Where the hell was Dhenukakata?


A couple of years ago, after visiting 'Naneghat' cave located near a pass in the 'Western Ghat mountain range' on west coast of India, I had taken upon myself a task of visiting places that still carried traces in some form or other, of the ancient Satvahana empire that ruled the Deccan plateau for about 400 years beginning somewhere before 200 BCE and up to at least 200 CE.

In my quest, most of the places I visited, were Buddhist rock cut temples excavated along the mountain faces of the 'Western Ghat mountain ranges.' I have narrated my journeys to these places in great details in my book 'Traces of an Empire' and interested readers would be able to read this book, available on the net. All these places except Naneghat cave, were thriving Buddhist monasteries once, with hundreds or even thousands of monks living there. It would be obvious to any one that such large human settlements, even if they are strictly religious, can not run unless there is substantial monetary support from some source or other.

The Buddhist monks in those days ( as are even today) were supposed to follow strict discipline and code of conduct. This code of conduct was stipulated in an ancient text (still being followed at least in letter) known as 'Vinaya.' This code of conduct stipulates firstly that for monks, nuns and preachers of law any possession of property is strictly forbidden. They were not allowed even a contact with gold, silver, jewels and such precious commodities. Secondly they were supposed to eat food that was given to them after begging and they had to wear robes stitched by themselves from discarded rags.

A question therefore naturally comes to mind that with these kind of stipulations, how could monasteries located on remote mountain slopes and housing hundreds or even thousands of monks could survive, particularly in the monsoon months when any contact with outside world was almost impossible. One eminent scholar of yesteryear, Late Dr. D.D.Kosambi has tried to give an explanation of this difficulty. He says and I quote:

The caves were· located where they are, because the trade-routes passed by, and the larger complexes were invariably near the junctions of such routes..... The main problem at the time the caves were first carved out of the rock was to find the routes up the Western Ghat mountain range to the Deccan plateau. ”

Thus we can say with certainty that all major Budddhist rock cut temples such as those at Karle'n, Bhaje, Shelarwadi, Bedse etc. were located near the junctions of major trade routes and a vast number of small caves were dug near minor trade routes. This raises another question as to with whom the trade was being carried? Luckily records from Gracco-Roman accounts such as those written by the Pariplus and Ptolemy clearly indicate that the trade was carried with Greece as well as Rome and the goods arrived at the trade ports that lay on the west coast of India. These trade posts were mostly up the creeks and estuaries of rivers to the extent navigation permitted. Ports which lay in the vicinity of these Buddhist caves in the Western Ghat mountain ranges can be listed as Broach (Bhadoch) Sopara (Nala Sopara), Kalyan and Choul.

Coming back to the problem of sustenance of the Buddhist monks living at these Monasteries, Late Dr. D.D.Kosambi, gives the example of Chinese monasteries which were developed more or less on the lines of Indian establishments. He says that:

The documentary evidence exists at the other end of the Buddhist world, in Chinese records and translations particularly from cave-monasteries such as Tun Huan and Yuen Kang (Ta-tung) of the ways in which Vinaya rules were modified by the cave monasteries without deviating from the letters.
Thus cave monasteries in India avoided Contact with gold, silver. Jewels and such precious commodities by using an intermediary servant called as “Upasaka” for the manipulation, or in extreme cases by insulation with a piece of cloth! These two Orders further deposited the bulk of' the donated wealth with the monastery treasurer, who not only handled the gifts, permissibly used the money for repairs to the dwellings, but directly contravened the original rules by using the funds also for the purchase of necessities (such as food) that should have been obtained by begging, and for the robes that should have been pieced together from discarded rags. ”

It should be now clear that the Buddhist monasteries in the Western Ghat Mountain ranges largely depended, besides financial help received from the King, on the donations and endowments received from the wealthy in the society. This fact can be confirmed from the large number of inscriptions that liter all the cave temples.

