Udayagiri

Udayagiri ("Risen Mountain") is an archaeological-historical site 10 miles north of Sanchi (another famous historical site), and few miles from Vidisha--now a small town, but 1500 years ago a royal capital.  Udayagiri is famous for a series of rock-cut caves and temples dating back to the Gupta Period (350-550 CE), a formative era for Hindu religious ideas.  Such visible projects may have reflected the Guptas' personal piety, but were also clear political statements to display their ruling power. 

These caves were typically cut from the rock starting at the ceiling and working down (no scaffolding needed), and included architectural details typical of constructed buildings. 

This photo (Nov. 2005) shows the exterior of one of these temples.

 

The most famous carving at Udayagiri is a five-foot (or so) tall statue of Vishnu's Boar Avatar (here show rescuing the Earth, who is hanging on his tusk), with the worshipful masses standing in homage by the sides.  This image was in the personal temple of King Chandra Gupta II (ruled 376-415 C.E.), and his  choice of the Varaha Avatar carries enormous symbolic weight. 

A recurring motif in the stories of Vishnu's avatars is the defeat of evil and chaos, and the reestablishment of order and balance in the universe.  After defeating the Shaka kingdom, Chandra Gupta II became the overlord ruling over much of north India, and his patron deity surely represents how he saw himself--as a manifestation of  Vishnu on earth bringing order to the world through exercising his power and righteous rule. 

It's a beautiful sculpture--that conveys all sorts of images of God's power and majesty, and is well worth the trip to see it.   I'm sure that this was cut out of the rock, but it's not in a cave so much as under an overhanging shelf of rock.

November 2005

 

On the wall to the right of the boar sculpture are some smaller panels showing figures of various deities; this one is Durga slaying the Buffalo Demon Mahishasura.   Here Durga is portrayed with multiple arms holding weapons (she is usually shown like this, as a sign of her divine power); one of her arms is holding the buffalo's head, which is she about to cut off with the other. 

Most modern Hindu temples have images of a variety of deities in addition to the primary deity, and the presence of these panels clearly shows that this practice is very old.  Although I am reluctant to give one single explanation what this means, Hindus clearly accept the existence of multiple gods and goddesses (or perhaps multiple FORMS of gods and goddesses), and respect them all, even if only one is their primary object of worship. 

November 2005

 

Here's another figure of a deity (which is just to the left of the Durga figure above--you can see a bit of one of her hands at upper left. 

The four arms and high crown lead me to guess that this is another image of Vishnu perhaps showing his Vamana (Dwarf) Avatar.

In this story a powerful asura named Bali gained control over the world, and Vishnu appeared to him in the form of a Dwarf, asking for three paces worth of land so that he could perform a sacrifice (this would be at the lower right).  When Bali agreed, the Dwarf grew to cosmic size, and in two paces measured out the whole of the heavens and the earth, and with the third pushed Bali down to the under world (here doing it with his hand).

This story not only reinforces that that Vishnu restores balance to the universe, but also shows how he uses cunning and trickery for the benefit of the world (another common motif in many stories about Vishnu).

 

November 200


 
Here's another figure of a deity (which is just to the left of the Durga figure above--you can see a bit of one of her hands at upper left. 

The four arms and high crown lead me to guess that this is another image of Vishnu perhaps showing his Vamana (Dwarf) Avatar.

In this story a powerful asura named Bali gained control over the world, and Vishnu appeared to him in the form of a Dwarf, asking for three paces worth of land so that he could perform a sacrifice (this would be at the lower right).  When Bali agreed, the Dwarf grew to cosmic size, and in two paces measured out the whole of the heavens and the earth, and with the third pushed Bali down to the under world (here doing it with his hand).

This story not only reinforces that that Vishnu restores balance to the universe, but also shows how he uses cunning and trickery for the benefit of the world (another common motif in many stories about Vishnu).

 

November 2005

 

Later rulers carved their own temples into the nearby caves, and this one (to Shiva caught my eye because of the inscription carved on the side of one of the "pillars" (remember that this wasn't a pillar brought in, but remaining part of the original hillside from which the rest had been cut away).  Note the fluting and sharp edges in the carving, which likely have been found as decorative elements in built-up temple pillars.  This pillar caught my eye because of the inscription, and particularly the date (vikram samvat 1093=1036/37 C.E.). 

This temple was cut over 600 years after Chandra Gupta II's reign, which clearly shows that Udayagiri was still an important site.  The person behind this was likely trying to call up comparisons between himself and Chandra Gupta II.

Aside from the date I can only recognize letters at this point, so translating it will have to wait for a little while. 

 

Here's the image of Shiva in the cave with the pillar above--fronted his faithful retainer, the bull Nandi (whom this picture shows from the back).  At the far left is a linga, the aniconic symbol of Shiva, along with two other statues beside it.  All the figures have been decorated with marigolds, but I'm not sure whether this was really evidence of continuing worship there--the cave is controlled by the ASI, and locked with steel mesh gates--or whether this was a strategy to generate offerings for the caretakers.

One noteworthy thing is that this temple is very small--in my memory no more than 8 by 10 feet.  Hindu temples are primarily homes for the gods, and not meeting-places for a congregation, and so a small space can do very well.  Of course, cutting even a small cave out of a hillside would be a prodigious task!

 

November 2005

 

The Udayagiri caves are set right    beside Udayagiri village--of which this photo shows one of the lanes.   The building style of these houses was very typical for the region--brick or masonry walls, timber rafters, and flat stones for the roof.  I was very impressed by how clean and neat everything looked--no trash, no clutter, everything very neat. 

The houses all looked freshly painted, which may have been done as part of the preparations for the festival of Diwali, which had fallen two weeks before.  For Diwali people typically clean and repair their houses, and may get them painted as well.  Since Diwali falls after the end of the rainy season, this makes it a good time of year to paint. 

 

November 2005

 

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Last modified 28 January 2006