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Saturday 29 April 2023

Udayagiri Caves - The Rani Gumpha Heritage

Long shot of pilasters and friezes in Rani Gumpha 

In the first part – I just touched upon a few details about the ancient rock-cut caves of Udayagiri in Odisha. Unlike Ellora, Ajanta, Karla caves in Maharashtra or Badami caves in Karnataka, the Udayagiri caves are unique as the art of carvings started some 2200 years ago and has stood the test of time amidst a vast spread of dense jungle.

A view of ground floor carvings at the entry point 

Very few of the 18 caves are carved as they are just dormitory accommodation for Jain monks. However, some fine carvings in about 2-3 caves are very important as this seems to be the first time that stone carvings made a beginning in the Indian sub-continent.

Long shot of Rani Gumpha 

Rani Gumpha or the Queen’s Cave is a double storied structure that demonstrates this new chapter in Indian architecture. Here we see elaborate carvings and embellishments on the arches, pilasters, and door sills. 

A frieze depicting a hunting scene 

In these caves, the cells have been built on three sides starting from the first century. Each floor has three wings with the central wing being big and elaborately carved.

Elaborately carved first floor 

The heavily sculptured friezes all along the cells of Rani Gumpha have motifs of animals, plants, lotus, creepers, and depicting the way of life in forests.

The doorway of these cells has pilasters on either side with crowning animal figures with arches over them decorated with flowers, creepers, and animal motifs.

Fine carvings of trees, fruits, women, etc.

Although the first floor of the Rani Gumpha is more elaborately carved, even the ground floor has beautiful door arches and pillars while some portions still have some standing warrior figurines.

Another frieze depicting elephants, yakshinis, etc. 

The central wing of the first floor has carvings of the victory procession of maybe, King Kharavela. However, the right and left wings have carvings of wild elephants, fruit-bearing trees, fruits, men, women, playing of musical instruments, playful monkeys, etc. The door arches have received significant importance with carvings of royal scenes and Jain religious practices.

Another view of first floor carvings

There are many different interpretations to all the carvings of elephants, women in a lotus pond and the Yakshini’s in one of the friezes. Many of the cells have dwarpalas figures which are partly damaged or disfigured.

Many carvings in Rani Gumpha are badly damaged while finer details have been lost. Apart from this, many areas of the cave have sustained notable cracks, fractures. But taking a walk down the timeworn past of India and that too of a BCE era, one should not miss visiting Udayagiri Caves as one can see the development of carvings of this great country.

Stay here with me for Part-3 as I will bring more stories about Udayagiri caves of Odisha.

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