Thursday, June 12, 2008

Aravalem Hindu Cave

One of the oldest and best preserved religious shrines in Goa is that of Aravalem located in the small village of the same name in Bicholim taluk. The shrine, in the form of a rock cut cave, dated to the 8th century, was built by the pre-Kadamba Bhoja dynasty. It is similar to some of the caves found at Badami, the ancient capital of the Chalukyas, in Karnataka. There are some six individual cells or cubicles within the cave, all facing south, save for the first. Cell number one has a rather large Shiva phallus, probably taken from the ancient nearby Shiva Rudreshwar temple which predates the cave. It has fairly extensive Brahmi inscriptions on it. Cell number two has a phallus symbol with a disc around it representing Surya, the Sun god. Cell three has a smaller plain phallus symbol while cell four has one dedicated to Kartikeya. Cell five has the smallest of all phalluses. Finally, the last cell has no phallus at all. Instead, there is a strange stone bench-like structure with eight sockets on the surface. Initially, it was assumed that this cell served as a dormitory but this theory has been dismissed. It is probable that it was used a separate cell to worship an incarnation of Ganesha. The combination of Shiva, Karteikya, Surya and Ganesha in one structure makes it one of the most unusual in all of India. There are still many mysteries surrounding Aravalem. Only as recently as 1979 was the Brahmi script in cell one discovered and deciphered. It was long assumed that the cave was initially Buddhist and then converted into a Hindu shrine but this has proved erroneous. It is clear that the cave was carved out in relation to the ancient Shiva temple nearby, and possibly, as an extention of it. Unfortunately, the Brahmi inscriptions reveal little. For example, one simply states: 'Sambalurvasi Ravi". This has been taken to mean "Ravi from Sambalur", i.e, the name of a donor and his village. The other inscriptions contain verses from the Brahma Sutras, reflecting Vedanta philosophy.

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