OCKCUT SCULPTURES

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» North East India
» Tripura
Location: Tripura
Major Excavated Sites: Kailashahar, Unakoti



Sculptors Delight
It may sound unbelievable, but on a hill called Raghunandan in a corner of the state, a whole hillside is carved out into figures and history watches silently as one makes conjectures about how and when these figures were carved out.

All along northeast India, one finds such surprises waiting in the most unexpected places. In Mizoram, for instance, there are paintings of their folk hero, 'Churra'. His whole life story is told, again on the walls of mountains along its easternmost border. If one reaches up the heights of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, one will find huge sculptures of the Buddha once again using the mountain as material. What is amazing is that the place where these sculptures are found is so cold that it must have taken more than effort to sit there and complete chiselling such wonderful objects d' art.

In Tripura, the awe is very much palpable. The reasons for this are simple. Firstly, these sculptures are much older. According to the Archeological survey, they date to the period somewhere between the 9th and 14th century. Secondly, on a hill called Raghunandan, which is a name for Lord Vishnu, one finds sculptures of Lord Shiva and his consort. How and why the two come together need further investigating.

Kailashahar
But all investigations can at best lead to conjectures for there is no written evidence about Unakoti. The site itself is about 10-km from a place called Kailashahar. This place carries the name of Shiva's mythological abode - Mount Kailash.

As one goes on from Kailashahar, one comes across hills with inaccessible forests. Within and on the periphery of the forests along the stone boulders and rocks, you find innumerable sculptures. The largest is one of Lord Shiva. Only his face has been chiselled out and the sculptor obviously felt no size was big enough to present the charm of this deity and therefore worked over a span of 40 feet in length!

Devi Cult
All over the northeast, the Devi Cult as some call it, or "Shiva-Shakti" worship is very popular. Shakti is Shiva's consort. Derived from this cult are Tantric practices for which the northeast is famous. In fact, an ancient text called the Kalika Purana says that there are more than 1,000 Lingas in the northeast, part of which forms Tripura. The Linga is the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva. So it was not surprising to find these sculptures devoting all their energies to Shiva and Shakti.

What is interesting is their representation. Many of the figures lack the finesse that one would find in sculptures belonging to the same period, even in the nearby state of Orissa. These figures seem to be tribal representations of stylized thought! That is, mythologically the people seem to be Saivites (also spelt as Shaivites), but their representation is tribal or folk. Today, many of the figures have been damaged either due to erosion or due to earthquakes.

The Two Categories
Experts divide the remaining sculptures into two categories. Those sculpted on the walls of mountains and those cut on rocks. Both of them are dominated by the Saivite (also spelt as Shaivite) traditions with images of Shiva, Ganesha, the Elephant God, Uma Maheshwari, the consort of Shiva and so on. The Shiva image is called "Unakotiswara" or the Lord of Unakoti. There is one image of Shiva as "Chandrasekhara Shiva", showing him with the moon on his head. Yet another one shows Goddesses Ganga and Parvati both by his side. There is also a charming panel of Shiva's wedding scene.

A Legend
Story goes that Parvati, in love with Shiva asked cupid (Kama) to aim his arrows at Shiva. Kamadeva was a little nervous but could not refuse the lady. When Shiva opened his eyes he was struck by the arrows of love. He immediately identified Kamadeva as the root cause. He fell in love with Parvati all right, but not before turning Kamadeva into a pile of ashes! There is a panel that shows this scene in Unakoti.

It is also interesting to notice that there are a few sculptures of Lord Hanuman, "the Monkey God" and of Lord Vishnu, after whom the hill has got its name. Vishnu in his incarnation of Lord Narasimha is one of the more easily visible sculptures. There is also one image of the 'lotus feet' of Lord Vishnu.

Unakoti - The Archeologist Destination
As the government of Tripura is working towards popularising Unakoti, it will be of interest if scholars are able to sketch out the lifestyle of the people of that time and period in the region through these sculptures. For there are dances, good, garments and ideologies, all represented in this bounty of sculptures.



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