XVIII. THE PANDU-LENA CAVES.
A NASIK PILGRIMAGE.
Nasik! What a story the name evokes! Nasik the Lotus-city, Nasik the home of Gods; who has borrowed her name from the nine hills which lay within the compass of her sacred walls. For we like not, nor do we believe, that alternative derivation of the name from "Nasika," a nose, in allusion to the fate which here overtook the demon Shurpanakhi. It is altogether too savage an appellation for a city whose purity was established in the "Krita Yuga," and whose fame is coeval with that of the great protagonists of Hindu myth and epic. The great city of religion in the West stood upon seven hills, the holy city of the East stood upon nine; and the famous rivers which flow past them whisper in each case of a heritage of undying renown. Fancy hand in hand perhaps with a substratum of historical truth has discovered traces of Rama's chequered life, of Sita's devotion in many spots within the limits of Nasik. The Forest of Austerity (Tapovan), Panchvati and Ramsej or Ram's seat, that strangely-shaped hill fortress to the north of Nasik, are but three of the holy places which appeal so forcibly to the hearts of the people as the visible legacies of divine life on earth.
But to us the temples and the sacred pools seem nothing by comparison with the mighty monuments of Buddhism, which local wiseacres have erroneously named the Pandu-Lena or caves of the Pandavas. We drive out in the fresh morning air along the trunk road, which extends southwards of the holy city like a grey ribbon streaked by two parallel lines of lighter colour where the wheels of the bullock-carts have ground the hard metal into dust; and hard by the fifth milestone we come face to face with three stark hills, standing solitary out of the plain. A congeries of Mhars' huts fringing the roadside marks the most convenient spot for alighting, whence we strike across the belt of level land which divides the highway from the foot of the easternmost of the triad of hills. "Trirashmi" or Triple Sunbeam is the name by which the hill is known in seven of the cave-inscriptions, and is held by the learned Pundit who wrote the Gazetter account to refer to its pyramidal or triple fire-tongue shape. But is it not conceivable that the hand which carved the earliest of those priceless inscriptions desired to designate the triad of contiguous hills as "the tripla ray," and not the eastern hill alone in which the caves have been hewn? Who can tell? When we recall the almost unbroken chain of caves, - the Shivner, the Ganesh, the Manmoda and the Tulja, - which surround Junner, we suspect that the original intention of those primeval devotees was to carve dwellings and chapels in all three hills, which thus would have surely formed a triple beam of light in honour of the great Master, whom an English missionary has characterized as "one of the grandest examples of self- denial and love to humanity which the world has ever produced." A narrow and devious path, worn by the feet of worshipers, leads upward to the broad terrace which fronts the caves. Here you are sheltered from the wind, and peace inviolate broods upon these dwellings of a vanished people; but turn your steps round the western corner and the boisterous breeze will quickly chase you back behind the sheltering bulwarks of the hill.