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Tuesday 16 May 2023

Udayagiri Caves – The Prakrit Inscriptions

A side view of the Udayagiri Caves

There is more to Udayagiri Caves at Bhubaneshwar in Odisha as in the last 2200 years, many auxiliary structures have been added. A few caves show these additions (albeit highly damaged) from century to century.

As we climbed the hill that is strewn with rock-cut caves from one end to the other, our guide elaborated on the significance of some caves like the Hathi Gumpha with its famous inscriptions.

The famous Prakrit Inscription in the Hathi Gumpha

Another view of the inscription

Dated between 2nd century BCE and first century CE, Jain King Kharavela has left his footprints with a 17-line inscription in Prakrit language. This inscription talks about his battles, public works & developments, art, culture, stages of life, and religious rituals.

A view of the Hathi Gumpha with supporting columns

Situated on the western side of Rani Gumpha, Cave-14 - Hathi Gumpha is supported by new columns and structures to provide support to the deteriorating monument. This is a naturally formed cave with a wide opening that is shaped like an eye.

A walk among the rock-cut sandstone caves

Apart from this, other caves like the Vyaghra gumpha, Sarpa gumpha, Chota Hathi gumpha, Ganesha gumpha and Jay-Vijaya are very important and one should not give this a miss.

Ganesh Gumpha with its prominent elephant structure

Cave no-10, Ganesha Gumpha is known for its elephant sculptures. This cave has two cells with a benched verandah.

The arched doorway with its amazing frieze

If the left cell has a Jain tirthankara, the right one has a carving of Ganesha but they are hardly visible in the dark caves. Further, the arched doorway has an amazing, long frieze with scenes of the royal court, musicians, and hunting scenes.

Vyaghra cave with the shape of a Tiger head with wide-open mouth

The Vyaghra Gumpha or the tiger cave is the most photographed structure in the Udayagiri caves. Entry to this dilapidated cave is shaped like a tiger head with a wide-open mouth. This gumpha houses a single cell.

Jaya-Vijaya Gumpha with two female dwarapalas

Apart from this, when you go down the hills and take a left turn towards the entry point, the Jaya-Vijaya caves stand out prominently. A two-storied structure, it is known for its two relief sculptures of female figures (dwarpalas) at the entry to the cave.

Frontal portion of a few caves with single and double cells

Each cave cannot be described, therefore, I have elaborated only on a few monuments. There are many small, single caves and a few double storied structures in Udayagiri with many of them weathering the natural elements and still standing today - supported by pillars and columns.

A window to the development of Indian Carvings

Do not miss seeing the magnificent Udayagiri caves in the thousands of year-old Kalinga kingdom of Odisha as these depict our history and are a window to the development of Indian art and architecture.

Location map:

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