Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sacred Caves of Sikkim




Set in the Eastern Himalayan Range, the mountains of Sikkim not only offer a paradise of scenic beauty, but also home a number of caves. Legend has it that these caves have been blessed as sacred sanctums for worship and pilgrimage. Four of them, in fact, are believed to have been the actual traditional abodes of Guru Rimpoche or Guru Padmasambhava and Lha btsun Chenpo.
It is said that during the 8th Century AD, a Tibetan King was told by Guru Padmasambhava that Tibet’s sovereignty would be subjugated in the near future, rendering the practitioners of Buddhist faith to become severely pressured. Hearing this warning, the worried King requested Guru Padmasambhava to leave the country and search for a secure place for the practitioners. Guru Padmasambhava thus left Tibet and after crossing the Himalayas reached the kingdom of Sikkim.
Walking along the mountainous retreat, his search brought him across a cave which was believed to be haunted by spirits. Upon entering the cave and meditating, Guru Padmasambhava succeeded in subduing these spirits. He then requested them to protect the caves but not to bring any harm to those who came there to pray and meditate. This cave later came to be known as Shar- chok Bé Phug.
After this Guru Padmasambhava persevered his search to the other caves, namely, Lho Khandro- Sang Phug, Nub-Dechén Phug and Byang Lhari- rinchen-nying Phug. Like in the first cave, here too he overcame the haunting spirits and sanctified the caves as holy places for worship for the practitioners of Buddhist faith.
Hence, blessed by the revered GuruPadmasambhava and preserved by the spirits, the caves of Sikkim are regarded as very special from the religious point of view. They are deemed as sacred refuge for offering homage and pilgrimage
A Pilgrims Progress through the four major sacred caves of Sikkim:
1. Shar- chok Bé Phug: Believed to be the first cave to be blessed by the revered Guru Padmasambhava, Shar-chok Be Phug, lies between the hillocks of Tendong and Maenam,5 kms away from the southern town of Ravangla. It is a vast cavern, about a quarter of a mile in length, with a height varying from five feet to two hundred feet. The dark channels have to be lighted with torches as people come here to worship the spirits of the cave, which is said to be associated with the ‘God of Purification’.
Shar- chok Bé Phug is also known as the abode of the ‘Peaceful White Deity’. It has an infinite number of self-arisen figures. Above the entrance of the cave, inscriptions in a codified language can be seen. Upon entering the cave, one can see, on the right, the figures of 42 peaceful deities, and on the left, the figures of 69 wrathful deities. In the threshold, lies the seat occupied by Guru Padmasambava. After walking for a few meters one can see a figure of a demon emitting elixir of life from her heart. As you move ahead, there is a shrine where the deities are said to reside.
On the right side of the cave, one sees self-arisen figure of Garuda (a winged deity), which when seen by local spirits, will disappear and depart to their own abode. Above it resides Guru Padmasambava. It is believed that just being told of his presence will cause all one’s wishes to the fulfilled. Guru Padmasambava promised that if lepers see him, they would be instantly cured. In the Eastern side is the abode of Peaceful Deities, where,it is believed that, whoever makes an effort
to cleanse their sins, will overcome all illness caused by malignant spirits, the defilement of sins and other obstacles.
GETTING THERE: Shar-chok Bé Phug can be reached after a 5 km hike from Ravangla, a quaint settlement near the cave. Ravangla, in turn, can be reached either from the nearest Railway Station, NJP, which is about 125 kms away, or from Bagdogra Airport, which is about 127 kms away.
ACCOMODATION: One can find hotels and
Guest Houses for accommodation at Ravangla, the nearest township from the cave.
BEST TIME TO VISIT: The cave can be visited in the tourist season, either during the spring months from March to late May or during the Fall, from September to mid- December.

2. Lho Khandro- Sang Phug: This cave is also known as the cave of occult fairies. It lies about 6 kms away from the sleepy hamlet of Reshi in the western pocket of Sikkim. It flaunts of a hot spring nearby, believed to hold medicinal powers, and footprint inscribed rocks which are attributed to that of the fairies. Lho Khandro- Sang Phug is said to be associated with the ‘God of Increasing Knowledge’.
