Even though Bodhgaya is the epicenter of Buddhism there are few scattered sites around Bodhgaya which are of immense importance to Buddhism. One such location is Mahakala Cave, which is also known as the Dungeshwari Cave. Initially, I wanted to visit this on the last day but by luck, I made a change of plan and visited this on the second day. This was a smart move since the trip is almost half a day.
How to Reach Dungeshwari Cave
You need to take an auto or taxi from Bodhgaya to reach this place as it’s at a distance and lies on the other side of Falgu River. It will take approximately Rs. 300 to Rs. 400 for a round trip and this includes a waiting time of around one hour. Avoid the battery-powered rickshaws, as these are quite slow and will take a long time for the round trip.
I would advise you to take this trip in the daytime and avoid post 3 PM as it gets dark and this place is a bit secluded especially the long walk up the stairs to the top.
Reaching To the Top of Dungeshwari Cave
Whichever transportation you opt they will drop you at the foothill and wait for you to complete the trek up. From the bottom of the hill, there is a concrete pathway that you can take to reach the top of the hill. You will be for sure approached by locals on a motorcycle who would do a pick and drop for Rs. 100. If you are fit enough then would urge you to do the climb on foot as it gives you a beautiful view of the villages in the distance.
On the way to the top, you will surely come across dozens of Langurs, which tend to snatch away packets of food thus be careful and store easy to snatch items inside the bag. Especially be careful about sunglasses, mobile phones, and cameras.
Another issue that you will surely face would be tons of beggars who constantly harass while you climb up. These are more like organized syndicate and if you give to one then others in flocks will soon join almost hanging on to your hands and legs. I would suggest that you just ignore and just walk up.
While walking up do look around and see the villages down below and you will get a fantastic panoramic view.
When you have reached the top, you need to take a sharp left turn to reach the cave and temple compound. You will find several shops selling flower garlands and biscuits. The flowers are understandable for offering but the biscuits are either for the langurs that you can feed or it’s for the beggars which usually the Buddhist pilgrims give on their way down.
Dungeshwari – Mahakala Cave
Once you reach the top where the cave is located you would realize that there are two caves, one with a very tiny opening which you have to almost bend to your knees and enter and the other which is a bigger one and have been modified with concrete walls inside them. The bigger one is a modern structure.
The small cave has a statue of Buddha, unlike any other. Out here, Buddha is shown in a very weak state (Fasting Buddha). You can see the rib cage protruding almost as if he is in a state of extremely poor health from food deprivation.
It is said that before Buddha went to Bodhgaya where he ultimately got enlightened under the Bodhi Tree he spent six years inside the cave meditating. This made him extremely weak due to lack of food thus this state has been depicted in skin and bones state.
In the smaller cave, you will also find two Hindu deity one that of Dungeshwari due to which it gets its name and next to it Mahakala. One thing interesting about Mahakala is that it’s common in Hinduism as well as Buddhism. The small cave has an oil lamp burning in front of the Buddha statue thus there is an unusual warmth inside the cave. All along the cave wall, you will find gold leaf pasted on the wall, which the devotees do when they visit this place.
The other building right next to the small cave is much bigger in size with two statues of Buddha one in his normal state and the other in his food depreciated state. In fact, if you look clearly this place has a flat concrete roof, which makes one, believe that a concrete structure was built around large stone boulders and made into a temple of a sort.
Next to the cave, you will find a small stupa, which is a new structure, built much later for the devotees.
Overall, it will take around one hour to climb up to the top and visit all the sites on top. While on top do look towards the village below as in the distance you will be able to see the Falgu River.
The story is incomplete without the mention of Sujata Stupa. As per mythology Buddha after spending six years meditating at the cave came down to this place which was around five kilometers from the foot of the hill to a place which is now known as Sujatagarh and has a stupa dedicated to this old lady by the name of Sujata. As per legends a very weak Buddha came here and was offered Kheer (sweetened rice boiled in milk) by Sujata and this gave him immense strength and he went ahead to Bodhgaya where he ultimately became Buddha that we know of.