RAJINIKANTH’S FAVOURITE CAVE: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT IT

Vasishta Cave. Rishikesh

Vasishta Guha. All photos: Sudha Pillai

It was during dinner the previous evening, over pepperoni pizza, I heard for the first time, about a cave that has been around “for ages”. Everything in Rishikesh is “ages old” or has “been there from the time when Gods and god-like rishis walked the earth”. The Ganges and the mountains are testimonies, people here say.

I was staying at the Aloha on The Ganges, a beautiful hotel overlooking the Ganges and a six km drive from the said cave – Vasishta Guha.

Believers believe that Vasistha Muni, one of the saptarishis (seven immortal sages) meditated in this cave for hundreds of years during a time when people lived for hundreds of years. (Did you know that the seven stars known as the Bear Constellation, which you will find below the North Polar Star, is named after the saptarishis? One of them is called Vasishta and there is a smaller star next to it named after his wife, Arundathi. They were known as the ideal couple. Pointing these two stars to a newly wedded bride and the groom is part of the Hindu wedding ritual. Now you know the meaning of all those wedding photos where the bride and groom pose pointing to ‘something’ in the sky.)

 

My interest in the cave piqued when somebody at the dinner table said: “This is where actor Rajinikanth often comes to meditate.” If you are a South Indian who grew up in Chennai like me, your ears always perk up at the sound of R. A. J. I. N. I. K. A. N. T. H. For ‘ages’ we have been hearing about “a special cave that the actor often goes to meditate and to get away from the materialistic world”. Everybody knows about Rajinikanth. About Sage Vasishta…? I have my doubts. So here goes…

Vasishta Cave. Rishikesh

Looking at the entrance from inside the cave.

Sage Vasishta was the son of Lord Brahma. He is said to be born of Brahma’s willpower. Vasishta was also Lord Rama’s Guru. He was an ascetic who had conquered the ‘I’ and ‘anger’. He was a peaceful, kind, generous and powerful teacher. He was married to Arundathi and together they had a hundred sons. Vasishta also had in his possession a divine cow named Nandini, which could feed all those who crossed the threshold of his ashram. It was a gift from Indra. It was also the beginning of the enmity between Vasishta and Vishwamitra (king-turned-rishi) who wanted Nandini for his own but couldn’t have her. The bad blood between the two men deepened when Vasishta defeated Vishwamitra in a duel. The feud continued for many years before Vishwamitra, cunningly, killed all of Vasishta’s sons. Deeply saddened by the loss of his children the Rishi decided to commit suicide by jumping into the Ganges. But Ganga wouldn’t allow it.

Mourning the loss of the children the couple travelled far and wide before they settled on the banks of Ganges where there was a cave in the middle of a Gular (fig trees) forest. Vasishta is then said to have spent hundreds of years meditating in this cave which later came to be known as Vasishta Guha. Nearby, there is also another cave known as Arundathi Guha where his wife spent time in meditation when she wasn’t tending to the needs of her husband.

Vasishta Cave. Rishikesh

Winding pathway leading to the cave.

The belief is that due to the penance of the powerful rishi the cave is soaked in positive energy. And over the years, many men of god have spent time in the cave meditating drawing from that energy and in turn adding their own vibes to the energy pool.

In India, we go by feelings and beliefs rather than hard-core evidence. The former always results in beautiful stories that allow for individual interpretations. I like stories. So, I am going with the flow here.

Vasishta Guha was relatively unknown to the world until 1930 when Swami Purushottamananda discovered the cave. Currently, the place is managed by the Swami Purshottamanand Trust.

Vasishta Guha is around six km from Shivpuri. An early morning drive up the hill helped us avoid the river-rafting traffic that would descend upon the town by mid-morning. The cave is located on the Rishikesh-Badrinath road.

