The Indasala Cave was the setting for one of the Buddha’s most profound discourses, the Sakapanha Sutta (D.II,263). In the discourse the Buddha addresses Pancasikha who is playing his harp and Sakya, also known as Indra. The discourse must have been a popular one in ancient times given how many depictions of the cave with the Buddha in it and Pancasikha standing nearby have survived to today. The stone railing at Bodh Gaya, the oldest surviving Buddhist art (150 BCE ?), includes a depiction of the scene.
Following Cunningham, I located the Indasala Cave in 1986, included it in my 1992 book Middle Land Middle Way; A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Buddha’s India and since then pilgrim’s have started visiting the place again. But now a website called Nalanda Insatiable in Offering (from now on NIO) is claiming another location for the cave. Don’t let NIO’s strange name put you off; it is a carefully researched and informative resource on the lesser known sites associated with the Buddha. According to NIO the cave is actually on a hill named Pawati some 20 k north-east from Giriek at the very end of the Rajgir hills. I visited Pawati during one of my journeys through Bihar years ago but failed to see the cave. It is a rather attractive place but is its cave the Indasala? NIO’s claim is base mainly on the fact that Pawati a steep-sided hill rising suddenly out of the surrounding plain and Xuanzang’s account of his visit to the cave says that it was on the side of “an isolated hill”. NIO has followed Samual Beal’s 1884 pioneering but inaccurate translation of Xuanzang’s travelogue. Unfortunately, the original Chinese says nothing about the hill being “isolated”, as Li Rongxi’s more accurate translation of 1996 shows. This, I think undermines NIO’s claim and thus we can still consider the earlier (Cunningham’s and my own) identification to be the true Indasala Cave. So if the cave on Pawati Hill is not the Indasala what is it? According to Udana 39 there was another cave near Rajagaha called Kapotakandara, the Pigeon’s Cave. Now another word for pigeon in Pali/Sanskrit is paravata which becomes parawa in Hindi. I suspect that Pawati is a contraction of parawata and that the cave on Pawati Hill is actually the Pigeon’s Cave.
You can find the NIO website at
The top photo is of Pawati Hill and the second is of me in the Indasala Cave in 1986Below are some ancient depictions of the Buddha delivering the Sakapanha Sutta. The last sculpture has some wild animals charming over the rocks around the Indasala Cave; a delightful touch.