Regarding assistance from the state or the king, it was mostly provided by awarding or assigning a village to the monastery. No taxes were collected from that village by the state and the entire yield from that village was collected by the monastery. Thus we have Usavdatta, who was son-in law of Satrap Nahapana, donating village of Karajaka for the sustenance of the monks at Karle'n Monastery and later when he was defeated by the great king Goutamiputra Satakarni, the new ruler immediately confirmed the endowment. Both these deeds of endowment can be still seen in inscriptions numbered 13 and 19 at the Rock Cut temple at Karle'n.

However, what I am more interested here are the individual donations by wealthy citizens to the monastery. In the rock cut temples at Karle'n, there are at least 37 inscriptions and most of them speak about grant of some money to the monastery. But what is really surprising is the fact that in at least 17 of the 37 inscriptions, name of a place called “DHENUKAKATA” appears, saying that the donors were from this place. In none of the other rock cut temples spread all over Western Ghat Mountains, this name appears anywhere except at two caves: one in Shelarwadi and the other in Kanheri (near Mumbai.) It is obvious that people from Dhenukakata loved the Karle'n Monastery much more than the others. But why did they liked only this monastery? And neglected all others.

Secondly, the most important riddle perhaps is the location of this mysterious place Dhenukakata, where so many wealthy lived at the beginning of our era.

Where the hell was this place, Dhenukakata then? 


(Main Chaitya hall at Karle'n caves, The supporting pillars have inscriptions indicating names of the donors)

To continue with our quest for the mysterious town of Dhenukakata, it might turn out to be a good idea to see if possible, who were the people living there, who had generously contributed in the construction of this Buddhist Monastery on a hill slope near present day village of Karle'n. Incidently, as seen from the inscription (No. 8) carved on the facade of the Chaitya by King Pulumavi, the present village of Karle'n and the ancient Buddhist Monastery nearby, were known as Valuraka Village and Valuraka Monastery.

These are the donors from Dhenukakata:

A carpenter, who calls him Sami and son of Venuvasa. He made the wooden door to the cave and did it at his own expense.
A Yawana (Greek) resident called Dhamma.
Another Greek resident called as Simhadhwaja.
A resident called Sommilanaka.
Mitadevanaka, son of Usavdatta. (We have seen earlier that Usavdatta was son-in-law of the Satrup Nahapana.) This means that grandson of the satrup, who ruled most of the Deccan plateau at that time was a resident of Dhenukakata.
Isalaka, who is the son of a trader named as Gola
A Greek resident named as Yasavadhana.
A person who has been a good wife and either has a name as Mahamitaa or whose grandmother is named here (Inscription is unreadable)
Dhammadevi- granddaughter of a nobleman Asoka
A physician named as milimdasa, his wife Jayamitaa, his sons Bhayabhuti and Nabubuti and daughter Vasumitaa.
Utaramati, wife of Drughmita.
A Greek resident Kulaykhann.
Rohanmita on behalf of his younger maternal uncle Agila.
A Greek named as Dhamadhaya. (This inscription appears on a pillar, capitol of which has a figure of Sphinx.)
Trader's association (vaniya-gama) from Dhenukakata. (This might be one of the earliest reference to a traders association or chamber)
Simhadata, a perfume merchant from Dhenukakata

 (Sculpture of a sphinx on the capitol of a pillar donated by a Greek.)
From above descriptions, we can get a fair idea about the people, who stayed in Dhenukakata. There must have been a number of Greek traders, who must have settled here as we can see at least 5 Greek donors here. Greeks were Roman citizens then. Would it mean that the Dhenukakata was a Grecco-Roman settlement on west coast of India? There are professionals too like a wealthy carpenter, a physician and a perfume merchant. What is most surprising was the fact that there was a trader's chamber in Dhenukakata, which indicates that it was essentially a trading community.

