Pachmarhi - the land of five caves…..
Pachmarhi, the only hill station of Madhya Pradesh attribute its name Pach (five) and marhi (caves) to the five caves present in the heart of the city. Captain James Forsyth of Bengal Lancer while leading his troop in 1857 came across this plateau and later took efforts for its development as a Hill Station.
Unfortunately, the caves which gave name to the city is itself having identity crisis. While the archaeologists claim that these caves were built during the Gupta era (4th — 7th century AD) with an ancient brick built ‘stupa’ on its top supporting their theory; the local believed that the Pandava brothers along with Draupdi came and stayed here during their period of exile.
Recently I had been on a road trip to Pachmarhi and thus got an opportunity to visit these caves. As stated above, it is centrally located at a cool place. The administration has also done a good job developing a beautiful garden on the ground where one can relax for some time. Sitting there, going upstairs and watching the entire city from the top of the caves was really treat to eyes.
We climbed the stairs and reached the top to see the beautiful caves. A brick ‘stupa’ is also present on the top. We remained there for quite a while admiring its beauty. Came down and relaxed in the garden before moving out of it.
Having visited the place, it bothered me that the facts related to such a historical structure is still not clear. Once at home, I decided to go through the text related to the Pandavas exile vis a vis the presence of Buddhist structures in and around Central India for my logical satisfaction. However, strictly speaking, what I am writing is my point of view and any fact contrary to it which throws light on its status are most welcome.
As per the legend, the Pandavas having lost their kingdom in gambling moved out along with Draupdi to spend next thirteen years in exile; twelve years of ‘Vanvas’ (in the forest) and the thirteenth year of ‘Agyatwas’ (anonymity).
The Pandavas during their exile first went towards the Kamyaka forest which is situated at the head of the Thar desert and started living there. There was also a lake within the forest called Kamyaka lake. However, as this place was easily accessible to the citizens who frequented them; to avoid the same, they later moved towards Dwaita forest, the northern extension of Thar Desert which is also known as the Great Indian Desert in the Indian sub continent and now forms natural boundary between India and Pakistan.
Pandavas later returned to the Kamyaka forest and stayed there for next five years. They kept on shuttling between the Kamyaka forest and Dwaita forest and finally in the twelfth year of exile they moved towards the Dwaita woods.
So far as the thirteenth year (anonymity period) is concerned, the Pandavas chose to move to Virata kingdom ruled by the Matsya ruler. Virata kingdom is presently known as Viratnagar and is part of the Jaipur district in the state of Rajasthan.
Again as per the legend, the Pandavas served in the Virata Kingdom with Yuddhisthara as Chief Councilor (Kanka); Bhima as Chief cook (Vallabha); Arjun as Uttaraa’s dance teacher (Brihanalla) while Nakula (as Granthika) and Sahdeva (as Tantripala) took care of horses and cows respectively. Draupdi became ‘Sairandhari’.
Towards the end of thirteenth year of anonymity, Bhima killed ‘Kichaka’ due to his misbehavior with Draupdi. When Duryodhana came to know about it, he could sense that Kichaka cannot be killed by a normal cook and the person must be Bhima. Thus Duryodhana attacked the Virata kingdom. The Pandavas fought on behalf of the Virata kingdom as the anonymity period had come to an end by then and they had nothing to fear.
The above available facts gives an idea that the Pandavas completed their period of exile west to Haryana and in the present State of Rajasthan. Further, could not find any material relating to their visit to the Central India, much less Pachmarhi during their period of exile.
So far as the Pachmarhi caves are concerned, its architecture, pillars and cutting of rocks as also presence of brick ‘stupa’ on top bring it closer to the similar Buddhist structures found else where in the country and to some extent it gives credence to the theory of the archaeologists that these caves were carved out and used by the Buddhist monks.
It is important to note that the Central India boast of number of Buddhist sites. The UNESCO World Heritage site, the SANCHI stupa is around 200 km from Pachmarhi. Devi, wife of Mauryan King Ashoka was born and married in Sanchi. Hence Central India in general and places around Sanchi in particular witnessed number of Buddhist sites during Mauryan period.
Beside Sanchi, the other significant Buddhist sites in the present day Madhya Pradesh are SATDHARA (of Mauryan period); MURELKHURD, ANDHER & SONARI. DEUR KOTHAR is also a beautiful reminder of the Buddhist architecture in Rewa district.
Another important site in Central India is the SARU MARU caves in the Sehore district (150 km from Pachmarhi) having number of natural caves and stupas for the monks. In the main cave, Ashoka inscription is present describing his visit to the place where he lived with his lady for some time.
This shows that the Buddhism flourished in Central India and the Buddhist monks were active in that region. Thus in Pachmarhi, the presence of the caves with the ancient brick built ‘Stupa’ on the top of it gives force to the claim made by the archeologists that these caves were built by the Buddhist monks who used them.
However, no definite conclusion is available on record relating to these caves, an important site of Pachmarhi and credited with having given the name to the city.
It would be thus just and proper that a re-look is given to the status of these caves -whether it is a Buddhist site or is related to the Pandavas stay. The archeologists as also the historians can do justice by providing a sound theory on its origin. That, in my view, will be the perfect way to pay respect, these caves rightly deserve.