Technology Manager, Poet, History Maniac. Also, a prolific writer on varied topics
It leaps at you, straight out a page from the Arabian Nights.
Ali Baba standing outside the mysterious cave and uttering the words ‘Open Sesame’. And suddenly the cave opens up revealing the priceless treasures hoarded by the forty thieves.
Except that, this one is for real.
Situated in the Rajgir town of Bihar, India, the Son Bhandar caves are two rock-cut caves that were hollowed in the cliff of the hill during the 3rd and 4th century AD. These caves were created by the famous Jain saint Muni Vairadevi as a residence for Jain hermits who wanted to meditate in peace.
In fact, inscriptions found inside one of the caves narrate the detailed tenets of Jainism and there are also beautifully made Jain sculptures that portray the religious significance of the caves during ancient times.
This is where the legend of Son Bhandar Caves gets more mysterious.
The caves appear plain and nonchalant like any other ascetic cave. But they are believed to be the doorway to the immense riches of Bimbisara, a Magadha king who loved hoarding treasures and ruled Ancient India between 542 and 492 BC. In fact, Son Bhandar means ‘store of gold’. It is said that when Bimbisara was imprisoned by his son Ajatashatru, this is the place where his wife hid the treasure on his orders.
And on a wall on the western side of the cave, an outline of a door can be seen that is blocked by a large stone. Just adjacent to the door, some inscriptions can be found etched on the wall. These inscriptions are believed to be the ‘code’ of the Son Bhandar Caves and supposedly tells how to open the door and unlock the riches beyond it.
Until now the inscriptions are undeciphered with nobody able to read or interpret the script fully. Interestingly similar inscriptions have been found in caves in Java and Burma also and these too, have also never been decoded.
The mystery of the Son Bhandar caves
The Ancient town of Rajagriha (present Rajgir in Nalanda district of Bihar) has fascinated mankind since time immemorial. As the name suggests, Rajgir is one of the most ancient kingdoms of India and was the capital of the Magadha empire.
The hills of Rajgir are dotted with numerous caves of religious significance that have captured the human imagination since the most ancient times. Of the various caves, the most famous ones are the Son Bhandar and the Saptaparni.
The Son Bandar caves are believed to be constructed between the 3rd to 4th Century AD by the great saint of Jains, Muni Vairadevi for Jain ascetics to meditate in peace. These caves are divided into the Western cave and Eastern cave with both caves constructed during the rule of Bimbisara, the glorious founder of the Magadha Empire.
These caves were later studied extensively by the British Archaeological Surveyor of India Cunningham and other scholars who inferred these caves to be associated with Jain religious tenets. This opinion was also strengthened by the extensive inscriptions, carved sculptures of Jain monks, and Tirthankaras found on the walls of the caves.
But the western cave also contains one more strange feature.
It contains the outline of a door blocked by a stone and an inscription written next to this door. Interestingly this inscription is written in the obscure language of Shankhalipi. Shankhalipi is a modified version of the ancient Brahmi script, which is one of the oldest scripts in the world.
Shankhalipi was also taught at the Nalanda University as per the writings of the great Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang who visited the university during the Magadha period. Unfortunately, after the Islamic invaders destroyed Nalanda University, all keys of this language were destroyed. Today historians are unable to understand or read this script fully.
The inscription is the password to the brilliant and rare riches of the Magadha Empire hidden by King Bimbisara. Why the king chose this cave, no one knows but it is said that the treasures are kept deep into the cave, locked up with spiritual powers that no man or machine can break. And tests have confirmed that there is a secret passage behind the stone leading to somewhere deep within the mountains.
The mystery is still unsolved
Over the years the caves had attracted the attention of many rulers from the Mughals to the British. The Mughal army searched the two caves inch by inch and found absolutely nothing. The British tried to tear down the cave wall with cannonballs but the cave did not budge even a bit. Only a dark smudge remains on the walls where the cannonballs had tried to blast it down.
A lot of scholars have tried their luck to decipher the inscriptions but were unsuccessful. Some treasure hunts have also been carried out but nothing was found except a few more inscriptions on the other walls that added to the confusion.
The treasure, whatever it is, still lies untouched and unreachable somewhere deep within the Son Bhandar Caves.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on February 11, 2021:
Tuli Banerjee from Kolkata on February 11, 2021:
Very nice article and informative too.
Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on February 09, 2021:
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 09, 2021:
I am becoming a big fan of your articles. They are always interesting and filled with information I did not know. Well done!
Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on February 09, 2021:
Thanks, Devika. As they rightly say India is an apsara( a heavenly beauty) who never grows old and ceases to amaze us.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 09, 2021:
I find that ancient caves have mystery stories and thIs is no exception. Your well-researched hub is interesting and I like the photo. India is a beautiful country and has a lot to offer to travelers.