We shall turn to a bit of history here, to appreciate the significance of one of the inscriptions mentioned above. Satavahana kings came to sovereign power in the Deccan plateau only after demise of Emperor Ashoka in the north, around 220 BCE. It is believed that they were vassal kings under him earlier. After a stable rule of two centuries or so, the political situation turned turbulent as a descendent of Indo-Scythians, Nahapana, who always called himself a satrap, rose in northeast in the first century CE and slowly captured major chunks of Satavahana territories, including the ones surrounding the Karle'n monastery. He had probably appointed his son-in-law Usavdatta as Governor of the Satavahana territories. It is believed by some historians that Bhadoch city in Gujarat was the capital of Scythian Satraps.

 (Sculpture on a capitol)
Where Dhenukakata fits in all of this? The inscription mentioned above tells us that one of the son of Governor Usavdatta, named as Mitadevanaka was actually a resident of Dhenukakata, which shows that it must have been an important town as the Governor had stationed his own son there.

With all these details, a picture emerges of a town: located on one of the important land trade routes between the Deccan plateau of India and the Grecian-Roman empires. The town had a large trading community, who had their own association or a chamber in the town. Professionals like Carpenter, physician and a perfume merchant reside in the city. But why Karle'n monastery was so much important to the people of this flourishing town and why they paid substantial amounts for upkeep and beautification of this only monastery, even though there were at least three more monasteries in the vicinity at Bhaje, Shelarwadi and Bedse?

 (Inscriptions on a pillar)
The importance of monasteries in those days to the traders has been well explained by Late Dr. D.D. Kosambi (whom I have quoted earlier) in one of his articles; he argues:

It is clear from the inscriptions and the Chinese Budddhist evidence, that the intimate connection between the rich monastery at Karle'n and the wealthy merchant settlement at Dhenukakata had a soild economic foundation. The mercantile function of the monasteries was not only the purchase of cloth and other commodities for the monks and the retainers and the buying of the costlier materials for the rituals and ostentation but also the supply (for profit) of essential provisions and the loan (at interest) of indispensable capital to the trade caravans. The great market centers of Satavahana empire were sparsely distributed; their interconnecting trade routes passing through wild, thinly settled and difficult country. The caves were located conveniently near the worst stage of the journey. The monasteries were untaxed and their possessions not in danger of arbitrary confiscation by officials. ”

 (Pillar with Hinayana Buddhism motifs and inscriptions)
In other words, the monasteries (like the one at Karle'n), besides providing a ready market for food, clothing and all other essentials for the traders, were also a source of cheap funds for the traders and a sanctuary from the taxmen as well as from brigands. It also becomes very clear from these observations, as to why a close relationship existed between the wealthy residents of the Dhenukakata and the Karle'n monastery.

The simple reason for this close relationship was that the prosperous town of Dhenukakata looked upon the Karle'n Monastery not only as a market for foodstuff and clothing but also a source of cheap funds and a sanctuary. All this means only one thing, Dhenukakata was located somewhere in the vicinity of the monastery at Karle'n and not at a great distance from it. Also, for the state, the town was so important that the Governor had appointed one of his own sons as in charge of the town. 


(View of Karle'n valley from the Monastery)

Before we proceed further in our quest to locate Dhenukakata, which existed at the beginning of our era, let us summarize what we already know about this town. It was a prosperous trading community with many Greek ( or Roman) traders settled in it. They even had a traders association representing the traders. It was located on one of the trade routes leading to empires of the Deccan and it was in the vicinity of Karle'n monastery.
Based on these facts, it may not be erroneous to come to a conclusion that Dhenukakata traders probably handled the import-export trade mainly that took place between Empire of the Deccan on one hand and Greco-Roman empire on the other. This naturally brings up a question; was the trade volume that possibly existed at that time between Rome and Pratishthan (Today's Paithan), justifies the establishment of a prosperous trading town that too just only on one of the possible trade routes to the Deccan.

