Goa, like the rest of India, is steeped in a rich history and cultural background. This history extends much, much further back than the arrival of the Portuguese invaders and encompasses ancient civilizations dating back centuries ago.
So skilled were these ancient peoples that the monuments and structures that they created have survived into the present day notwithstanding the depredations made by invaders, conquerors, the marauding elements and inclement weather.
One such historically significant site is that of the Arvalem Caves sometimes known as the Pandava Caves or the Harvalem Caves.
These caves are located near Bicholim Taluka near the Arvalem falls, and can easily be reached by road.
The caves are open to the public every day from 9.00 am to 1.00 pm and again from 2.00pm to 5.00pm.
These caves are believed to have been carved in the 6th century. The origins of the caves have been speculated upon by scholars time and time again. Due to the duality of the carvings and artefacts in the caves, they have narrowed this down to two possibilities that they are either of Buddhist origin or Brahmin origin.
Another legend states that the five chambers of the caves were once occupied by the five Pandava brothers, Yuddhistir, Bhim, Arjun, Nakul and Sahadev during their exile.
Many believe that the caves were in fact carved by travelling Buddhist monks out of a single laterite rock probably because their architecture resembles that of similar caves known to have been carved by the monks, i.e. rock cut caves with the sanctuary at the northern end and the vihara at the southern end. This lends credence to the Buddhist origin theory.
However, the presence of four shivlings in the caves leads one to believe that they were of Brahmin origin or were converted into shaivite caves. These lingas (phalluses) are carved and inscribed in Sanskrit and the style of these carvings is attributed to the Bhoja period.
Architecture and Design
These rock-cut caves were mined out of a single enormous laterite rock. The caves consist of five compartments which are held up by pillars. There are also Shivlings carved out of granite which have been placed on pedestals within these compartments. The Shivlings are sacred to the local people who still pay homage to them.
The walls and ceilings of the caves are bare and innocent of any cave paintings. In fact, to those used to the effusive carvings and intricate work usually found at such sites, the caves present an unusually simplistic and rustic appearance. It is this which makes them unique among similar heritage sites.
The Shivlings show carvings which are similar to those seen at the Ellora and Elephanta caves. The one in the middle compartments is known as the Lingam and is greatly revered till the present day.
The Ling in the second cave is dedicated to the sun. It bears an inscription which read “Sambalur Vasi Ravih” which has been dated circa 600 A.D. This particular Ling and inscription is ascribed to the Bhoja period, specifically during the rule of King Kapalivarman.
There is further credence given to the tales of Buddhist origin by the discovery of an enormous statue of Gautama Buddha situated not far from the caves. There was also a Buddha head that was found at the Mhamai Kamat house which was dated to the 4th Century. This is on display at the Goa Museum.
Simple and rustic, these caves are a great place to visit to see with one’s own eyes the enduring nature of the endeavours of man. A visit to the caves can be clubbed together with a visit to the Arvalem Falls as well as the famous Rudhreshwar temple. which is located in the nearby village of Harvalem.