The world is full of mysterious historical places lurking out on the fringe and steeped in lore and legend. The people of the past often have a way of leaving mysteries and clues that taunt us with answers that will never come. Some of the most intriguing of these concern lost treasures that have been cloaked in the mists of myth and time, lying somewhere between reality and a fairy tale. Out in the wilds of India is one such place, which reportedly holds a vast treasure inaccessible unless you know the magic words.
Sitting within the ancient city of Rajgir, in the state of Bihar in India, and lying at the at the foot of the Vaibhar Hills are two adjacent caves called the Son Bhandar caves. At a glance they don’t seem very remarkable, but the caves have a deep and mysterious history that has managed to make them legendary, as well as many enigmas that are still not fully understood. The caves are artificial, hewn right into the rock in the 3rd or 4th century, possibly even earlier, and are remarkable in that, rather than rough stone walls, the interior is completely and painstakingly polished to a mirror sheen. Above the trapezoidal entrance door of the main cave there is an inscription in the Gupta script carved into the stone that makes mention of a wise man called a Jain Muni by the name of Vairadeva, and reads “Muni Vairadeva, the jewel among the acaryas and of great lustre, caused to be made the two auspicious caves which are worthy of ascetics and in which were placed the images of arhats.”
It is not really known what the exact purpose of these caves was, but it is thought that they served as either a Vishnu shrine, or a sanctuary for Jain ascetics to live in during the 3rd and 4th centuries, alluded to by the many historical sculptures and engravings they left behind. However, according to the lore of this place it may have served a different purpose as a hiding place for a vast treasure trove that is said to still remain somewhere in the dank depths of a secret passage and can only be accessed with a magic word, not unlike the legend of “open sesame” from "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" lore. Indeed, so pervasive is this legend that the name “Son Bhandar” itself translates to store of gold, and it has truly added a layer of mystique to this place.
The story of the treasure of the caves revolves around a King Bimbisara, who became king at the age of 15 and created the vast and powerful kingdom of the Magadhan empire. Throughout his reign his empire spread far and wide, and he collected massive amounts of wealth, yet through his friendship with Gautam Buddha he began to seek the spiritual over the material in his later years. And so he began to give his wealth away to various Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist monks, an act which was not appreciated by his son, Ajatashatru, who betrayed his father and had the king imprisoned. Yet, the King Bimbisara’s wife is said to have then secretly hidden away the remaining wealth in the Son Bhandar caves so that her treacherous son would never get his hands on it, and a monk then used mystical, spiritual magic to lock it away forever. When Ajatashatru and his army scoured the caves to take back the treasure they found nothing, and so according to the legend, it remains there to this day.
According to the tale, the treasure lies within a secret passageway, and is locked behind an impenetrable wall that will only open when the proper mantra is recited. In fact, there is an outline carved into the rock in the form of a doorway within the cave that bears a mysterious inscription that is supposedly the correct password. One need only read out this mantra and the formidable rock will open up to reveal its treasures within, but the problem is that it is written in the cryptic lost language of Shankhalipi, all records of which were long ago wiped out by Islamic invaders, and so no one has yet been able to decipher it. This has not stopped many from trying, with thousands of people, both amateur and professionals alike trying to break the mysterious code over the centuries to no avail. Supposedly only King Bimbisara knew the exact way to open the doorway, but he took it to his grave when he died in prison by his own hand.
In some cases, people have tried a more direct approach. When the British took control of India, they heard of the legends of the Son Bhandar caves and went about trying to pry it from the rock through force. They allegedly fired upon the walls of the cave with cannon fire, destroying large swaths of the caves, but the wall behind which the treasure supposedly lies was said to be virtually unscathed. Indeed, to this day there are black marks on the wall around the mysterious inscription that purportedly are from the cannon balls striking the wall, making it all the more intriguing. What is with this cave? What are its secrets? We can only wonder what lies there in the dark, wreathed in legend and myths, possibly waiting for the right one to come along and unlock it all.