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The Incredible Stone Carvings In Unakoti

Tripura, a small North Eastern state of India, blessed with beautiful hilly terrain enveloped in thick jungles, dotted with tiny villages and small towns. Tripura means Goddess Durga, elder to the trinity- Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh. Agartala, the capital of Tripura is a relatively slow-paced town and yet to be popular. That means fewer tourists and almost no commercialization, which is a huge relief. The fact that it is unexplored adds o the mystery.

We traveled for 5 hours from Agartala (about 180 kilometers) by road that took us through ghat sections and hairpin bends which offered such spectacular views that I wished the drive was endless. The hills are folds upon folds of green silk carpets and so pristine.

We were headed to a This unexplored gem is tucked away in the middle of hilly jungles. Mystery shrouds the place. Who and why are there so many rock carvings. The stories are interesting.

Folklore says that Shiva rested here for a night while going to Kashi with a crore Gods and Goddesses. They were to leave at the sunrise the next morning, Only Shiva woke up before dawn and the rest were turned into stone after sun came up.

Other version talks of a sculptor named Kallu who was a great devotee of Shiva. He wished to stay at Mount Kailash with Lord Shiva and Ma Parvati. To discourage Kallu, Shiva asked him to make crore images of Gods in a single night. Kallu worked like a possessed man but fell short by one image by the crack of dawn. Therefore, Shiva refused to take him to Kailash.

The rock carvings, however, have not been done in a day or a night. In fact, archaeologists have placed the period to be 8th and 14th century AD.

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The magnitude of the carvings is awe inspiring. The whole cliff-sides of many hills are chiseled into beautiful shapes of Gods and Goddesses. There are also stone carvings- numerous of them. They are all just scattered around with no apparent pattern or alignment. These shapes are unlike the intricate carvings in the temples of South India- they are rustic forms but very powerful. It has the power that you see in aborigines’ artwork. The power is raw and strong. It hits you in the gut.

You watch in awe a huge head of Shiva- about 30 feet tall on a cliffside. Shiva’s headgear alone is about 10 feet tall and seems embroidered. Beside him are two Goddesses, Ma Durga riding a lion, and Ma Ganga. He is famous as ‘Unkotiswara Kalbhairava’ and attracts pilgrims from around the area, especially on the Ashokashtami day.

There is a massive carving of Lord Ganesha along with Ravana, Hanuman, Vishnu, and many other lesser-known deities. You cannot but wonder who and how they managed to pull off this idea of cliffside rock carvings in such a secluded jungle. Tripura was ruled by a single dynasty for centuries and their love for art and architecture is reflected by many palaces and such. However, the purpose of the rock carvings stays a mystery. Archeologists believe that it was occupied by Buddhists at some point in time. Beyond that, there are no more clues.

Today, despite being a heritage site, the carvings are not being cared for. Being open to elements of nature, it has suffered deterioration. Maybe there are many more lying hidden in the forests around. It is still quite unexplored.

It is one of the largest and most wonderful rock carvings in the world and it lies in the state of neglect. It’s a pity.

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Featured Photo: Mahishasuramardhini by Srinivasan G under CC BY-SA 2.0

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