Gaius Plinius Secundus (CE 23 – CE 79), better known as Pliny the Elder ( a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire) has commented while remarking about the adverse balance of trade of the Roman empire: “This is the price we pay for our luxuries and our women. At the last reckoning one hundred million sesterces are taken away by India, Seres and Arabia.” Every year up to 40 ships carried luxury goods consisting of half the export trade of Rome between Rome and India. The imports from India included spices, pearls, muslin,ivory etc, while exports to India were very few and consisted mostly of wine, musical instruments, singing boys and dancing girls. The balance of trade was so adverse that Rome had to pay in Gold Bullion to India every year.
I have specifically given these details here, just to highlight the fact that trade volume with Rome was exceptionally high and fully justifies existence of booming trading communities like Dhenukakata on Indian soil. The next question that pops up is about the trade routes that were in existence at that time. If we could know about the trade routes, we might possiblly be able to locate trading communities like Dhenukakata. To trace the trade routes, the better idea would be to start from the sea ports from where obviously, the ships left for Rome and also arrived with their wine casks.
Claudius Ptolemy (CE 90 – CE 168) was a Greco-Roman writer of Alexandria, known as a mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer, and poet. He was the author of several scientific treatises, at least three of which were of continuing importance to later Islamic and European science. 'The Geography' (also known as Geographia, Cosmographia, or Geographike Hyphegesis) is Ptolemy's main work. It is a treatise on cartography and a compilation of what was known about the world's geography in the Roman Empire of the 2nd century.
Ptolemy tells us that four major trading ports on India's west coast, carried bulk of the cargo to and from Rome. These included (The names in brackets are the names mentioned by Ptolemy), Bhadoch (Barygaza), Dounga (Salsette island), Sopara near Bassein or Vasai ( Suppara) and finally Choul or Chaul ( Semylla or Cemūla.) Taking these and also Kalyan, which we know was a trading port, as starting points, it should be easy to trace the routes up to the Deccan plateau as they have to pass through one of the mountain passes in the Western Ghat mountain range. Since the Buddhist monasteries were all located near the trade routes, these trade routes also have to pass through the vicinity of one of the monasteries.
Leaving aside the trade route from Bhadoch, which is in any case was far off from Karle'n monastery, the other trade routes must have started either from Kalyan, Salsette or Sopara and or from Choul in the south. Late Dr. D.D.Kosambi has outlined several such routes that might have existed and I quote:
"The northern feeder route starting from Kalyan, Sopara went right along the foot of the western Ghats and reached Junnar town through Naneghat. One possible route might have climbed up Sava or Kurvanda pass near present town of Lonavala and would have passed in the vicinity of Bedse monastery. .Another route came up the vally near today's hill station Khandala and passed in the vicinity of Kondane monastery. However all these routes were difficult and were not popular."
One more route existed in the south, which was most suitable for the port of Choul or Chaul. This route climbed up the Ghat near Mulshi lake of today (This is probably the same pass that is known as 'Tamhani Ghat' today.) and passed on through Pavna valley in the vicinity of Shelarwadi monastery and finally reached Bhaje and Karle'n monasteries. From here the route skirted the hills past the foot of Karle'n caves through Navlakh Umbar village, Chakan and then merge in the route to Junnar town. This also perhaps explains a solitary donation from a Dhenukakata resident to Shelarwadi Monastery.
I have tried to trace these two major routes on a Google earth map and it can be seen easily that the Naneghat route is much shorter for reaching Junnar, which any way was the main centre for commerce during those days. Any one would wonder then, why the route starting from Choul and passing by the Karle'n monastery was taken by the traders, when it was much longer and troublesome. It would have been almost impossible to find an answer to this but for a short explanation given again by another ancient Greek text “Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.' This text was written between 1st and 3rd centuries CE and describes navigation and trading opportunities from Roman Egyptian ports like Berenice along the coast of the Red Sea, and others along Northeast Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
I have mentioned above, that at the beginning of our era, the political situation in the Deccan had become highly turbulent with Satrap Nahapana's forces having captured major chunks of Satavahana empire including the areas near Karle'n monastery. Nahapana's forces also had gained control over coastal areas and the ports like Kalyan. Periplus text confirms this situation and says:
The market-towns of this region are, in order, after Barygaza (Bhadoch): Suppara, (Sopara)and the city of Calliena (Kalyan), which in the time of the elder Saraganus (Satavahanas) became a lawful market-town; but since it came into the possession of Sandares (Kshatraps or Nahapana's forces), the port is much obstructed, and Greek ships landing there may chance to be taken to Barygaza (Bhadoch) under guard. Beyond Calliena there are other market-towns of this region; Semylla (Chaul)..…” A century later, Claudius Ptolemy again confirms the political situation when he does not mention the Kalyan port ( now unsafe because of the war like situation) at all, and mentions only Souppara (Sopara) mouth of the River Goaris, Dounga (Salsette island), mouth of the River Bêndas, and Semyla or Chaul.
(The trading ports and the Buddhist Monasteries of Satavahana period)
I think the readers would now appreciate the situation in the first century CE, when Greek or Roman ships were unable to load/ unload their cargoes at 'Kalyan.'  Sopara was to the north and inconvenient, so they were forced to use southern ports like Salsette island and Choul. This also made the shorter 'Naneghat' route to Junnar town no longer preferable as it was much to the north of the port of lading, Choul. The southern route from Chaul and through 'Tamhni' pass must have become suddenly popular for this reason and with it grew the importance of the largest monastery in the area, the one at Karle'n.
We shall now try and see if we can locate the Trading boom town of Dhenukakata, which was possibly situated somewhere on this trade route.


