India // Orissa //

Udaigiri

The Udaigiri caves occupy a fairly compact area around the south slope of the hill. Cave 1 (Rani Gumpha or “Queen’s Cave”), off the main pathway to the right, is the largest and most impressive of the group. A long frieze across the back wall shows rampaging elephants, panicking monkeys, sword fights and the abduction of a woman, perhaps illustrating episodes from the life of Kalinga’s King Kharavela. Caves 3 and 4 contain sculptures of a lion holding its prey and elephants with snakes wrapped around them, and pillars topped by pairs of peculiar winged animals. Cave 9, up the hill and around to the right, houses a damaged relief of figures worshipping a long-vanished Jain symbol. The crowned figure is thought to be the Chedi king, Vakradeva, whose donative inscription can still be made out near the roof. Inside the sleeping cells of all the caves, deep grooves in the stone wall at the back and in the floor were designed to carry rainwater down from the roof as an early air-conditioning system.

To reach Cave 10, return to the main steps and climb towards the top of the hill. Its popular name, “Ganesh Gumpha”, is derived from the elephant-headed Ganesh carved on the rear wall of the cell on the right. From here, follow the path up to the ledge at the very top of Udaigiri hill for good views and the ruins of an old chaitya hall, probably the main place of worship for the Jain monks who lived below.

Below the ruins are Cave 12, shaped like the head of a tiger, and Cave 14, the Hathi Gumpha, known for the long inscription in ancient Magadhi carved onto its overhang. This relates in glowing terms the life history of King Kharavela, whose exploits brought in the fortune needed to finance the cave excavation.