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Monday, September 5, 2022

Unakoti, Tripura : The History behind the lost hill of faces

The History Behind is a CNT series that spotlights lesser known monuments across Incredible India

Unakoti is a chiselled wonder hidden in plain sight. Some 178 kilometers from Agartala in Tripura’s Unakoti district, an ancient stone gate opens into massive stone and rock sculptures carved out of a hillside. Serpentine bridges and broken staircases run between the slopes, and a 30-feet tall Shiva’s head, called Unakotiswara Kal Bhairava, stands flanked by sculptures of goddesses—Ganga sitting on a capricorn and Durga standing on a lion. Figures of Hanumana, Ganesha, Ravana and other deities from Hindu mythology are sculpted to perfection. Camouflaged by the dense forests of Jampui Hills, the heritage site stands as a known but forgotten treasure of India. It is called the “Lost Hill of Faces”, and rightly so.

There was a time, ages ago, when the land of Unakoti was a thriving site of worship. Streams and rivulets flowed by the foothills, the smell of incense lay heavy in the air, and thousands of believers thronged the site for worship. The place had been famous as a Shaivite pilgrimage site from the eighth or ninth century CE until its gradual decline in the modern world. Crafted by expert artisans, the stone sculptures brought the region’s local legends to life. An annual celebration of the Ashokastami Mela every April is the only marker of its former importance.

The word ‘Unakoti’ literally translates to less than one crore. The myth behind these carvings tells of Lord Shiva and his famous wrath. As per the story, on one of his trips to Kashi, Shiva was accompanied by 99,99,999 gods and goddesses. The entourage spent a night at this location and were expected to awaken and make their way to the pilgrimage site before dawn. However, none of the other gods apart from Lord Shiva himself awoke. Enraged at his companions, the destroyer unleashed his fury upon the lot and turned them all to stone, lending the site its name.

Another legend speaks of a fine artisan named Kallu Kumhar, who asked to accompany Parvati and Lord Shiva and their entourage on their journey to Mount Kailash. This was when Parvati suggested that he build 1,00,00,000 stone sculptures of Shiva and his company to appease the lord. But the catch was that he had only one night to do so. Skilled at what he did, Kallu managed to make almost one crore sculptures, falling short by one. While Unakoti became a major Hindu pilgrimage site during the reign of the Pala empire in Bengal, some archaeologists suggest that it might also have been a Buddhist site for meditation.


ઉનકોટી વિશે ગુજરાતીમાં વાંચો

History is woven into every rock niche here, and riveting mysteries, myths and legend are embedded in the bas relief sculptures—many of which remain undiscovered till date. How many stand exposed? How many of them hold sacred souls frozen in time and space? Only a visit can answer the question.

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