The hills of Udayagiri and Khandagiri located on the outskirts of Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar, are historic remnants of India’s rich past. The hills house a number of caves, most of which have been carved out by Jain monks and artisans from the times of King Kharavela (of the Mahameghavahana dynasty). Not only are these caves testimony to the architectural genius of ancient India, they also bear messages of love, compassion, and religious tolerance. The Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves are considered among the wonders of India and date back to the first century BC.
Most of the caves are not natural ones but are rock cuts and are believed to have been dwelling cells and meditation quarters for Jain monks of the time. The monks are believed to have lived here under harsh conditions and yet have been able to produce stunning and intricate sculptures depicting the royalty, courts, religious symbols, and ordinary life of society. It is one of the most visited tourist attractions of eastern India.
The two cave complexes are being maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India and are popular tourist spots in Odisha.
Location and Accessibility
The two hills of Udayagiri and Khandagiri are at a distance of about 6 kilometres from Bhubaneshwar city centre. The nearest airport and railway junction is at Bhubaneshwar. From the city private or shared cabs take visitors to the hills. Bhubaneshwar is a state capital and budget and luxury accommodation may be found here.
The sandstone caves at Udayagiri and Khandagiri bear testimony to India’s glorious past. Kharavela, during whose time these rock cuts were undertaken, was one of the best-known kings of Kalinga. In 1825, A Stirling, the historian, brought the existence of these caves to public notice and attempted to translate the inscriptions. While it is difficult to obtain an accurate translation due to the disuse of the language – Brahmi, the weathering of the inscriptions, and inaccuracies, what is certain is that these rock edicts declare the respect and the dedication of the king towards all religions and the love his people bore him.
The name Udayagiri means Hill of Sunrise. There are 18 caves in Udayagiri. The Rani Gumpha or the Queen’s Cave is the largest, most majestic cave here. It is a two storied monastery supported by many columns and terraces. The cave contains beautiful sculptures of dancing women, royal entourage, and musical instruments. Other important caves in this hill are the Alkapuri Gumpha, a double storied cave with columns which contains sculptures of elephants and heavenly creatures apart from ornaments and treasures.
The Ganesa Gumpha is one of the rare caves with multiple dwellings and terraces. It is best known for the sculpture of Ganesha that is inscribed on the rear wall of the cave. It also shows a Jain Tirthankara at worship and contains sculptures of elephants. The entrance to the Vyagraha Ghumpa is also noteworthy for its splendid sculpture over the entrance.
|Names of Caves at Udayagiri|
|Cave Number||Cave Name||Cave Number||Cave Name|
|1||Rani Gumpha||10||Ganesa Gumpha|
|2||Bajahara Gumpha||11||Jambesvara Gumpha|
|3||Chota Hathi Gumpha||12||Vyaghra Gumpha|
|4||Alkapuri Gumpha||13||Sarpa Gumpha|
|5||Jaya-vijaya Gumpha||14||Hathi Gumpha|
|6||Panasa Gumpha||15||Dhanaghara Gumpha|
|7||Thakurani Gumpha||16||Haridasa Gumpha|
|8||Patalapuri Gumpha||17||Jagammath Gumpha|
|9||Mancapuri Gumpha||18||Rosai Gumpha|
Hathi Gumpha Inscription
The main inscription that provides us insight into the reign of King Kharavela of the 1st century BC Kalinga is the one found in the Udayagiri cave called Hathi Gumpha. The Elephant Cave inscription speaks of the glories of the king. It starts with the Namokar Mantra – a sacred chant of the Jains and goes on to describe the king in these terms – “the worshipper of all religious orders, the repairer of all shrines of gods”. The inscription consists of seventeen lines cut out in the Brahmi script. What is poignant about this inscription is that it faces rock edicts of King Asoka at Dhauli, some six miles away. The two kings were enemies and Asoka succeeded in conquering Kalinga. Following this, the patronage of the Jain religion slowly fell away and Buddhism found ascendancy in these parts. Apart from the Hathi Gumpha inscription, there are a number of minor inscriptions in other caves in these complexes.
Both the Tatowa Gumphas have parrot carvings over the entrance arches. These caves also bear some inscriptions of the time and the use of natural colour pigments is evident. The Ananta Gumpha is a very interesting cave in this complex and in this cave there are ancient Jain motifs such as Swastikas and serpents. The Navamuni Gumpha carries sculptures depicting 9 Jain Tirthankaras or seer-sages. This cave depicts a number of Digambara Jains at prayer. The Barabhuji Gumpha came to be named after two sculptures with 12 arms each. This cave has a relief depicting a number of Hindu deities.
|Names of Caves at Khandagiri|
|Cave Number||Cave Name||Cave Number||Cave Name|
|1||Tatowa Gumpha 1||9||Trusula Gumpha|
|2||Tatowa Gumpha 2||10||Ambika Gumpha|
|3||Ananta Gumpha||11||Lalatendukesari Gumpha|
|4||Tentuli Gumpha||12||Cave Name Unknown|
|5||Khandagiri Gumpha||13||Cave Name Unknown|
|6||Dhyana Gumpha||14||Ekadasi Gumpha|
|7||Navamuni Gumpha||15||Cave Name Unknown|
The Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves are open from sunrise to sunset throughout the year. The peak tourist season, though, is from October to March.
Children below 15 years – Free
Citizens of India – INR 5 per head
Visitors from SAARC countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) – INR 5 per head
Visitors from Thailand and Myanmar – INR 5 per head
Visitors from other countries – INR 100 or USD 2