The inspiring Udayagiri and Khandagiri Cave temples of Odisha – built in First BCE

India is not only well known for big Hindu and Buddhist temples made of hard stones or bricks, following different architectural styles natives to the respective regions. In the south Dravida temple architecture is quite well-known and in the east or northern regions, the main style being followed is Nagara. Equally famous  are the cave temples often referred to as rock-cut temples representing  both Hinduism as well as Buddhism. The rock-cut temples are found more in abundance in this country than other parts of the world.  The Indian-rock-cut temples’ design  is varied from place to place. This type of temple is created by carving out of a solid natural rock mass. What is left after strenuous carving will form the architectural elements of the excavated interior parts.  Such  cave temples are mainly religious in nature.  These antiquated  ancient and medieval structures  represent splendid  achievements in the realm of structural engineering with particular reference to load-bearing  and craftsmanship that represents meticulous  carving of excavated rocks.   

Rani Gumpha Ground floor. Udayagiri caves,Odisha, en.wikipedia.org

Rani Gumpha 1st.  floor. Udayagiri caves,Odisha, en.wikipedia.org

The state of Odisha has many  cave temples  and  the famous ones are the Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves that are close to the state capital,  Bhubaneswar city. They are on the adjacent hills of Udayagiri (meaning “Sunrise Hill”)and Khandagiri; the former has 18 caves while  the latter has 15 caves.  The numerous  ornate and beautifully carved  caves were built during the 1st century BCE.  Apparently, they were  meant to serve as residential blocks for  the travelling Jaina monks during the reign of King Kharavela. These caves way back served as an abode of Jaina ascetics.  The  Ranigumpha  group in Udayagiri is an impressive one with two-story monastery.  The other well-known caves are Hathi gumpha, Ananta gumpha, Ganesha gumpha, Jaya Vijaya gumpha, Mancapuri gumpha, Bagha/Byaghra/Vyaghra gumpha and Sarpa gumpha. Unlike Khandagiri, the Udayagiri caves are better maintained  and have fascinating carved figures of artistic value and elegance.  As for  Khandagiri Gumpha, it is a roughly cut cell with double story structure.

Hathi Gumpha, Udayagiri caves, wikipedia org
Tiger (Bagha/Byaghra Gumpha)Udyagiri caves, Wikipedia org

As per the Hathigumpha inscription, a total of 117 caves were  excavated by Kharavela and others on the Kumari hill (Udayagiri). However, the existing caves are far less  as mentioned earlier  18 at Udayagiri  and 15 at  Khandagiri has 15.  In Udayagiri, Hathigumpha (cave 14) and Ganeshagumpha (cave 10) are historically  quite popular for their fine sculptures and  amazing  reliefs  works.  Raninka Na’ara (Queen’s Palace cave, cave 1) is an attractive one for their elaborate sculptural finesse and planned embellishments. It is an extensively carved cave and gets our attention.   The Ananta cave (cave 3) carries the well-carved  images  of women, elephants, athletes, and geese with  flowers.   

The Hathigumpha cave (“Elephant Cave”) has the Hathigumpha inscription, written by Raja Kharavela, the ruler  of Kalinga during the 2nd century BCE. The Hathigumpha inscription was in  Brahmi letters, deeply incised into the rocks.  There are many minor inscriptions in Brahmini.   Mancapuri cave inscription (Upper story)  is an interesting one dealing with  the construction of temple of arhats and excavation of cave for Jain monks by Aga-mahisi, chief queen of Kharavela. The inscription also mention Kharavela as chakravatin of Kalinga.

Udayagiri/khandangiri caves, wikipedia.org

Above image: Carving of Rishabhanatha (first tirthankara of Jainism)  and Ambika, Ambika Gumpha

Among the caves of these two hills, Rani Gumpha, the largest and most popular cave is  a double story structure and is fine piece of  architectural work with some astonishingly  beautiful sculptures.. Each story has three wings and the central one being the biggest. The upper part of the central wing has relief images depicting the victory march of a king 

Sentinel-Dwarapala. Udayagiri caves,Odisha, en.wikipedia.org

The lower floor has seven entrances in the middle wing whereas the upper floor has nine columns. An interesting feature is many of the cells have the images of sentinels – dwarapalas. The connecting area with the  central wing and right and left wings  have some panel. They carry the  sculptures of wild animals, fruit-laden trees, human figures, women playing musical instruments, monkeys and playful elephants are found.  The pilasters have arches –  decorated toranas  with  Jain religious sculptures and royal scenes.

Under the control of the ASI, a visitor to Odisha should not miss these cave temples. that come under the protected monuments. 



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