It cannot be said with certainty as who had taken the pains to create sculptures of this magnitude. As per ASI these sculptures of Unakoti can be dated back to 11th or 12th Century patronized by the Pal dynasty. As per the ASI board, traces of a brick temple on the hilltop was found and it is perceived that this temple was older than the sculptures datable to 9th & 10th Century AD. Thus it could be assumed that Unakoti flourished as a great Hindu pilgrimage place for over 300 years.
Monday, December 1, 2014
UNAKOTI : ABODE OF LORD SHIVA IN TRIPURA
Nestled deep inside lush green valley surrounded by forests and hills, Unakoti is the famous ‘Shaibatirtha” (Shiva Pilgrimage) of Tripura. ‘Unakoti” means ‘one less than a crore’ in Bengali and legend has it that ‘Unakoti’ has images & sculptures of that many gods and goddesses curved out of the rock faces of Raghunandan hill range.
I never had a chance to count them, indeed there were many all across the hillocks. It’s one of the most amazing places that I have been to. There are legends associated with place and I was not surprised as it is a pilgrimage site like no other. I was first mesmerized by the rock cut temples, caves and sculptures of Ellora and that in my mind is undoubtedly the finest in India. These bas-relief and stone images were nowhere near Ellora’s art, in terms of intricacy, fine detailing and overall grandeur but Unakoti is great in it’s own right. Though this is a Hindu pilgrimage site I couldn’t but help noticing the distinct tribal influence on the sculptures of the Gods and Goddesses. The faces, the ornaments everything has a subtle hint of tribal art. This was tribal land and it will be only fair to assume that Unakoti was created by the local artisans.
Anyway the legends are quite interesting and there are mainly two stories go with it. According to the first, Lord Shiva was travelling to the holy city of Kashi (Varanasi) with an accompaniment of one crore Gods and Goddesses and he chooses Unakoti as a place for night halt. Lord Shiva instructed everybody to get up before sunrise the next day for an early start. Come dawn the next day and Lord Shiva found that he was the only one awake. This had angered him and he had cursed all others to turn into stone images.
The other myth goes like this. There was a local artisan and potter called ‘Kallu Kumhar” who was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. Upon his fervent prayer and insistence of Parvati, Shiva agreed to fulfil his wish of going to Kailash, the abode of Shiva & Parvati. But he put one condition to his grant. He had to sculpt a koti (one crore) images of Shiva, Parvati, Nandi, Ganesha and other gods and goddesses in ONE night and must finish before the first rays of sun hits the earth. Kallu Kumhar, took the challenge and worked on like a man possessed. But as luck would have it he was still short of one image when the ray of sunlight touched the earth thus dissipating his hope of visiting Kailash in person.
I approached the entrance with lot of curiosity. The entry is from the top and as I stood on the first step of stairs which went down the valley I could see below me, the huge bas-relief sculptures as well as stone images everywhere, spread out in a half moon shape.
As I started my descent I could see on the rock face on my right, two huge female faces, probably of Goddesses whom I could not identify. Both the faces have decorated headgears, necklaces and also what looked like oversized round shaped ear ornaments which stood very prominent.
At the bottom of the valley, dominating the scene and also the centre point of attraction is obviously the huge face of Lord Shiva known as ‘Unakotishwar Kal Bhairab”. This is a bas-sculpture of just the face of Lord Shiva on the vertical rock face, with three eyes and a gigantic decorated head gear. The head is measuring 30 feet including the 10 feet tall headgear would be one of the largest that are found in India. Again I could see similar type of large ear ornaments on the ears of the Shiva face.
Flanking the head gear from both sides are two exquisitely curved female figures astride what appears to be Lions. These could be images of ‘Durga’.
In the front, half buried in the ground are three huge stone images of ‘Nandi’ the bull. Series of decorative bells intricately curved out of stone adorned their backs.
