The Udayagiri Khandagiri Monuments of Ancient India

Bagha Gumpha - side view

Bagha Gumpha - side view (Photo credit: zeeble)

New Delhi, April 11, 2012 (Washington Bangla Radio / PIB India) Udaygiri and Khandagiri two hills near Bhubaneshwar contain unique monuments of ancient India, the Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves. These sites are mentioned as the ‘Kumari Parvat’ in the Hathigumpha inscription. The two cave sites are located about 200 meters apart, facing each other. Not as famous as Ajanta and Ellora, but these caves are finely and ornately carved, and were built from huge residential blocks during the reign of King Kharavela, wherein they served as resting places for Jain ascetics on their journey to Nirvana. They command unique position in the field of history, architecture, art and religion. Udayagiri has 18 caves and Khandagiri has 15 caves. Some of the caves are natural but it is believed that most were carved out by Jain monks and they belong to the earliest Jain rock cut temples.

Caves called ‘lena’ in the inscriptions found in the caves have been scooped out, perhaps over endless full moons. The openings are like doorways and light can enter throughout the day and keep the stone floors warm, and moonlight can enter at night and light up the caves. The caves were home to ascetics who renounced the world to experiment with Nirvana, using the flow of energy of bodies and minds. Here they were in unison with nature, in the midst of fragrant flowers, chirping birds, the rustle of leaves, the warm sun and the cool moon. The caves were also places for monks to meditate in peace and quiet and to do austere penance; and for scholars who came here in their quest of truth, peace, eternal salvation and beauty.

The Udayagiri caves are approximately 135 feet high and the Khandagiri caves are 118 feet high, and date back to 2nd century B.C. The caves are reminiscent of Buddhist and Jain influences in Odisha. The hills which are honey-combed with caves, reveal sculptural art centered on the life and times of Jain ascetics. The caves were built by King Kharavela, the King of Kalinga- ancient Odisha (circa 209- after 170 BC) in the first century. Kharavela was subdued by the great Mauryan King Ashoka. Although inclined towards Jainism, Kharavela was liberal regarding religious questions.

Mostly excavated near the top of a ledge or boulder, the cells simply provided dry shelter for meditation and prayer. They have an opening directly into the verandah or courtyard. There are minimal amenities even for small comforts: the height is too low for a person to stand erect, and essentially they were dwelling retreats or just sleeping compartments. Several monks used to stay in one cell. One striking feature of the cell is a raised floor on the opposite side of the opening which might have served the purpose of a pillow to sleep. While the cells are cramped, low scuffed and austerely plain, their facades are encrusted with inscriptions and sculptures depicting various objects. The Archaeological Survey of India numbered the caves and all have individual names based on these objects. Objects include court scenes, birds, animals, royal processions, hunting expeditions and scenes of daily life. The inscriptions which are in Brahmi start with the fundamental mantra of Jainism- the Namokar Mantra. They then depict the life and deeds of King Kharavela, “the worshipper of all religious orders and the repairer of all shrines of Gods”. They also describe the patrons of separate caves. Many people of royal descent were patrons. As Ashoka took over the possessions of Kharavela, the previously favored Jain religion gradually gave way to Buddhism.


The floor in Udaygiri is laid with leveled blocks of stone. Eighteen caves can be accessed by a flight of steps. Cave 1 is Ranigumpha cave or Queen’s cave, a double storey structure. It is famous for its exceptional acoustic characteristic and is believed to be used for chants and theatre performances. It also has an image of Surya riding a chariot. The right wing of the lower storey has a single cell with three entrances and a pillared verandah. It has been excavated on three sides of a quadrangle with fine wall friezes. It has some beautiful sculptures, including two sentries at the entrance. The pilasters to the entrance have fine wall friezes, animals, toranas (arches) with religious and royal scenes. There is also a couple standing with folded hands, a female dancer with accompanying musicians.

The central wing has four cells. Victory march of a king and his journey are depicted here. There are guard rooms decorated with a spring cascading down a hill, fruit laden trees, wild animals, monkeys, and sporting elephants in a lotus pool. The upper storey has six cells, one each in right and left wing and four in the rear. All four cells have two doorways each with two pilasters. The toranas here have auspicious Jain symbols like snakes and lotuses, King Dushyant’s first meeting with Shakuntala, and dance performances.

Cave 2 is Bajaghar Gumpha with two massive built columns in front and additional inner columns. Cave 3 is known as Chota Hathi Gumpha. There are masterfully carved six vigorous elephants flanking the entrance. Cave 4 is Alakapuri Gumpha- double storeyed, with a sculpture of a lion holding a prey in its mouth, and pairs of winged creatures, people, animals atop the pillars. A bodhi tree has been carved in the central apartment.

Caves 5, 6, 7 and 8 are known as Jaya-Vijaya Gumpha, Panasa Gumpha, Thakurani Gumpha and Patalpuri Gumpha respectively; wherein the 5th and 7th caves are double storey. These are adorned with paintings, carvings of winged animals, etc. Manchapuri and Swargapuri caves are cave 9, a double storeyed cave with several sculptures and inscriptions. There are four votaries with folded hands, dressed in long dhotis, scarves and heavy kundalas (earings). This cave has a crowned figure believed to be that of Chedi King, Vakradeva.

Cave 10, Ganesha Gumpha, has a Chaitya hall, the place of worship for monks, two dwelling cells with low ceilings and a verandah in a famous relief of Ganesha. It also contains a carving with Jain Tirthankara. Jambesvara Gumpha- cave 11 is a small one with two plain door-openings and  Vyaghra  Gumpha –cave 12  is a low cell with two door opening. Its front is carved in the shape of a tiger’s mouth with a distended upper jaw full of teeth. It forms the roof of the verandah and the gullet forming the entrance. Sarpa Gumpha- cave 13 is an unusually small cave with adornment above the entrance. Here the famous inscription regarding life history of Kharavel is written in the Magadhi language. Other caves include Hathi Gumpha, cave 14, Dhanaghara Gumpha-cave 15, Haridasa Gumpha-cave 16, Jagammath Gumpha- cave 17 and Rosai Gumpha-cave 18.

Khandagiri Caves

The first and second caves are  Tatowa Gumpha 1 and 2,  richly decorated caves with two guards at the entrance and also two bulls and two lions. Parrots are carved above the entrance arch. Cave 3, Ananta Gumpha contains exquisite sculptures of women, elephants, athletes, and geese carrying flowers. Cave 4 is Tentuli Gumpha.

Cave 5, i. e. Khandagiri Gumpha is a double storey, roughly cut cave. Caves 12,13 and 14 have no names. Caves 6 to 11 have been named as Dhyan Gumpha, Nayamuni Gumpha, Barabhuja Gumpha, Trusula Gumpha,  Ambika Gumpha and Lalatendukesri Gumpha. There are reliefs of Jain tirthankars, Mahavira and Parsvanatha on the rear wall of cave 11. Cave 14 is a simple cell and is known as Ekadasi Gumpha.

- PIB Feature

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