Udayagiri & Khandagiri Jain Caves (Bhubaneshwar - Odisha)

To begin with, Buddhist caves with exactly same name Udayagiri is also in Odisha, but with a solid 90km distance between them, which is why specifying this title as Jain caves! I’ll write about the Buddhist Caves in another post! 
To begin with, it was pretty much crowded. It’s one of those typical touristy spots like Kanheri Caves which is flocked with so many as a picnic spot or romantic hideout! However very few of them are actual historic / heritage enthusiasts! I did spot a few locals trying to cajole white people to take a selfie with them! If you’re a white (man or woman doesn't matter), this happens very often in India. Don’t worry, more often than not, they’re harmless (provided they don’t try to touch you). With the commonly prevalent craze for fair skin, white skinned people look like heavenly beings and a pic with you on their FB would be their prized possession!!! 
Ok, over to the destination. These were probably the earliest Jain Caves excavated in India. Before these, there were the Jain Beds which were only beds sculpted in naturally occurring caverns! The early properly sculpted excavated caves were Buddhist Caves in Ajanta, Ellora, Kanheri etc in 2nd-1st C BCE. These Jain caves were excavated in 1st C BCE – 1st C CE. Udayagiri has 18 caves while Khandagiri has 15 caves, and between them runs the NH5. 4 of each has something to see in it. These were re-discovered & brought under govt control in 1825 CE by A.Stirling (like Konark, again when India was under British Raj).


We first got into the Udayagiri Caves. 1st important cave in Udayagiri was the 1st cave – Rani Gumpha. This is the largest here. It is in 2 floors in a U shape, with the 1st floor starting a bit deeper than the 2nd floor making an open terrace with the possibility to climb from either sides. The entire ground and first floors are segregated into several cells. Each and every entrance has a beautifully carved arch atop and pilasters on either sides. While most sculptures are in excellent condition, some are eroded beyond recognition. Some are animals, foliage, religiously auspicious symbols and celestial beings while most are narrative sculptures, which could be King Kharavela’s depiction. 

Caves 2-8 follow without any or very mild detail in it. Beyond cave 7 is a ramp that takes to the level above. Here’s the thing – Don’t take the ramp. To the right of ramp’s railing are the steps that takes to Cave 8 & 9. Cave 9 is a 2 storeyed cave as well with the lower one called Manchapuri & upper one Svargapuri. This has inscriptions about King Kharavela in Svargapuri and Kudepasri & Kumara Vadukha (who were successors of King Kharavela) in Manchapuri. Like Cave 1 here too its segregated into cells with sculptures atop which are mostly eroded. Only 1 clearly visible is of a royal entourage with an elephant & celestial beings worshiping an eroded figure under an umbrella!

As soon as you climb is the most important cave 14 - Hathi Gumpha! This has absolutely no sculptural or architectural detail. But what it has is, a 17 line inscription that talks about the achievements of King Kharavela since he was a crowned at the age of 24 incl public works as well as conquests. Ofcourse the shed in front is a new addition, to protect the inscription from the forces of nature. Here, to the right are 6 caves and 2 to the left.

Cave 12 in the right is the Vyagra Gumpha which is a tiger shaped cave. Cave 10 to the left is the Ganesh Gumpha. Similar to Cave 1 this too is filled with so many sculptural details, here mostly the narration of the Udayana & Vasavadatta story. There are 2 elephants standing in front of the cave. There is a Ganesha in the inner wall. However these 2 could have been later additions.

From here, our next stop was across the highway, at Khandagiri. Close to the entrance, to the right are 5 caves and 6 to the left, rest are scattered behind. My first stop was at Cave 7, Navamuni Gumpha to the left. On the back wall here are the relief sculptures of 7 Thirthankaras and their sasana devi-s, all seated. There is also a relief of Lord Ganesha! On the left wall are 2 more seated thirthankaras. On the right wall is Chadraprabha seated on a lotus. 

Then I headed to Cave 3, Anantha Gumpha to the right which is the most important here. In the back wall are the auspicious symbols of Jainism of Srivatsa, Nandipada and Swastika. A standing thirthankara was carved below it at a later stage. The entrances of the cells are beautifully decorated like Udayagiri’s Cave 1 with royal entourage, tree worship, celestial beings etc. From this point the view of the Udayagiri Caves is just stunning! A gentleman was selling masala lemon tea here and that was the best I’ve ever tasted and I had 2!!!