Further up, again half buried in the ground is another huge sculpture of a huge tortoise which I presume is the representation of ‘Kurma Avatar’ (one of the incarnation of Lord Vishnu) of as described in Hindu Purana.
Further up on the upper left side of the Shiva Face I could see another rock cut sculpture of female face similar to the ones at the entrance. Further up diagonally is a full body sculpture of what looked like a male figure (I could be wrong) with four hands with a drawn bow & arrow. A natural waterfall coming from somewhere on the hilltop flows from the right hand side of the face of Shiva and created a small ‘Kunda’ or pool in front.
The Unakotishwar Shiva is worshipped daily and a priest stays there. Flowers were strewn in front evidencing regular flow of the devotees.
Further down the hillock as I climbed down the long stone steps for some fifty meters, another set of interesting sculptures emerged in front of my eyes.
These were the famous ‘Ganeshas’ of Unakoti. On the vertical rock face which looked almost like the wall of a gallery are three imposing Ganeshas curved out of the rock. On the right a gigantic image of a seated Ganesha with four hands. The dress has amazing details with the knot at the belly seemed almost lifelike. There are two more standing Ganesha statues on the left. The one in the middle is a sarbhuja (six armed) Ganesha with three tusks and the one on the left is an asthabhuja (eight armed) Ganesha with four tusks.
The place is beautiful. I came from Dharmanagar which is some 22 KMs away. From Dharmanagar it’s beautiful winding road cutting through forests and hills and going to Kailasahar, district headquarter of North Tripura District. I couldn’t find a single straight stretch on this road, all the time our car was taking the curves as we wound our way up and down. When I reached there was hardly a soul present except for the lone priest and a sage who lives in a hut at the hilltop. No sounds of civilization, I would hear the typical sounds of the forest, sound of wind passing through the trees and the foliage, the gurgle of the small waterfall and calling of birds. However in the month of April every year the serenity of this place suddenly breaks as thousands of devotees throng this place on account of ‘Asokastami’ and a fair is also held. There is another festival in January.
HOW TO REACH:
Unakoti is about 190KMs from the state capital Agartala which is connected by air from Kolkata & Guwahati. From Agartala one can take a train to Kumargram station on the Agartala Lamding line. But beware this train service is meter gauge and often not reliable. As on November 2014, the conversion to broad-gauge was in progress and thus the train service has become more irregular. There is only one AC coach and it may not be attached even if you have reservation. As of now the best way to travel is by bus from Agartala which would take close to six hours. Else you can hire a car to Kailasahar or Dharmanagar which will take about five hours. Roads are single lane, not in great shape at all places but manageable by a small hatchback. Kailasahar is the closest town and Unakoti is about 8 KMs from Kailasahar. Dharmanagar is another prominent city which is 22 KMs away. From Dharmanagar or Kailasahar hire a private car to take you to Unakoti as local transport like bus is not easily available and it’s a completely deserted place.
WHERE TO STAY:
You can either stay at Kailasahar or Dharmanagar. Unakoti has ‘Unakoti Tourist Lodge’ run by Tripura tourism. At Dharmanagar you can stay at ‘Uttermegh Tourist Lodge’ or at “Hotel Pachabati” which is a good private hotel offering comfortable AC accommodation. I have always stayed at this hotel. This is nice, clean and conveniently located. A double bed AC room will cost around INR 1500 – 1800. Since accommodation is limited it is wiser to go with prior booking.
WHAT TO EAT:
There are no interesting cuisines or eating places to recommend around this region. Basic food is available at the hotels only and they will serve basic Bengali cuisine. Both Dharmanagar and Kailasahar are very small towns with hardly any restaurants. One word of caution though. When you visit Unakoti, please carry your own food and mineral water as NOTHING is available in the vicinity. To see the whole place it will take at least half a day. Also be ready to take lot of climb up and down through the stony stairs which for the uninitiated, could be quite taxing for your knees and lungs. Also if you visit during warmer months it could be awfully hot so please do not forget to carry your water bottles along and keep drinking a lot of water at regular intervals.