleshwar temple.

At the end of this visit, the one thing that might bother you is why was this temple left incomplete. To be honest, there is no concrete answer to it. There are various theories – some say that the rock was too hard to complete the carvings or chisel further. Another theory states that while building the temple, the architects saw a faulty line that could collapse the structure. Hence, they abandoned the construction halfway. Yet another explanation given was that the benefactors – Rashtrakutas, got busy with political issues and this structure was then put on the backbench.

Sadly there is no record that has been discovered. To me, that is what adds intrigue to this Pune attraction.

Jangali Maharaj temple – a place to visit near Pataleshwar temple

Technically this section is not a part of the Pataleshwar temple visit. However, Jangali Maharaj temple shares a common wall with this monument and it would be an interesting addition to your visit here. Built in the 1890s, this temple is in honor of the very man after whom this famous Pune road is named. Jangali Maharaj, literally translates to the King of forest. This holy man used to meditate and live in the erstwhile forest here and is said to have healing and soothing powers.

His samadhi lies in this temple that is still visited by Punekars, especially on his death anniversary on Chaitra Shudra Ekadashi. There are daily aartis in the evening at the temple and on Thursdays, live musicians and singers perform bhajans. Step in for a few moments of peace before you head to your next destination in Pune. I am sure you will not regret it.

Common FAQs about Pataleshwar temple

This section will help you with some practical tips on visiting the Pataleshwar cave temple. Check it out.

What is the best way to reach Pataleshwar temple Pune?

Pataleshwar temple in Pune is a heritage temple that is managed by the Archaeological Society of India. It is located on the busy Jangali Maharaj road (JM Road) in the city. There are numerous public buses that take you to JM road. You can either use them or hire a cab or an auto to get here. If you are driving, please note that there is no parking in the premises. You will have to park elsewhere and walk to Pataleshwar cave temple

Pune has its own international airport and is very well connected by road and rail to the rest of India.

What are the Pataleshwar temple timings?

Pataleshwar temple in Pune opens at 8:30 am and closes at 5:30 pm every day. There are no entrance fees to this temple.

How old is Pataleshwar temple?

The Pataleshwar temple dates back to the 8th century – the age of the Rashtrakuta empire in Maharashtra.

Before you go, Pin this

Pataleshwar temple pune india
Pataleshwar cave temple
Pune Pataleshwar temple

Booking Resources

  • If you are looking for hotels in Pune, you can use this link from Booking.com.
  • Oyo rooms are great for those looking for budget accommodation in Pune. You can try booking through this link.
  • Viator.com has many Pune city tours available on their website. Use the link and browse through the various options. You will also find a lot of day trips around Pune through these listings.
  • You can also opt for the guided tour of Pune City through Klook.com. They too, have lots of options for adventure sports around Pune, city transfers and even skip-the-line tickets to Imagica water park.
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