Rock Carvings of Tripura

Rock Carvings of Tripura

Rock Carvings of Tripura

Tucked away in the north eastern corner of the country is the state of Tripura. Rich in history, culture, and heritage, the state is also home to a number of rock carvings that decorate its hilly terrain. The rock carvings of Tripura not only accentuate its wilderness and mountainous landscape, but also stand testimony to the glorious secular culture of its society. Major tourist attractions, the rock idols and panels of Unakoti, Debtamura, and Pilak also bear witness to the superlative skills of the rock artists of this region who lived between the 7th and the 15th centuries.

Getting There

Nearest large city – Agartala. The capital of Tripura state is best reached by road or by air. The Agartala Airport, 12 kilometres north of the city, currently serves domestic air traffic, but may soon serve international flights as well. From Agartala, all three regions may be reached by state buses, tourist coaches, or by private taxis. Unakoti – 180 kilometres to the north of Agartala, the capital of Tripura, 8 kilometres from Kailashar. Debtamura – 80 kilometres to the north east of Agartala, 15 kilometres from Amarpur. Pilak – 115 kilometres to the south of Agartala, 66 kilometres from Udaipur (Tripura).

Unakoti – The village of Unakoti in Tripura is testimony to the fantastic rock art of ancient settlers here. Most of the rock carvings of Unakoti can be seen at the Kailashahar region. The region is a famous pilgrimage destination; the Shaiba Shaiva pilgrimage is undertaken by devotees to this beautiful destination. The rock carvings of Unakoti date back to the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries – the times of the Pal dynasty. Most of these carvings depict Lord Shiva, Goddess Durga and other Hindu deities, including Vishnu, Ganesha, Hanuman and Uma-Maheshwar. The colossal 30-foot rock idol of the Unakoti Kalabairava is the most awe-inspiring among these many carvings. There are also some stone nandis (divine bulls, considered to be the vehicles of Shiva) that are in the process of being unearthed.

The Legend of Unakoti – According to legends, the rock carvings of Unakoti are not made by man but are of divine origin. Shiva, the primordial god, along with Goddess Parvati (worshipped as Durga or Mahisasura Mardini) along with their sons Ganesh and Kartik and one thousand crore deities of the Hindu pantheon left their dwellings in Mt. Kailash in the Himalayas and made their way in a procession to Kashi. En route, they decided to make a night halt at Unakoti in Tripura. The state being one of the easternmost receives the sun’s rays earliest. Upon waking when Shiva found the rest of his companions still asleep, he cursed them to turn into stone idols and proceeded on his journey alone.

Debtamura – Debtamura in South Tripura is another site in the state where magnificent rock carvings have held the awe and wonder of tourists for many centuries now. 37 imposing rock carvings were discovered in Chabimura in Debtamura. These include rock relief carvings of Shiva and Parvati, along with lesser idols of Durga as Mahishasura Mardini, Ganesh, and Kartikeya. These panels of rock carvings on the banks of the River Gomati date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Though more recent than those at Unakoti, the rock carvings of Debtamura rival the former in their beauty and finesse.

Pilak – The rock carvings in the Pilak region of Tripura, again dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries AD are a harmonious blend of Hindu and Buddhist motifs and themes – an undying testimony to the peaceful co-existence of both religions in the state at those times. The huge rock carvings found here include imposing images of the Hindu God Narasimha and the Buddhist Avolokiteshwar, a compassionate representation of the Bodhisatva. A large rock image of the Sun God, also found here suggests that the settlers of this part of Tripura were also ardent nature worshippers. This may come as no surprise to the visitors of Tripura since this is one of the most naturally beautiful and bountiful parts of the country. Most of the rock carvings here are preserved and maintained by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI).

Pilak is a veritable treasure of archaeological and historic artifacts. Apart from the rock carvings, a number of terracotta relics have been found here – moulded plaques that bear traditional Buddhist motifs. A number of hidden terracotta and rock relics are still being found here each day which has led historians to suspect that this place may have been close to the Pal and Gupta kings of Bengal who exercised a deep influence on the region. Spread across a 10 sq kilometre area are important places such as Deb Bari, Balir Pathar, Basudeb Bari, Shyam Sundar Tilla, Thakurani Tilla, and Sagar Deba – where the most important of the rock and terracotta panels are located. The ASI has done a commendable job in protecting and preserving these places.

Visitor Information

The banks of the Sitakund Lake in the vicinity of Unakoti play host to two fairs during Makar Sankaranti and Ashokastami – major tourist attractions. Mid-January is the best time to visit this place. Similar to Unakoti, Debtamura is also the site of a famous Sankranti fair in January which attracts hundreds of people to the beautiful region. The best time to visit Pilak is during February and March when the tourism and archaeological festival of Pilak is held. Visitors to all three regions in Tripura are encouraged to engage a local guide to be able to fully explore and enjoy the beauty of the rock carvings. Also, since these regions are preserved by the ASI, visitors are cautioned against defacing these historical marvels and against indulging in graffiti.