Lho Khandro- Sang Phug is believed to be the cave of longevity and increased knowledge. Here, all wishes for longevity, Virtues and abundance will be fulfilled. Upon entering the cave, one can see on the ceiling, the lungs and heart of a demoness emitting the nectar of longevity, and below, is the vase of longevity surrounded by about seven ritual offerings. Under the vase lies the remains of the demoness, including head, arms and other parts. On their right are the figures of animals. As one moves forward, one comes to twelve narrow obstacles. Passing over the first, one reaches the shrine hall of Guru Padmasambava, containing his whole body, its imprints, his headgear, and the imprints of this hand, which can be seen clearly. Then proceeding downwards, one comes upon a secret passage. It is believed that making a pilgrimage to this sacred place and going round it with reverence will cleanse the sins committed during lifetime.
GETTING THERE: Reshi, the closest town near the cave, lies about 108 kms away from NJP, the nearest railhead. If traveling by air, the nearest airport is Bagdogra, which is about 111 kms away from this Western hamlet. From Siliguri, the entry point to Sikkim, Reshi can be reached via the numerous taxi or bus services commuting everyday.
ACCOMODATION: There are no lodging facilities at Reshi. However, visitors can find numerous hotels and guest houses at Jorethang, a town lying 16 kms away from Reshi. For a more adventurous stay, one can also camp along the banks of the river Rangit which
flows near the cave.
BEST TIME TO VISIT: The best time to visit the cave is during the tourist season.This is either from March to late May or from September to mid December.
3. Nub-Dechén Phug: Nub- Dechén Phu, also known as the ‘Cave of Great Happiness, is located near Dzongri, a blissful welkin deemed as one of the eminent trekking destinations of Sikkim. This holy abode of Guru Padmasambhava is believed to be associated with the ‘ God of Infinite Light’.
It is believed that this cave, which is as big as a three storied building, contains sacred images representing the body , speech and mind, ritual objects, and complete sutras and tantras translated in Tibet. Legend has it that treasured stores that could feed almost half the population of the world are also hidden here. Just by going to this cave one can acquire ‘Supreme Higher Attainment’.
At the main cave are located two lesser caves of ‘Supreme Higher Attainments’ and three lesser caves of ‘Common Attainments’. Besides these there are numerous large and small caves where enlightenment has been attained. On the right side of the cave grows a fragrant medicinal tree which bears many kinds of flowers and fruits believed to cure diseases.
GETTING THERE: Trekkers may commence th-eir venture from Yuksom, in west Sikkim. From he-re,an ard-uous ram-ble of thr-ee days s-hall bring them to t-he cave . Yuksom is about 176 kms away from the nearest Railway Station, NJP, and about 180 kms away from Bagdogra, the nearest Airport.
ACCOMODATION: Lodges and hotels are not available in these areas. Hence trekkers have to usu-ally camp out in tents.
BEST TIME TO VISIT: The tourist season, beginning from the Spring months of March to late
May and ending in Winter from September to mid- December, is the best time to visit this caves.
4. Byang Lhari- rinchen- nying Phug: This cave considered to be the holiest of all the sacred caverns and is situated in the western part of Sikkim. Associated with the ‘ God of Wrath’, Byang Lhari- rinchen- nying Phug is reached after taking a three days trek from the holy town of Tashiding.
This cave is associated with the application of wrathful activities. It has three caves facing eastwards. The cave in the south has the self-arisen figures surrounded by a pantheon of longevity deities. The cave in the north houses wrathful deities in their fearsome costumes. The eastern cave has figures of eight fabulous horses of wealth. It is believed that going there will produce signs favourable to the growth and spiritual realization. To the west of this is located the goddess of wealth along with three goddesses of bountiful harvests. Further, to the west, is located the lord of death along with the assembled messengers of death. Below this is a triangular pit. It is believed that if the names of the powerful demonic clans are written down and thrown in the pit during the annual casting off of evil, the messengers of death will flee to their own abode. Nearby, are three stone charm boxes containing seven paper scrolls inscribed with the names of the ten wrathful deities. Legend has it that if the wrathful mantras are recited three times when the powerful life threatening enemies of the earlier and later periods have assembled your prayer shall be answered with in seven days.
GETTING THERE: The route to this cave is a long three days trek from Tashiding. Tashiding is tucked away in the Western pocket of Sikkim and is about 129 kms away from the nearest railhead, NJP, and about 133 kms away from the nearest Airport, Bagdogra. This sacred town can be reached by buses and taxi jeep services plying regularly from all the major towns of Sikkim.
ACCOMODATION: This site is a campers treat due to the absence of any hotels or guest houses.
BEST TIME TO VISIT: Like all the other sacred caves, his cave too is usually visited during the tourist season months of March to late May and September to mid- December.