The name Udayagiri is very confusing, if you Google it then you will get many different results from Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, etc. The confusion arises due to the name which is a confluence of two words “Udaya” (morning) and “Giri” (peak) which translates to Morning Peak or the hill on which the first morning rays fall from the sun. The name being common was used across many historical places as a landmark.
In Odisha, there are two Udayagiri, one in Bhubaneswar and the other in the Jajpur district. While the one in Bhubaneswar is a Jain site and the one in Jajpur is a Buddhist complex. The one in Bhubaneswar is commonly known as Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves as these are a set of two hills having multiple natural and manmade caves. Apart from caves these two locations also have some manmade water tanks carved out of the hill.
I had first visited these caves in 2019 and started documenting them one at a time. Initially, I wanted to write a single blog consisting of details of the individual cave but then I realized that there are too many caves and it’s better to write two separate blogs. In this blog, I will cover all the caves of Udayagiri only.
History of Udayagiri and Khandagiri
The history of these caves dates back to around 1st Century B.C. These caves were built by the then Kalinga King of the Chedi Dynasty. This region was then ruled by King Kharavela who was leading the spread of Jainism in this region. He took this project as a shelter for the Jain monks who would be traveling around and would need someplace to rest and sleep. Since these were monks who required very less earthly pleasure and preferred the very basic thus rock-cut caves and natural caves were the best options for these Jain monks.
Jain monks were hermits thus did not stay at a place for a long time instead moved from one place to another preaching the wisdom. Most of the caves had a slanting floor that acted as a bed and raised section on one side which acted as a pillow. During the monsoon season in this region of India which lasted around four months the Jain Monks would ride out the monsoon in these caves.
The twin hills had a very well water management system with tanks cut out on the hills at various sections and channels for draining out rainwater.
It is also said that King Kharavela would often visit this place and meet his subjects and also enjoyed various cultural performances.
It is said that once both the hills had around 113 caves but now only 18 caves at Udayagiri and 15 caves at Khandagiri have been identified by the archaeologists. Don’t be surprised to see many cave-like structures around both the hills which are unnamed as these are usually simple cave which has not been identified.
Location of Udayagiri and Khandagiri
Locations of Each Caves At Udayagiri
How to Reach Udayagiri and Khandagiri
Udayagiri and Khandagiri are located with Bhubaneswar town thus can be easily reached by private car, app cab or auto. There is a large official parking space near to this heritage structure thus you should not be worried about transportation.
What to see at Udayagiri
Udayagiri is a ticketed site and is under heritage site is well guarded and maintained by ASI (Archaeological Survey of India). As you enter the cave complex you can go in various directions as the caves are all spread out. The numbering of the caves is also not in any particular order. The map at the entrance gives you the position of caves but it’s a bit tricky to find out their exact location in reality.
It took me some time to figure out the locations of each cave. I had to at least go through the entire cave complex three times to map the locations of each of the recorded caves.
Cave 1 – Rani Gumpha
To reach this cave you have to take the right path as you enter Udayagiri. This is the largest cave complex and one of the most beautiful ones. This cave has multiple sections and is on two floors.
The ground floor has a 180 degree spread with a large central hall and one on each side. The central hall has seven rock-cut doors. Do check out the caves on your right as these have some of the most beautiful rock-cut structures.
You can get to the top floor from the rock-cut stairs on the left side or get to the top from the right side by climbing out random stone blocks.
The central hall on the top floor has nine pillars. Some portions of the interior of the central hall still have beautiful rock-cut patterns, dvarpalas, etc.
The room on the right on the top floor has some beautiful depiction of war and other lives of the royalties from that era. I am not getting into the details of each of the sections as these have been written extensively and I cannot add something new.
Cave 2 – Bajaghara Gumpha
This cave is located on the left side of Rani Gumpha and from the main entrance side this is located in the extreme right.
This cave has around four pillars, one of which is not that prominent and merged with the main structure. The interior is very simple. One thing you must notice is most of the floors of the caves have a slant position with an extra elevation towards the head side. Most of the Jain monks slept directly on the floor and the slant was like a natural bed with the raised section towards the head acted as a stone pillow.
Cave 3 – Chotho Hanthi Gumpha
As the name suggests this cave has an elephant cut out on the front. The single cave has a huge rock bolder on top. Pillars were later added to support the top weight. There is one big elephant on the top right and the rest of various sizes spread out. In total there are six rock-cut elephants at the cave.
Cave 4 – Alkapuri Gumpha
This is a double-storied cave. The lower section is simple with just one chamber and two stone pillars. The upper section is single-chambered with stone pillars.
Cave 5 – Jaya-Vijaya Gumpha
This is also a double-storied cave. The one at the bottom is simple while the one on the top has rock-cut figurines. At the entrance, you will see two female dvarapala while the interior has two chambers that have decorated the top front.
Cave 6 – Panasa Gumpha
This cave is located right next to the path that takes you to the middle section of Udayagiri hill. It’s a small single vaulted cave that has two pillars. These pillars were added later for structural support.
Cave 7 – Thakurani Gumpha
This cave has a double-storied structure. While the one at the bottom is large the one at the top is very small. You can see a tiny portion of the carved section on the top left of the bottom section.
Cave 8 – Patalapuri Gumpha
This cave is almost at the top of the slanted walkway to the top. This is a very simple cave with two pillars, the internal chamber has four doors leading to a single chamber.
Cave 9 – Manchapuri and Svargapuri Gumpha
As the name suggests this is a cave with two floors. The lower floor is known as Manchapuri Gumpha consisting of four cells, the lower section has an inscription from the time of Vadukha and a depiction of the royal procession.
