The many facets of Shiva
Shiva is a deity with many legends and folk tales. From the form of a dancer, Lord Nataraja, symbolizing the cosmic dance, to the Linga, representing the atomic structure and also the structure most suited for storage of energy with little wastage. However the unique form of Shiva in Unakoti, is that of a tribal lord. Such a representation is seen nowhere else. For a moment, Amish Tripathi’s description of Shiva as a competent tribal warrior in his Shiva trilogy books suddenly rings true. The Bas relief of Shiva, his family and other deities are carved on the natural contours of the rocks in the area.
Location of Unakoti
Unakoti is part of a national biodiversity park of the same name on a range of hills called the Unakoti hills. To the west and the north of the hills is Bangladesh. Unakoti is between the state capital of Agartala and the city of Dharmanagar on the Agartala – Dharmanagar – Karimganj highway.
The main Bas relief of Unakotishwera Kala Bhairav ie Shiva is about 30 ft and may be considered one of the biggest in the country. There are several statues and bas relief carved in the adjacent landscapes and some are yet to be discovered. Statues of Goddess Durga and Ganga next to Lord Siva and the Ganesh sculptures are the most exquistive of the reliefs found in there.
The three Ganesh statues are accompanied by a small and beautiful waterfall which drains itself into a pool before the statues. One extremely unique feature is that Ganesha is shown as a lean God without his signature pot- belly.
A small collection of various statues found in the vicinity are displayed near the ashram found on one corner of hills. The Ashram also continues puja for the main Shiva statue. During monsoons the beauty of the place is enhanced by the greenery and the waterfalls that fall on the bas reliefs.
Legend and Folklore of Unakoti
Dating of the sculptures vary widely based on sources. Official sources date it to 9 – 10th century AD during the Pala rule. There are several legends to the origin of Unakoti .
Unakoti means one less than a crore inBengali. It is said that a local sculptor called Kallu Kumar wanted to accompany Shiva and Parvati to their heavenly abode of Mt.Kailash. Shiva wary of the request assigned Kumar the job of creating one crore sculptures by day break to grant his wish, and Kumar fell short of his target by one. Another legend says the sculptor received a divine message in his dream to create the reliefs and went on to create one crore sculptures of Gods and Goddess. at the end of this task, he created the last sculptor on himself rather than of the Gods and hence is considered as one less than a crore.
Another folklore tale mentions that Shiva along with one crore deities (including himself was travelling to Kasi and decided to rest overnight in the hills, He had bid the deities to be awake and ready by day break. However at day break, Siva found himself to be the only one awake and cursed all other deities to turn into stones.
How to Reach and where to stay
Agatala, the capital city has the nearest airport and is about 178 Km away. Another airport, Kailashahar is being converted into a commercial airport under the government’s Udaan project. The nearest railway station is Kumarghat. If travelling by road from Assam / Mizoram direction, then Dharmanagar , 40 Km from Unakoti, is a good place to stay for the day trip. If you are flying into Agartala, a 3 hour journey one way gets you to Unakoti. Kailashahar is another good place to stay, but the town is on the side of Unakoti which is away from the highway, so it doesn’t make sense travelling in the opposite direction to get accommodation.
Tripura’s roads have been revamped and the roads are in excellent condition throughout the state. But the state is sparsely populated, so take care of fuel and food needs inside the cities themselves, e.g. Agartala, Dharmanagar, Kailashahar or Kumarghat.
Unakoti is maintained well and has good toilet facilities. The site is open from sunrise to sunset and the best time to get there is as early as possible before the tourist crowd hits. The highway between Dharmanagar and Agartala, which covers Unakoti along the way, has rolling hills and tropical forests. So it is a pleasure to drive.
It’s not often that you see a depiction of deities in tribal form as huge bas reliefs on huge rock faces. So even though Unakoti is way too far from the most important cities of India, it is well worth the visit. Don’t miss this unique man-made wonder of ancient India.