 (A temple in Chaul town)

Earlier, we saw, how India's trade with Rome was affected, around the beginning of our era, by the raging wars between Satavahana empire and Indo-Scythian Kshatrapa, Nahapana's forces and how the ships calling on Indian ports had to shift their port of call to Choul in the south. This necessitated a new trade route up the Western Ghat mountain range through the Pimpri ghat (Tamhini Ghat of present), to the main commerce centre of that time, located in Junnar town. This also meant that the trading boom town of Dhenukakata was located somewhere along this route.
Let us now examine the names of towns and places suggested by scholars and historians and to what extent they fit with these specific details. One of the first attempts was made JAS Burgess (Archaeological surveyor and reporter to Government) and Bhagwanlal Indraji Pandit in their book, “Inscriptions from the cave -temples of western India, “ published in 1881 , where they say that “ Dhenukokata was the old name of the village Dharnikota located near Amarawathi town on the banks of Krishna river in Andhra Pradesh state.”
This identification has been however rejected by most historians for a valid reason. In the first place, Amarawathi town in Andhra Pradesh itself was a famous Buddhist pilgrimage center with a giant Stupa erected there. In the vicinity, there was a large Buddhist Monastery. In fact Xuan Zang, one of the most famous travelers of the ancient world, who had made an epic journey from his native China to South India and back, in the seventh century of our present era, had visited this monastery on his way to Kanchipuram in south. Late D.D. Kosambi therefore writes rightly:
There is no apparent reason why people from Dharnikota, Greeks or not, should march right across the peninsula and cross the whole Satavahana kingdom to concentrate their donations at Karle'n.”
We therefore should be able to reject this identification easily. Now we move to another identification. In an article titled as “ Two Notes on Ptolemy's Geography of India,' written in the “ Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society” published in 1941, E.H. Johnson had proposed that the port of Dounga that appears in Ptolemy's list, or the modern day “Dongri” village on the Salsette island must be the town of Dhenukakata.
I find this identification as most exciting, because Salsette island is none other than the present day city of Mumbai, which is considered as commercial capital of India. The idea that even 2000 years back, Mumbai was a large trading community, which included many Greeks, is really heart warming. Unfortunately however, this identification also can not stand true.
I have mentioned before that the ancient Greek text “Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.' says clearly that the city of Calliena (Kalyan), which in the time of the elder Saraganus (Satavahanas) became a lawful market-town; but since it came into the possession of Sandares (Kshatraps or Nahapana's forces), the port is much obstructed, and Greek ships landing there may chance to be taken to Barygaza (Bhadoch) under guard. If the readers refer to the Google earth images I have posted here, it should be clear that ports of Kalyan and Salsette island are in the vicinity of each other and if Kalyan port was not available for Greeek ships, it is unlikely that Salsette island could have been available to them too. The entire area around these ports must have been a hostile area in possession of Nahapana's forces and no trading community, trading with Satavahana empire could have existed there.
There is one more point which goes against Salsette island's identification as Dhenukakata. The shortest route to the commercial center at Junnar from salsette is same as that from Kalyan; the one through Naneghat mountain pass. In the vicinity of this route, there were two monasteries. One at Kanheri and a big one near Junnar. In Junnar caves, there is no mention of Dhenukakata any where at all, and in Kanheri, Dhenukakata is mentioned in just one inscription. This virtually rules out possibility of Salsette island or Mumbai being identified as Dhenukakata.
The above argument also rules out Dahanu ( a coastal village north of Sopara) as a possible identification because any route from Dahanu to Junnar had to pass through hostile areas near Kalyan and also Naneghat mountain pass.
Some researchers including Samoel Clark Laeuchli ( Journal of the Asiatic Soceity of Bombay, Vol 56-59, 1981-84, pp.214) believe that the main commercial center of the Satavahana empire on the west coast or Junnar town, could be identified with Dhenukakata. The argument is that since in the nearby Junnar Monastery inscriptions, Dhenukakata is not mentioned at all, the town of Junnar must be Dhenukakata itself. According to him: “Ptolemy mentions a place by the name of Omenogara which is close to what he calls the Nanaguna river. Naneghat and Gunaghat are both names of passes 25 km to the west of Junnar, and it seems very likely that this Omenogara was indeed Junnar, On the basis of this fact it bas been argued that the ancient name for Junnar was Minanagara, cf. the Mina river which is close to Junnar. ”