My next search was for Cave 8, Barabhuji Gumpha which was supposed to beyond Cave 7 in the left. But there seemed to a modern building after Cave 7. It turned out that the Cave 7 has been brought under worship and now it has a shelter around it! The inner wall here has 24 Thirthankaras and 12 armed Sasana devis. The verandah has the relief sculptures of 12 armed Chakreshwari & Rohini. 
Atop the Khandagiri is a brand new temple into which I did not venture for obvious reasons (regular readers know that I visit temples for their heritage and art and architecture and not for ritualistic purposes!).

To Stay:
Hotels at all price points available in Bhubaneshwar.
The nearest hotel run by Orissa Tourism Development Cooperation (OTDC) is Panthanivas Bhubaneshwar. The prices here begin at ₹2100 for AC double room incl breakfast & lobby wifi.

To Get There:
On Google Maps: Udayagiri, Khandagiri
From Bhubaneshwar Railway Station: 9km
From Bhubaneshwar Airport: 7.5km

Best  advanced guidebook (if you're interested in deciphering the inscriptions etc): Udayagiri and Khandagiri, Debala Mitra by ASI Publications, 1975

Bhushavali N

An ardent traveler by passion. I am a wanderlust.. Read more about me here.

19 comments:

  1. Kanheri Caves looks like a great place to learn about history and culture. The pictures are telling the stories about this place. I loved the elephant sculpture.

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  2. These caves look like a great place to explore and pretend you are back in ancient times. The details are incredible and they look like they are in surprisingly good condition considering how old they are. How long did it take you to explore them all?

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  3. I have been to Odisha but guess would have missed this though I have been to Udayagiri caves in Vijaywada. I am a fan of caves as it highlight a deep sense of history and connection of the work done by artisans centuries ago. I shall explore this out too. Loved it

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  4. To be honest, I have only heard of the Ajanta and Ellora caves in India. These caves look equally stunning and historic. India has so much to explore. I think I have to live there to see the country properly!

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  5. Fascinating look at these caves although I am terrified of small places like these it looks like a must do to explore them. I do enjoy stories like these that involve culture and folklore.

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  6. Funny you mentioned that if they see white people they want pictures. When I visited India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka I posed for so many pictures with the locals! I have never visited the Udayagiri Caves but would love to. They look so detailed, I would take thousands of photos here!

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  7. How crazy is it to stand in front of structures that existed in BC times?? The carvings on these caves are so intricate, I wonder how long it took to make them. I would love to see the Udayagiri Caves for myself one day!

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  8. It is amazing seeing how uniquely beautiful this cave is. Full of sculptures and stories. I would like to visit this place someday.

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  9. This is the kind of place I'd like to visit. When we started seeing caves with sculptures in Cambodia, I just know that these things interest me.

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  10. Oh! You just brought back some childhood memories. I have visited these caves with my parents and grandparents. Goosebumps is what I got even that time. Waiting for your travelogue on Konark Sun temple.

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  11. That is such a great place to visit. Beautiful and stunning cave. Love to visit that. I will definitely put this on my bookmark as my future references to my next travel visit.

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  12. Odisha has eluded me so far. I love visiting ancient places like this. As you mentioned Kanheri cave is one of my favourite places. Haha, I know how people go crazy with selfies when they see whites. I like the details on the walls of the caves. Can’t wait to visit it!

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  13. Wow! The artifacts and architecture are amazing. So much rich history in these places!

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  14. This looks pretty awesome actually! What made me laugh out loud was actually when you wrote about people occasionally wanting to nab a selfie with a white tourist. This did indeed happen to me a bunch of times, but, as you mentioned, it was totally harmless.

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  15. Remains and caves with old artifacts are always interesting. Especially of some different culture. I am from Russia, living in EU now.

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  16. Never been to India, but I do like ancient sites and caves a lot. The pictures remind me of Petra, Jorden :)

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  17. I've never heard of the Jain Caves before reading your post, so thanks so much for the education! I love exploring underground, slightly ruined places like this even if they might be a bit overcrowded and touristy - I love the history of it all!

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  18. Never heard of these caves, thanks for sharing. Very interesting carvings and descriptive notes. The carvings still look like in good shape.

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  19. We have a friend who have always invited us to visit it and now thank to your post we know why. With your photos you inspired us and we'd love to try your same experience!!

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