“How were they made? Who carved them? So many, and that too in the 8th century, seems impossible?” If you are asking yourself or those around you these questions while in Tripura, it is highly probable that you have just reached the Unakoti hills and what is unfolding before you is something your eyes are seeing but the mind remains in disbelief! Though the answers to your questions are yet a mystery, you are about to enter a world of rock carvings, fascinating legends, all amidst sprawling green surroundings and roaring waterfalls. Welcome to Unakoti! One of India’s largest bas relief structures (bas relief is a type of art in which shapes are cut from surrounding stones).
Rock carvings at Unakoti (Image credits:wikipedia)
This place, formerly called as Subrai Khung in Kokborok (the native language) is now known as Unakoti, which means one less than a crore or 99, 99,999. It gets its name from many a fascinating story from Hindu mythology. According to one legend, Lord Shiva was once travelling to Kashi accompanied by 99,99,999 Gods and Goddesses. They reached Unakoti during nightfall, decided to halt there and resume the journey at day-break. Weary from the long journey, none of the deities woke up in the morning. Infuriated, Lord Shiva, cursed the 99,99,999 Gods and Goddesses to turn into stones and he continued the journey to Kashi alone. Unakoti refers to the number of deities who were turned into stone by Shiva’s rage. There are said to be 99,99,999 stone sculptors and carvings at this place. The Archaeological Survey of India believe that there are statues and bas reliefs in the forest yet to be discovered!
Another legend tells the story of a devotee named KullaKumbha, who to please Lord Shiva, agrees to carve out figurines of one crore Gods and Goddesses in a single night. At day break, he is short of one. Hence the name, Unakoti. The natives of this region have a number of such enchanting stories to narrate.
Nestled in the mountains, deep within the forests, amid beautiful landscapes, as one enters the site, there is a feeling of being back in time! It is enlightening how this place has evolved gradually over centuries. The rock carvings spread over an area of a kilometer make one feel like the entire valley must have been one gigantic temple! The sheer number of carvings added to the hardness of the rock makes one wonder at the tremendous effort that went into creating these wonders.
Each rock carving deserves your attention, but the one that will catch your attention in any case is the Unakotiswara Kal Bhairava. Large facial features of Lord Shiva are sculpted on a monolithic rock. He is seen in his meditating form, eyes closed, calm, very unlike the legend that speaks of his wrath. At 30 feet in height with an intricately carved crown of 10 feet, this is one masterpiece.
Among other note-worthy rock-cut carvings are two figurines of Goddesses Durga and Ganga, gigantic carvings of Lord Ganesha and three half-buried carvings of Nandi, the vehicle of Lord Shiva.
During the months of April, the Ashokashtami festival is celebrated with much devotion. Many take a plunge in the waters of the sacred Ashtamikunda here. Shivaratri and Makar Sankranti also see an influx of devotees.
Whether one considers this place a pilgrim spot, historical site or a natural beauty, Unakoti lives up to all the images. Authorities say that Unakoti might be added the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Maybe, this would pave the way for higher maintenance, more research on the history and origins of these works of art and unearth some of their mystery!
Entry at Unakoti
There is no entry fee. Only mobile phones and cameras can be taken in. While bags of any kind are not permitted, it might be a good idea to carry a bottle of water, given the steep climbs within the site.
Featured image credits: Shubham Singh
How to Get There
From Agartala or Dharmanagar to Unakoti
At 178 kms from Agartala, Unakoti can be reached by cab from Tripura’s capital city. Another option is the morning train from Agartala to Dharmanagar followed by a taxi ride, giving you a chance to explore a local train journey on your way.