The top section is known as Svargapuri Gumpha and contains inscriptions.
Cave 10 – Ganesh Gumpha
The location of this cave is on the extreme right once you reach the middle section of the hillock. This is one of the important caves in this section. It gets its name from the stone cut Ganesha in the interior section. On the outside, you will find two stone elephants. The entrance to the cave has been cordoned off with petal poles so you need to see the detailed stonework in the interior sections.
This cave has two cells with a veranda in the front and has detailed works in the interiors.
Cave 11 – Jambeshvara Gumpha
This simple cave with a pillar at the center and two sections. This cave is located on the extreme left of Hathi Gumpha right next to the stone stairs leading to the top of Udayagiri Hill.
Cave 12 – Bagha Gumpha
As the name suggests this cave has been cut to the shape of a tiger’s face with an open mouth. The open mouth portion is the cave in itself.
Cave 13 – Sarpa Gumpha
Sarpa means snake and the shape of this cave is similar to that of a snake’s head.
Cave 14 – Hathi Gumpha
This is the largest cave in the top tier and this is the cave that you will see when you climb up the elevated path from the bottom of the hill. Caves 10 and 11 are to the right of this cave and caves 12 and 13 are to the left of this cave.
The reason this cave is so famous is due to the large stone inscriptions in the Prakrit language written in Brahmi script by the great ruler Kharavela the ruler of Kalinga around 2nd century BC.
Translation of the inscriptions:-
In the very first year of his coronation (His Majesty) caused to be repaired the gate, rampart, and structures of the fort of Kalinga Nagari, which had been damaged by the storm be built a flight of steps for the cool tanks and laid all gardens at the cost of thirty-five hundred thousand (coins) and thus pleased all his subjects.
In the second year, without caring for Satakarni (His Majesty) sent to the west a large army consisting of a horse, elephant, infantry, and chariot, and struck terror to Asikanagara with that troop that marched up to the river Kanhavemna.
Then in the fourth year, (His Majesty) the Vidhadhara tract, that had been established by the former kings of Kalinga and had never been crossed before. The Rathika and Bhojaka chiefs with their crown cast off, their umbrella and royal insignia aside, and their Jewelry and wealth confiscated, were, made to pay obeisance at the feet (of His Majesty).
And in the fifth year, (His Majesty) caused the aqueducts that had been excavated by king Nanda three hundred years before, to flow into [Kalinga] Nagri through Tanasuli.
And in the seventh year of his reign (the Queen) of Vajiraghara, blessed with a son attained motherhood.
In the 8th year of his reign, he attacked Rajagriha in Magadha and forced a Yavana king to retreat to Mathura.
In the 12th year of his reign, he attacked the king of Uttarapatha. Then brought back the holy idols of Kalinga’s Jain Gods (The Blessed Tirthankars) which earlier Magadha rulers had carried away with them after the Kalinga War in the Past. Tirthankar’s idol was brought back with its crown and endowment and the jewels plundered by king Nanda from the Kalinga royal palace, along with the treasures of Anga and Magadha were regained.
He then attacks the kingdom of Magadha, and in Pataliputra, the capital of the Shunga Empire makes king “Bahasatimita” (thought to be the Shunga King Brhaspatimitra, or Pushyamitra himself) bow at his feet.
Cave 15 – Dhanaghara Gumpha
The location of this cave is towards the extreme right of Hathi Gumpha. There is a path taking you to the top and you do not go up instead look towards your left and you will find this cave.
This is a cave with two pillars, on the top of each pillar you will find remains of some carvings which cannot be made out properly. On the left, you will find a Dvarapala.
Cave 16 – Haridasa Gumpha
Go extreme left from Sarpa Gumpha and you will find the next three caves. This cave has a single pillar in the center and has three doorways past a veranda leading to a single cave.
Cave 17 – Jagannatha Gumpha
This is the only cave in Udayagiri that has been restricted entry with netted doors. This cave has three pillars and in the interior, three doors are leading to a single room.
Cave 18 – Rasui Gumpha
This cave is located in the extreme left on this level of the hill and the last one on this level. This is a very simple cave with a single doorway.
Apart from these 18 caves, there are several smaller and even mid-size cave-like structures all around the Udayagiri hill. These have not been numbered or named and can be found scattered around the hill. You will also find several water tanks which have been cut into the hill to preserve water for the monks during dry seasons.
Apsidal Chaitya Griha
If you take the path going to the very top of Udayagiri Hill then you will be able to see a vast stone structure on the ground. This was once a Jain shrine which historians have placed around 2nd century B.C.
From the top of Udayagiri you can also see the Khandagiri Hill. This I will cover in my next blog post.
The hills are completely open to nature which means during summer take precautions like a hat or an umbrella.
During monsoon make sure you carry umbrellas and be careful as the ground can become slippery.
Guides are available who tell you that they are official but there is no way to verify that. If you need a guide make sure you are clear about the guide charges and the duration of his service.
There are Langur monkeys around the hill which are usually brought there by their keepers for visitors to click photo. They usually ask you to buy peanuts from them to feed them so that you can click photos. Sometimes these monkeys tend to be a bit excited and grab food items from visitors.
Carry bottled water as the climb around the hill can be very tiring and you would surely need to rehydrate.
You can carry light snacks with you as there are several benches around the hill where you can rest and have a quick bite. Just remember not to throw trash around the site instead use the waste bin provided to discard anything.
You need to buy tickets for Udayagiri but Khandagiri does not require any tickets.
For pandemic physical tickets are no longer sold instead you need to scan a QR code and buy tickets online. While entering you need to show the e-ticket inform of a QR code which the official will scan and let you enter.