Near the Urwahi Gate at the southern entrance to the fort, the sheer sandstone cliffs around the fort harbour some imposing rock-cut Jain sculptures. Carved between the seventh and fifteenth centuries, most of the large honey-coloured figures depict the 24 Jain teacher-saviours – the tirthankaras, or “Crossing Makers” – standing with their arms held stiffly at their sides, or sitting cross-legged, the palms of their hands upturned. Many lost their faces and genitalia when Mughal emperor Babur’s iconoclastic army descended on the city in 1527.
The larger of the two main groups lines the southwestern approach to the fort, along the sides of the Urwahi ravine. The largest image, to the side of the road near Urwahi Gate, portrays Adinath, 19m tall, with decorative nipples, a head of tightly curled hair and drooping ears, standing on a lotus bloom beside several smaller statues. A little further from the fort, on the other side of the road, another company of tirthankaras enjoys a more dramatic situation, looking over a natural gorge. All have lost their faces, save a proud trio sheltered by a delicate canopy.
The third collection stands on the southeast corner of the plateau, overlooking the city from a narrow ledge. To get here, follow Gwalior Road north along the foot of the cliff from Phool Bagh junction, near the Rani Jhansi memorial, until you see a paved path winding up the hill from behind a row of houses on the left. Once again, the tirthankaras, which are numbered, occupy deep recesses hewn from the rock wall. One of the few not defaced by the Muslim invaders, number 10, is still revered by Gwalior’s small Jain community as a shrine.