The road less travelled is the one Robert Frost took. We are free to choose but we really do not know what awaits us at the other end. It’s only in nature that we discover the language of the sense, the anchor of our purest thoughts. A visit to the Unakoti heritage site, situated at Kailashahar Subdivision in the Northeastern State of Tripura, India proved just so to our delight.
It is primarily a tourist spot and a religious pilgrimage site, giving both historians and art lovers a visual treat. It dates back to the 7th– 9thCenturies. But wait Unakoti is not about pilgrimage, you will find tranquility and the green vibe around you. The mature sculpted rock face and the forest surrounding it has an aura which makes it worth the trek. The green lush serene beauty surrounding Unakoti is something to look out for too.
It is located 178km away from Agartala and ‘the heritage site ‘is a dwelling to sculptures. The name Unakoti means ‘one less than a crore and the origins are from the Hindu Mythology.It now has picked up the interest of the Archaeological survey of India who has taken over the site to preserve the 1500-year-old sculptures. Each sculpture is based on mythological stories which are stated in different ways. There are many popular tales to its origin which is still a mystery.
One enchanting story is that the first king who built his kingdom in Tripura was King Ju Ja ru Fa also known as Hamtorfa which means best man or Purushottam commissioned a famous sculptor by the name Kalu Kamar to crave the rocks. The sculptor’s desires were not fulfilled and he ran off without completing the last image. Some stories say that Kalu was given the job of carving images of the gods in a dream and thought it would make him famous but didn’t get the acknowledgment of the king.
Another tale is associated with Lord Shiva, who was travelling to Kashi (Varanasi), one of the holiest cities of India along with his band of followers. When the deities arrived at Unakoti, they decided to stay for the night. Shiva commanded them to wake up before Sunrise. When it was twilight and the sun about to rise, Lord Shiva woke up while others were still fast asleep. Because his followers didn’t obey his commands, Shiva cursed the followers and turned them into the stones. However, he continued the rest of the journey on his own. Though these stories have left people in reverence and no one can really say who carved the images on the rocks.
The style of the ornaments carved might provide an indication to how and who carved these rocks. The headgear, earrings and necklaces in the sculptures bear a lot of resemblance to the jewelry worn by the tribes that live in the region. Some of them come daily to offer homage to the deities. There is a small shrine set up by a local tribal baba up on a rock that provides a view of the enclosure and the nearby forest. As another legendary tale tells of a sage passing through the region who might have tried to convert the tribesmen to Hinduism.
These carvings depict a variety of Hindu Deities. You will get to witness a lot of large carvings of Lord Shiva. The one craved on the right hand side as you enter the enclosure with the matted dreadlocks is truly spectacular as the evening sunlight catches the different hues of the rock stained by the weather over so many years. There are images of Durga, Ganesha too. The one of Lord Ganesha is quite magnificent. Due to the presence of both Shiva and Durga, one of the crucial Hindu Festivals celebrated at Unakoti is the Ashokastami. This festival usually takes place between March and April each year. It celebrates the victory of Rama over the evil king of Lanka, Ravana.
The Unakoti heritage site is one uncommon destination. So we highly recommend that you tread the untraveled route and visit lost world in the jungle!!
Image courtesy – Shalini Prasad of Orka.photography and Curtain Call Adventures
Written with input from Anangsha Alomyan.