Monday, December 26, 2016

Khandagiri and Udayagiri Caves - Bhubaneswar - Khordha - Odisha

Khandagiri and Udayagiri Caves:

The twin hills Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves are located in the vicinity of Bhubaneswar town. The National Highway No.5 passes through the close proximity of the hills. These two hills represent one of the earliest groups of Jaina rock-cut architecture in eastern India in the field of architecture, art and religion. These caves were first brought to the notice by A. Stirling in 1825 A.D.

Called lena, in the inscriptions, the caves of Udayagiri and Khandagin are essentially dwelling retreats or cells of the Jain ascetics, opening directly into the verandah or the open space in front. Mostly excavated near the top of the ledge or boulder, they simply provided dry shelter for meditation and prayer, with very little amenities even for small comforts. The height being too low, does not allow a man to stand erect. 

Each cell was tenanted by several monks. The cells are austerely plain, but their facades are encrusted with sculptures depicting auspicious objects worshipped by Jains, court scenes, royal processions, hunting expeditions and scenes of daily life. The austere later additions, when Jainism no longer enjoyed royal patronage in this part, show 24 Jain tirthankars. At present, all the important caves have been numbered for to avoid confusion in nomenclature.

From Bhubaneswar, Udayagiri is the hill on the right and access to its 18 caves is provided by a flight of steps. The largest and the most beautiful, Cave 1, Rani Gumpha or Queen's Cave, off the pain path to the right is double storeyed. Excavated on three sides of a quadrangle with fine wall friezes and some recently restored pillars, not exactly architectural marvel, but has some beautiful sculptures. 

The right wing of the lower storey consists of a single cell with three entrances and a pillared varandah. On the walls, flanking the terminal pilasters of the verandah, are carved two dwara palas (sentries). The pilasters of entrances to the cell are embellished with side pilasters crowned by animals. Over them there are toranas (arches) relieved with religious and royal scenes-couple standing reverentially with folded hands, a female dancer with accompanying female musicians, etc. 

The main central wing, consisting of four cells, has themes apparently indicating victory march of a king, starting from his capital and returning back after passing through various lands. At the angles, where the right and left wings meet, are two small guard rooms which are lavishly decorated-springs cascading down the hills, fruits laden trees, wild animals, sporting elephants in lotus pools, etc. 

In the better preserved Upper Storey there are six cells, one each in the left and right wings and four in the rear. All the four cells of the main wing are provided with two doorways each, flanked by two pilasters, from which springs a ornately carved torana (arch) with auspicious Jain symbols (snake and lotus), and friezes depicting scenes laid in wild surroundings story reminiscent of Dushyanta's first meeting with Sakuntala, a dance performance for the royal couple, etc. 

Cave 2, Chota Hathi Gumpha, or Small Elephant Cave, is notable for its facade having masterly carving of six vigorous elephants flanking its entrance. Cave 4, Alakapuri Gumpha, contain sculptures of a lion holding a prey, in its mouth, and pillars topped by pairs of winged animals, some human and some bird headed. Cave 5, Jaya Vijaya Gumpha, is double storeyed and a bodhi tree is carved in the central apartment. The high sanctity of the tree is represented by an umbrella over it and being worshipped by a couple on either side. 

Cave 9, Manchapuri and Swargapuri up the hill and around to right house a damaged relief, the subject of which is worship of some Jain religious symbol. The assemblage on the right is a group of four, votaries with folded hands, dressed in long dhotis, scarves and heavy kundalas (ear rings). The second crowned figure from the left is thought to be the Chedi King, Vakradeva, whose donative inscription occurs on the roof-line of the facade of the cell to the right side of the varandah.

Cave 10, Ganesh Gumpha, about 50 m from the top of the steps takes its name from the figure of Ganesh carved on the back of its right cell. The carvings tell the story of the elopement of Bassavadatta, Princess of Ujjayini, with King Udayan of Kausambi in the company of Vasantaka. Proceeding to the top of the Udayagiri Hill by a pathway to right, the visitor will reach the ruins of an apsidal structure, unearthed in 1958. This Chaitya hall was the place of worship by the monks and in all probability once housed the legendary Kalinga-Jina that Kharavel recovered after it had been removed by Nanda king of Magadha.

Below the ruins is Cave 12, Bagh Gumpha or Tiger cave, so called on account of its front carved into the shape of a tiger's mouth, with distended upper jaw, full of teeth, forming the roof of the verandah and the gullet forming the entrance. The Cave 14, Hathi Gumpha or Elephant Cave is a large natural cavern and on the walls are scratched a few names. Architecturally plain, but a 117 line famous inscription of king Kharavel is important. It relates to the life history of Kharavel, his expeditions and exploits off the battlefield inscribed in the Magadhi characters.

Coming down to the main road by a flight of steps in front of Cave 17 of Udayagiri and going up the road for about 15m, the visitor will find a track to his left leading to the summit of the Khandagiri hill. Following this track for a few meters, brings you at Cave 1 and 2, known as Tatowa Gumpha or Parrot Caves, known so from the figures of parrots carved on the arches of their doorways.

Guarding the entrance to Cave 1, are two sentries in dhotis and scarves and armed with swords. Between the two arches of the doorways providing entrance to cell is a one line inscription calling the cave that of Kusuna. Cave 2 is more spacious and its decorations more elaborate. On the back wall of the cell are Brahmi inscriptions in red pigment, of the first century BC to first century AD, presumably scrawled by a monk in attempt to improve his handwriting. 

Farther ascending by the same flight of steps, the path goes to Cave 3, Ananta Gumpha or Snake Cave after the figures of twin serpents on the door arches. It is one of the most important caves on the Khandagiri hill on account of its unique motifs in some relief figures of boys chasing animals including lions and bulls, geese with spread wings holding in its bill the stalk of a lotus bud or a blue lotus, a royal elephant flanked by a smaller one carrying lotus flower, a female figure driving a chariot drawn by four horses and the Lakshmi in a lotus pool being bathed with water from pitchers held by two elephants. 

On the back wall of the cell is carved a nandipada on a stepped pedestal flanked on either side by a set of three symbols-a triangle headed symbol, a srivatsa and a swastika, auspicious to the Jains. Cave 7, Navamuni Gumpha, called so due to the figures of nine (nava) tirthankars carved on the back and right walls and Cave 8, Barabhuji Gumpha, named so from two 12 armed (bara-bhuj) figures of sasana-devis carved on the side walls of the verandah, both also have relief of Hindu deities. 

The last noteworthy Cave out of 15 Caves of Khandagiri, Cave 9, like Cave 8 was also reconverted in medieval times. Ranged along the three sides of the chamber is the relief of 24 robeless tirthankars. Except for the three standing images of Rishabnath, the rest of images exhibit some crude workmanship.

The 18th century, Jain Temple, at the top of the hill dedicated to Rishabnath, was most probably built on the site of an earlier shrine. The temple enshrines some old tirthankars and affords a panoramic view across the plains. The site, every year, late in January, for a week attracts holy men who assemble on the hillside to intone verses from Hindu epics and meditate. A lively fair comes up at the foot of hills attracting crowds who enjoy the religious spectacle and the shops set along the roadside do brisk business.