Chitradurga comes from the word Chitrakaldurga which in Kannada means picturesque fort. The town, which takes its name from the marvellous fort it houses, has many other treasures apart from the famous fort. Chandravalli is one such treasure. Located just 3km from the fort, Chandravalli is a valley formed by three hills. There is a subterranean monastery called Ankali Mutt which is semilunar in shape and is located between two monoliths.

The monastery was inhabited from the Iron Age onwards. Buddhist, Jain, Shaiva and Veerashaiva monks have occupied Chandravalli. Archaeological findings show that rulers from many dynasties like Chalukya, Hoysala and Kadamba used these caves. Chandravalli is also a prehistoric site. Archaeologists have found evidence that the Satavahanas who are considered as the first of the royal dynasties of Karnataka inhabited this region. The locals strongly believe that the Pandavas also lived in these caves during their vanavasa – exile into the forest.

A short drive from the fort will take you away from the crowded streets of the town into serene Chandravalli. A clean lake surrounded by hillocks will greet you. The lake supplies drinking water to the town and hence bathing and washing is prohibited. Yet you will see some local lads splashing around gaily. A short walk up a steep slope and then a short trek upwards will take you to the entrance of the Ankali Mutt. It takes a while to grasp that the commonplace pillared hall houses an entrance to an 80 feet deep cave.  We engaged a guide who warned us that it was going to be a challenging descent. Equipped with torches, a camera, and a bottle of water, we urged him to take us into the caves.

The humble entrance to the caves

The cave has two doorways. The first is the Nandi Dwara and the second is the Ganesha Dwara. The first cave is the waiting room. There is a stone settee for those who visited the monks. The second cave houses a Linga and platforms with intricate decorations meant for the monks to sit and meditate. There are ornamental niches in all caves for the lamps which lit up the place. The third cave is the bathroom. There is a tank which serves as bath tub. It has a water inlet. Through ingenious architecture, water was collected on the roof of the cave and it seeped through the rocks and finally reached the tank in the cave. There is also a stone platform for the monks to have ‘yoga nidra’ after a refreshing bath. The bathroom has three doorways leading away. One door way leads to a cave which has wall paintings. Most of it has faded and only a few patches are visible. The paintings were done with natural dyes. In this cave there is an ornamental bowl meant to store vibhuti (holy ash).

The next cave has a beautiful simhasana (throne) from where the chief monk gave darshan to his devotees and offered solutions to their problems. This cave too has wall paintings. The relief work on the walls has been defaced. The simhasana itself is decorated with paintings and filigree but it is not in a good condition. This cave leads to the bedroom of the chief monk. There is a window next to the stone bed which overlooks the simhasana. This cave has two exits, a simhadwara which leads to the khazana (treasury) and a makaradwara which leads to a meeting room and to the khazana. This is the most difficult part of the caves. The doorways are small and narrow. One has to squeeze and scrape though. The makaradwara leads to the belly of the cave which is 80 feet below the entrance level. This was the secret meeting place of kings. The khazana is located atop a shrine dedicated to Subrahmanya which has now been destroyed. The khazana is easy to miss as it is a natural hollow formed by rocks. This cave is full of bats whose eyes gleam red in the light of our torches. The guide then leads us to the first cave through another short route.

Once outside, we revel in the punishing afternoon sun and take deep gasps to fill our lungs with fresh air. The guide shows us the kitchen and the store room which are now completely ruined. He also took us around the monolith which has been split into two by lightning. Behind the monolith is a natural hawa mahal. The strategic location of the hollow makes it a cool paradise. Next to the entrance to the Ankali Mutt is a small cave which houses nine lingas. Five of them are believed to be worshipped by the Pandavas.

Chandravalli is an important archaeological site and deserves to be given importance by casual tourists and history buffs. Do visit Chandravalli when you visit its famous neighbour, the kallina kote (stone fort). Chitradurga is well connected to Bangalore, Shimoga, Hubli and Bellary by road.

This article was published in Spectrum, Deccan Herald on 27th May, 2014. DH Article

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