In the Karle'n inscription no.6 however, there is a mention of Yawana Citasagata, who hails from Umehanakta, making a donation. Laeuchli feels that this particular name is of Iranian origin and also means Junnar. He asserts that the identification Umehanakata=Omenogara=Junnar seems beyond doubt and eliminates the consideration Junnar = Minanagara

It is difficult to accept this argument at all, as, if this one is accepted, we would have had found names of Dhenukakata and Umehanakata donors in all other nearby Monasteries such as those at Bhaje, Kondane, Bedse and Shelarwadi. But that does not happen and these names occur only in Karle'n monastery but for a solitary exception in Shelarwadi.

D.D.Kosambi identifies Junnar with the city of “Tagar” mentioned by Ptolemy and in the Periplus (McCrindle's Edition, 126). It was an important commercial town with trade links not only with Bhadoch in the north but also with Masulipatan on east coast of India besides Pratishthan (Today's Paithan) that was the capital of the Satavahanas. However, Periplus clearly mentions that the city of Tagara is about 10 days walk to the east of the Satvahana capital of Pratishthan ( present day Paithan.) This rules out Kosambi's argument of Junnar being called as Tagara in the past.

Considering all of above arguments, it becomes clear that we can not identify any of the existing major towns nearby Karle'n Monastery, with Dhenukakata. Does this mean that this once prosperous trading community has been ground to dust or has gone into oblivion?

Looking at the geographical situation near about Karle'n caves, where a thriving monastery once existed and the trade route that passed near by from Chaul port on the coast, to Junnar city via Tamhni Ghat pass, I am tempted to make an educated guess that perhaps the legendary trading community could have existed in the flat lands between the Karle'n Monastery to the north and Bhaje Monastery in the south. Several villages and towns are located here. Major being Karle'n, Shilatane, Devghar, Wakasai and Dongargaon. Could any of these little villages be identified with the trading community of Dhenukakata in the past?
In the year 1955, writing in a research paper, published in the Journal of the Bombay branch of the Royal Asiatic society, an eminent scholor, Damodar Dharmananda Kosambi, a mathematician, statistician, Marxist historian, and a polymath who had contributed to genetics by introducing Kosambi's map function, claimed to have solved the riddle and found the legendary trading community of Dhenukakata. 


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

16th February 2014

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