Udayagiri, Odisha, India: A Complete Guide & Unknown Mystery Revealed

The caves of Udayagiri and Khandagiri, called lena or leṇa in the inscriptions, were dug out mostly during the reign of Kharavela for the abode of Jaina ascetics. The most important of this group is Ranigumpha in Udayagiri which is a double storeyed monastery. Other important caves include Hathi gumpha, Ananta gumpha, Ganesha gumpha, Jaya Vijaya gumpha, Mancapuri gumpha, Bagha/Byaghra/Vyaghra gumpha and Sarpa gumpha.

Archaeological Survey of India has listed Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves in the list of “Must See” Indian Heritage.

Udayagiri’s two monastery complexes were active between the 10th and 12th centuries AD. At the first one, there’s a large pyramidal brick stupa with a seated Buddha image on each of the four sides. Beyond, a large Buddha statue is locked away behind some fine doorjamb carvings. The second site, marred by graffiti, features an exquisite deity carving, a seated Buddha statue and monastic cells. The ruins are a 2km walk from the main road.

Udaygiri (Hills of sunrise) and Khandgiri (Broken hills) Caves

The Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves are located just a few kilometers away from Bhubaneswar town. These caves are situated on two adjacent hills – Udayagiri and Khandagiri that have been mentioned as Kumari Parvat in the Hathigumpha inscriptions found on the Udayagiri hills. These caves were dug out on these hills in the 2nd century BCE during the reign of Kharavela, the then ruler of kalinga. These caves were for Jain monks for the purpose of their residence and meditation. The common word used for a cave at that time was Gumpha and this word is still used for caves.

The Udayagiri Caves: Udayagiri has 18 caves. Many of these caves have paintings, motifs and carvings of court scenes, royal processions, nature, subjects, mystical animals, etc. The important caves here are the Hathigumpha, Ganesha Gumpha, Bagh Gumpha, Mancapuri Gumpha, Alkapuri Gumpha and Rani Gumpha.

Hathi Gumpha (cave No.14): Historically this is the most important cave here as the inscriptions incised over the entrance is the main source of information about the reign of King Kharavela. There are 17 lines of Prakrit incised in Brahmi script. It is considered to be one of the most archaic forms of Kalinga alphabets. The Hathi Gumpha cave looks down upon the Ashokan Dhauli inscription that is situated about 9 km away. The inscriptions of two great kings face each other.

The Mauryan hold over its large empire was withering during the 2nd Century BCE. Kalinga rebelled against the Mauryans, after which Kharavela got the throne of Kalinga in 193 BCE. The Hathi Gumpha inscription gives a lot of information about King Kharavela and his victorious military pursuits.

King Kharavela may have been a follower of the Jain dharma as the inscriptions start with the Jain Namokar Mantra. It also states that Kharavela was the worshipper of all religious orders, the repairer of all shrines of gods. The inscription mentions that Kharavela repaired forts and old temples, built aqueducts, reservoirs and managed economic matters. It also mentions the various conquests of the king starting with the war against Satakarni, the powerful Satavahana King on the western front. In 185 BCE, Kharavela attacked Rajagriha in Magadha and forced out a Yavana (Greek) king. He then attacked the Mauryan capital of Patliputra and gained control of the region. Kharavela has been mentioned as ‘Chakravartin’ (universal) emperor. Despite the exaggeration, it is clear that he became the ruler of Odisha, and large parts of eastern and central India, becoming the most important ruler of the Indian subcontinent in his times. He brought back respect to the people of Kalinga.

There are sights that display early attempts to carve the rocks into suitable resting or dwelling places for monks. These caves are small and randomly dug out in rocks and boulders.

Cave 1 or the Rani Gumpha is the most striking feature of this cave complex. It is a double storied structure with three wings. Central portion has 7 doorways on the ground floor and 9 doorways on the upper floor where there are carvings depicting the victory march of kings.

The ground floor doorways have elaborate carvings that give an arched effect above each rectangular entrance. Beautiful pillars have been carved onto the rock face to demarcate each doorway.

One artistic frieze displays scenes from a royal procession with a horse and foot soldiers. We also see commoners going about their daily routine.

The Alkapuri Gumpha (cave 4): These are rather well developed caves dug out into the rock face. The caves are double storied with pillars or columns that give support to the roof of the caves along with the accompanying corridors. This gives the caves a rather inviting appeal. The pillars have occasional carvings of animals, mystical creatures and people.

A mystical animal has been carved into the capital of the column. It is an intriguing animal that has the body of a lion, beak of a bird along with wings.

Some caves are on the verge of collapsing and stone pillars have been erected to ensure the structural integrity of these ancient structures. One such cave has beautiful elephants carved over the arched gateway.

Cave 10 is more popularly called the Ganesha Gumpha: As it has a relief of Ganesha carved on its rear wall in the cell (most probably carved at a later point of time). It has two elephants in front of it. They are shown carrying garlands as if ready to welcome the visitors. The relief above the entrance door to the cell shows the famous story of King Udayan running away with Princess Vasavdutta. This is a real historical episode from the time of Buddha when Udayan was the king of Vatsa and Vasavdutta was the daughter of the king of Avanti. Elephants played a major part in this story as Udayan was supposed to have the power of controlling the behaviour of elephants through music on his Veena.

The Mancapuri and Swargapuri Gumphas are double storied. The ground level has a corridor leading to the chambers inside. There are some inscriptions mentioning the chief Queen of Kharavela and his successor, Kudepasri.

A closer look inside the cave reveals artistic carvings on the area above the lintel of the doors. The doorways are low in height. Semicircular horseshoe-shaped carved borders adorn the entrance ways. One relief depicts people with folded hands as if worshipping a deity. An elephant is in front of them over which there is a divine being floating in the air. The carvings are damaged but still eye-catching. The pillars that support the corridor roof have very artistic and majestic creatures that connect the pillar to the inner roof. Humans are shown riding these mystical creatures. The artisans have let their vivid imagination flow into creating such lovely works on stone.

The Bagh Gumpha (cave No.12): The Bagh Gumpha or Tiger cave has an artistic entrance as it has been carved to look like the mouth of a Tiger. This cave attracts a lot of tourists due to its unique facade. It acts like the prime location to pose for photos and almost all visitors end up posing for a few photos at this location.

address & contact

Puliyoorkurichi, Thiruvananthapuram, Nagercoil National Highway, Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu, 629702, India

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History Buffs Nature Lovers Experience Seekers


All days of the week8:00 AM – 7:00 PM

entry fee

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Getting here – How to Reach Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves (Orissa)

By Air

Bhubaneswar airport is the nearest airport to reach Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves, which is just about 10 km away. It is connected by regular flights to many major cities India including Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi and Hyderabad.

By Rail

Bhubaneswar railway station is the nearest major railway station at about 6 km away. It has good rail connectivity with all the major towns of the state and the major cities of India.

By Road

Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves can be easily reached through National Highway NH-5 using public transport buses. Regular buses to Bhubaneshwar town are operated from Puri, Cuttack and other major nearby cities. From Bhubaneswar taxis, local transport is available to reach the caves.

Thank you for reading.

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