By *Subhasis K. Chanda
Treading the pathways of undulating terrain, bisecting deep forests and having a glance of peeped in gorges and narrow rivers and spring at times, and all the while meeting strange variety of flora and fauna and off course, forests’ children always amazing the urban tourists seeking to escape from their daily grind life. Such a nature’s reserve Unakoti, which is admixed with added colour, smell and taste in terms of history, archaeology and religious trait, beckons tourists. This is a moderate height hill range engraved with rock cut carvings of Hindu pantheon of the lost civilization, situated in a cool and calm ambience of lush green in North Tripura.
About 170 km far off from the capital of the State, the Unakoti hill presents rock cut images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Huge carvings in a sprawling rock-wall appear to have chiseled out, and images carved out that spread here and there and at different heights. Mythological tales sound interesting and states that there was an Assembly of Gods and Goddesses, with the Lord of Gods, Shiva leaving for Benaras at a point of time and the place is named as Unakoti.
Unakoti pantheons are of two types namely rock-carved and stone images. Central to these rock cut carvings are the Shiva and Ganesha. The colossal image of Shiva head, of 30 ft height, carved in a vertical rock is known as ‘Unakotiswara Kal Bhairava’. Its head is embroidered in tresses forming a headdress of 10 feet high. Near by, there is a rock cut image of goddess Durga standing on a lion, while on the other there is an image of goddess Ganga sitting on a Capricorn. There are also images of Nandi Bull lying half buried in the ground.
Just a few meters down the Shiva carving three magnificent images of Lord Ganesha are found. A rare carving of the four-armed seated Ganesha and on its side two standing figures of Sarabhuja Ganesha with three tusks and the Asthabhuja Ganesha with four tusks are also found. Moreover, a three-eyed figure, believed to be that of Surya or Lord Vishnu is found. Other images found are chaturmukha Shivlinga, Nandi, Narasimha, Shri Ram, Ravana, Hanuman, and several unidentified deities. Hearsay is that digging anytime anywhere in the surrounding area, known also as Devasthal along the Unakoti-Belkum hill, one can find out an image of Shiva or the like carved out of rocks. At the bottom of Unakoti, a beautiful spring descending the hill terraces fills up a cavern, called “Sita Kunda”, having a dip into which is regarded as sacred. Every year, a big fair popularly known as ‘Ashokastami Mela’ is held during April when thousands of devotees visit the place to offer their prayers and have a dip in the ‘Sita Kunda’. Asserting on the importance of its development as an ideal tourist spot, the Union Ministry of Tourism sanctioned Rs. 1.13 crore in 2009-10 under Unakoti destination development project for creation of tourist information centre, cafeteria, public amenities, view platform, landscaping etc within the radius of 5 sq.km of the site. According to the project officials of the Tripura tourism department the project, which has been handed over to the ASI, is likely to start commissioning new amenities very soon.
Unakoti is believed to have had the influence of the Shiva cult originating from the Pala-era of the mediaeval period of Indian history. At the same time, the influences of several other cults like Tantric, Shakti, and Hatha yogis are also found to be present around this archaeological wonder. According to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI),Unakoti dates back to the 8th or 9th century AD. Yet, many others differ with the opinion, conceding that it dates back longer further holding that those images were carved out in different spell of time.
As the history and tales of Unakoti still hover in obscurity it demands integrated research by ASI and the like institutions to uncover the mystery and a chapter of hidden past of Indian civilization.
(*Subhasis Chanda is Media & Communication Officer at PIB, Agartala)
Rock-cut carvings: Unakoti tales of lost civilization
By *Subhasis K. Chanda