Vasishta Cave. Rishikesh

The mouth of the cave

A concrete butter-yellow and rust-coloured standalone arch by the side of the road indicates the path down to the cave. There’s no entrance fee. But you might find a few men with matted hair, and saffron robes, muttering  “give us a little something” dotting the area. The cave is 250 feet below from the main road and at 2000 ft above sea level.  I was forced to concentrate on my footing as the path downhill was rather steep. The handrail helped. Good trekking shoes would’ve helped too!

Trees frame the pathway with the Ganges below peeking through the leaves. On the left, there’s a hanging bridge across the river which connects to the Gular village on the other side of the banks. And streaming down the vast Ganges were pools of river rafters.

The place is full of melodies — rustling leaves, gently flowing Ganga, birds in the trees and the whispering breeze. But silence is the predominant intonation.

After a couple of bends, we reach flat-land. On the left is the living quarters of sadhus associated with the Trust, cow sheds and other paraphernalia of worldly life. On the right, is an ancient rock-face rising vertically before disappearing into the treetops. In the front is the cave, one that I would’ve easily missed if I hadn’t known about it or looking for it. The façade is inconspicuous with an extended porch covered with asbestos.

Vasishta Cave. Rishikesh

People meditating inside the narrow cave

The rocky cave is 60 feet deep with a wide opening that tapers into a narrow space that doesn’t allow two people to stand side-by-side.

At the entrance, there is some natural light streaming into the cave through the wide opening, just enough to make out a shape sitting on the left meditating. I was told he was the present “Swamiji” of the Trust.

I walked gingerly feeling my way with my feet and hands. The deeper I went, the darker it got. At one point I was engulfed by an inky blackness. It was only towards the end of the cave was the darkness broken by the flickering light of an oil lamp. There was a Shiva Linga in a corner. I was also told that behind the Shiva Linga was an opening, which was now closed, that led you deeper into the cave where there are rishis who have been meditating for thousands of years and that the cave led you to some special place in the Himalayas. I am a non-judgemental story-collector.

Slowly, my eyes began to carve out the shapes inside this tight space. There were straw mattresses on the uneven floor. Three people, with fair skin, clad in shorts and spaghetti tops were on the floor in a lotus position, eyes closed and straight backs. They were lost in their breaths. Around 12 people can meditate inside the cave. However, this is not a place for those who have claustrophobia.

Even the agnostic in me couldn’t help but be mesmerised by the surroundings. I understood the meaning of pin-drop silence and realised that human breath has a cadence to it. I lean back on the black, uneven walls of the cave, which have been witnesses to the angst and listlessness of scores of humans who had come here, over the ages, to find ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’.

Vasishta Cave. Rishikesh

Hanging bridge across the Ganges connects to the Gular village.

The air is much cooler here. It doesn’t have the smell of cramped spaces. Instead, there is a light fragrance of oil and flowers wafting in the air. I realise I am the only one with my eyes open and behaving like an alien in a candy store. The rest of the group are chasing something invaluable behind their closed eyes.

I strive to feel a sliver of the magical energy that this cave is famous for. Nada. I guess I seep much too deep in worldly pleasures. Earth-shaking reverberations failed to pass through my fleshy limbs; glorious visions escaped my mind’s eye. But I did feel a sense of calm, and it carried with it a feeling of infinity. Nothing dies. Everything lives.

Vasishta Cave. River Rafting in Rishikesh

The Ganges flowing nearby the cave is a popular spot for river rafting

The silence was all-consuming till it was pierced, like a distant siren, by the cries of ecstasy of a group of girls rafting through the Ganges, probably their first time. It was the sound of sheer joy. It was my cue.  Leaving others to their pranayamas, I stepped out of the cave only to see a board which read: Do you know when happiness is obtained? We eat some delicious food; hear a melodious song; enjoy an attractive dance. On such occasions the mind becomes tranquil. Happiness is in tranquillity. And where is this tranquillity? It exists in our own heart. When the mind becomes calm, happiness reflects in it. – Swami Purushottamananda Ji.

I realised that at that moment…I was happy. And it was enough.

