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
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.