At Unakoti, around a four hour drive North from Agartala, close to the border with Bangladesh, you will find hills, rock and hill cliffs carved with hundreds of exquisite stone images of Shiva and other Hindu divinities. No one has actually counted the number of images that are present there - but the name should give us a clue. Unakoti means one less than a crore. And legend has it that there are that many!
Based on the limited studies done on this site, historians date the sculptures here to the 8th-9th century CE. But even today, very little is known about its origins, who commissioned the work or even what purpose it served. Interestingly, members of tribes from the surrounding areas still throng to Unakoti.
Every year on Ashokashtami (eighth day of the Chaitra month of the Hindu calendar), local tribes congregate for a fair or mela, known as the Astami mela or Unakoti Mela. The highlight of the fair is a chance to take a dip at the local kund or lake at Unakoti.
Unakoti means one less than a crore and there are many local legends on how this place got its unique name
A theory espoused by researchers is that Unakoti was probably a sacred spot for local Tibeto-Burmese tribes. The sculptures were made to mark the site of the conversion of these tribes to Shaivism. While such theories have been put forth, it is important to note that there has been very little study done on Unakoti.
But where history fails, there are always legends! A popular legend claims that the sculptures here were made by a local mason to please Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati. The mason swore that he would make one crore (10 million) images of the lord in a single night. But by day break, he was one short. Hence the name 'Unakoti' or one less than a crore!
Another legend is that Shiva was going to Varanasi along with one crore gods and goddesses. They stopped for the night but, Shiva warned them that they must leave before dawn. When they failed to wake up and leave, Shiva cursed them and they became stone sculptures!
But while such colourful legends abound, here are some facts:
While there are hundreds of carvings at Unakoti, the most famous is the 30 feet high carving of Shiva, known as Unakotishwar Kal Bhairav.
The head gear of this carving alone is 10 feet high! Over here Shiva is flanked by female figures on both sides and they include those of Goddess Durga standing on a lion and Goddess Ganga standing on her symbol; the Makara, a sea creature. In addition to this, there are sculptures of 3 Nandi bulls that are half-buried in the ground. There are also remains of a plinth and bricks.
Sadly despite such a lot of spectacular visual evidence very little is known about the fabulous Unakoti. This is just one of the many sites waiting to be discovered and studied in India!
LHI TRAVEL GUIDE
The rock sculptures of Unakoti are 178 km from Agratala, the capital of Tripura. The nearest railway station is at Kumarghat, about 20 km away and the nearest Airport is Aizwal, 93 kms from Unakoti.