PS: I don’t know for sure whether this is  Rajinikanth’s favourite cave for meditation. I did not see him in the dark depths. But  I could easily see why this could be his favourite place to get away from his crowding and noisy world.

TRIVIA

There’s a board in the premise that has 13th February 1961 Maha Shivratri written in Tamil and Malayalam. Above the words is painted a clock with the dials showing ten to eleven. It’s the time and date when Swami Purushottamananda attained Samadhi. He was 82 years old. But I was perplexed by the board in Tamil & Malayalam… in Uttarakhand? Swami Purushottamananda spent a decade or so at the Ramakrishna Mission in Kerala before he travelled North where he discovered the cave in 1928. It is said that he had meditated in this cave for almost 25 years before a room was built for him by the side of the cave.

ESSENTIALS

Location: Vashishta Guha is 17km from Tapovan (Rishikesh). 6km from Shivpuri on Rishikesh-Badrinath highway.

Timing: 9 am – 12 pm and 3 pm – 6 pm

 

Have you been to Rishikesh? Which is your favourite place in Rishikesh and why?

 

*Note: The trip to the cave was facilitated by Aloha On The Ganges. Opinions on this blog are always my own.

 

2018-06-02T13:07:43+00:00 Destinations, Slider|13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Hariom June 7, 2018 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    Lovely write up and nice to know about such a peaceful place. 😊

    • Sudha Pillai June 8, 2018 at 10:51 am - Reply

      Thank you, Hariom. Yes, it is a lovely and peaceful place. You should visit 🙂

  2. Soumya Bhattacharjee May 29, 2018 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    Rajnikanth’s favorite cave write up really nice to read. After reading this blog I would like to visit once. The way all the stuff is written like a travel show from the renowned TV channel. If I come to Bangalore definitely would like to visit more interesting places.

    • Sudha Pillai May 29, 2018 at 7:42 pm - Reply

      Thank you 😊

  3. Jyoti Gupta May 28, 2018 at 11:08 pm - Reply

    Lovely write up, enticing to visit the place😊
    I was mesmerised by the Ganga aarti felt lot of peace, the laxman jhula n the satvic bhojan I had there were all having a calming effect on me. The journey from Haridwar to Rishikesh was also wonderful

  4. Yadev May 28, 2018 at 10:38 am - Reply

    The rocks below Laxman Hula is my favorite.

    • Sudha Pillai May 28, 2018 at 11:04 am - Reply

      Haven’t been there. But I am sure it is a wonderful place.

  5. Sheethal S May 27, 2018 at 8:59 pm - Reply

    Beautiful write up Sudha. A dip in the Ganges is in itself so refreshing. The ganga aarthi in the evening and meditating on the banks of the Ganges is what I loved the most during my short visit. Looking forward to exploring the caves during my next one.

    • Sudha Pillai May 27, 2018 at 9:09 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Sheethal. It is a very ordinary and extraordinary place rolled into one. You should visit 😊

  6. Jay May 27, 2018 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    Sudha, it was a journey within the cave very well told… the serenity in story telling is the way it is told unbiased and without inhibitions… I like particularly the phrase – Nothing dies. Everything lives…..

    • Sudha Pillai May 27, 2018 at 9:09 pm - Reply

      Thank you,Jay. Glad you liked it. 😊

  7. Sujin May 27, 2018 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    This place is a must to visit when you are in Rishikesh. Why he is going there every now and then is the reason for everyone to go to that place. That place is magical and will benefit seasoned meditators and beginners in the same way. I had a wonderful time there and had a long chat with Swami Chaithnyananda, he is from Kerala and the care taker of that cave and the temple and have many stories to tell about that place.

    Arundhathi Cave is also next to it and it is soo refreshing to take a bath in Ganga there… I can spend days and night there.

    Men of God is not an appropriate usage, every one is of God anyway. Try to write it as people who are inclined to Cosmic Energy rather than Men of God!!

    • Sudha Pillai May 27, 2018 at 9:10 pm - Reply

      Thank you,Sujin 😊

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