Thursday, January 23, 2014

Where the hell was Dhenukakata?- Part V

(Karle caves entrance, Red roofed building on right, is the temple of the deity Ekvira) 

The caves of Karle'n, where a thriving Buddhist monastery once existed, also bear another significant landmark. Just at the mouth of the main Chaitya hall, exists a temple of a deity known as “Ekvira Devi. The temple consists of a small domed building on a high plinth of cut stone that was constructed in the year 1866, however locals believe that an older temple stood here, built at least a century before. The local people also believe that the deity has been worshiped ever since a long time ago.

According to “Bombay Gazetteer Vol 16 (pp. 455),” the chief interest from the history point of view, in this small temple, is that this temple of the deity, called as Ekvira and related to Dravidian deity, Akka Aveyyar, actually may have been be older than the Buddhist Monastery itself and this site on the hill slope was probably chosen as the site for the monastery because of the local fame of this deity. Though all local remembrance of Buddhism is now buried under Hindu religion myths and superstitions, some connection is still being maintained between the deity of 'Ekvira' here and the old Buddhist relic shrine (Stupa). The Stupa is known amongst the disciples of the deity, who are mainly fishermen as throne of the king 'Dharma Raja.' By tradition, the fishermen votaries make a promise to the Goddess that they would walk a certain number of times around 'Ekvira's Shrine' if their wish is granted. But this is something impossible as the Deity's image is cut on a hill side and no one can walk round it. A clever way has been found out in which a large arched wooden frame with a revolving paper lantern in the center is set in the main Chaitya hall of the ancient monastery and people walk around the Buddhist Stupa itself to fulfill their pledge. Should a child be born in response to such a vow, the cradle is presented to the Stupa rather than to the Goddess. Whenever a Koli (fisherman) family visits the deity, the Stupa is also worshiped with offerings,

 (Karle'n caves entrance circa 1880, Ekvira temple in foreground )

Investigating this strange cult of a Hindu Goddess associated with a Buddhist Stupa at Karle'n, Late D.D. Kosambi found out another but even stranger tradition for this deity. In most parts of India, there is a common tradition that a deity is taken out once in a year in a Palanquin (A covered litter carried on poles on the shoulders of four or more bearers) or a chariot, mostly during times of the yearly festival. Usually the Deity is taken out of the temple, is taken to another temple or a fixed spot, and brought back to the temple. However in case of the deity at the mouth of Karle'n caves, the tradition is completely different.

Every year, thousands of fishermen collect themselves at a small village known as “Devghar” in the flat lands of the valley below Karle'n and Bhaje caves for the initiation of the palanquin procession of the Goddess Ekvira. The procession after leaving the village of Devghar does not visit or touch any other village and straight way goes to the temple of the Goddess near the mouth of the Chaitya hall. But the most intriguing thing that was found by D.D. Kosambi in 1955, was that at this place “Devghar,” there was no cult existing of this Goddess 'Ekvira' at all and only a temple of a deity known as 'Kalbhairav' existed. No one knew why this procession of 'Ekvira' started from this village.

This procession, now a days, is part of a grand festival that lasts for almost a week, ending on full moon day of the first month of the Hindu calender. Two small processions are taken out locally, one at Devghar and another at Karle'n caves earlier in the period. The deity of 'Kalbhairav' at Devghar village, has now been awarded the status of the brother of 'Ekvira' deity and accordingly Devghar has now become the parental abode of the Goddess. Yet the main procession still starts from Devghar village to Karle'n on full moon day as per old tradition, and is now called as “Procession of the ceremonial pole.”

(Yearly procession reaches the temple )

Based on observations made in 1955, Late D.D. Kosambi argued and I quote:

The gathering under Koli (Fishermen) sponsorship of several thousand pilgrims and worshipers at 'Devghar' for the initiation of the palanquin procession leaves no doubt about the ancient connection between the village of 'Devghar' and the Karle'n Chaitya for no reason apparent today, but comprehensible if the village was once called as Dhenukakata.”

Late D.D. Kosambi also goes on explaining how the present name of this village 'Devghar' might have been derived from the ancient name of Dhenukakata. According to him, in the ancient inscriptions, we find several versions of this name engraved, like for example in inscription no 19 at Karle'n, where it is written as Dhenukata. In Shelarwadi cave inscription, it has been written as Dhenukada. There is an old Hemadpant style temple, probably built in 11th century, that exists in the village. D.D.Kosambi argues that because of this temple the final name change of the village from Dhenukada to Devghar must have happened.

 (Crowds gathered for the procession)

I find this argument quite reasonable and valid and if our Dhenukakata was really located at the site of this village, it also answers most of the questions raised my me earlier.

So how did this village look like, before present day transformations of the modern age embarked upon it. Fortunately, we have a book, “The cave Temple of India,” written by James Fergusson and James Burgess, that was published in 1880, which surprisingly describes this village in few lines. It says:

In the hills near to Karle'n there are a number of cells and rock cisterns. Thus in the hill above the village of 'Devgadh,' a little to south west of Karle'n, is a half finished 'Vihara' (monk's dwellings) cave, with two roughly-hewn square columns in front having bracket capitals; and in the back of the cave a door has been commenced as if for a shrine. In the rising ground, east of the village, is a rock cut tank and some cuttings, as if intended for the commencement of a small cave with a cistern.”

Dr. D.D. Kosambi's observations about the village done in 1955, confirm this and also say that at the foot of the hillock in Devghar, an unusual concentration of microliths (small tools) made from a semi-precious gemstone known as Carnelian are found, which indicate some kind of even older (prehistoric) origin for the rituals that happen every year at Devghar. To consider that the dilapidated cave in this village, located in the trading community of Dhenukakata, could have been a sort of liaison or commercial dealings office of the great monastery, can not be considered as to be in a realm of imagination. In the village of Devghar, there is an ancient tank of water. No one knows how old it is? Perhaps dredging it out, might bring out some of the historical facts, we do not know.

It is fairly easy to imagine, what must have happened to Dhenukakata or Devghar as time rolled on. The Satavahana empire as well as Indo-scythic empires gave way to new rivalries in the Deccan with power of center moving to east; towards Andhra Pradesh. The northern ports of Kalyan and Sopara must have opened again and so also the route through Naneghat. This must have brought an end to importance of the southerly route that was any way much more cumbersome and lengthy. This must have led to exit of trader community out and slowly Dhenukakata died and returned to being a small village in the interior of Deccan region; neglected forever.


  1. Bombay Gazetteer, Vol. 16, pp 455
  2. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1941
  3. Cave -temples of western India, by JAS Burgess and Bhagwanlal Indraji Pandit
  4. Journal of the Asiatic society of Bombay Vol 30, 1955
  5. The cave Temple of India, by James Fergusson and James Burgess
  6. Journal of the Asiatic society of Bombay Vol 56-59, 1981-84

24th January 2014

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for these wonderful articles on the Buddhist Cave temples and their connections with the trade routes - you have answered many questions that have puzzled me for while - also the research about the Ekveera Temple and its antiquity - another puzzle solved - Have bought your e book Traces of an Empire and look forward to reading it - thank you once again