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A Heritage Trail through Khandagiri and Udaygiri Hills by Detour Odisha Article n Photo by Abdul Quadir

On 24th July Detour Odisha , a young startup travel initiative based in Bhubaneswar , organized a Heritage Walk to explore the Ancient Jain trails along Khandagiri and Udaygiri .

Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves are partly natural and partly artificial caves of archaeological, historical and religious importance near the city of Bhubaneswar inOdisha, India. The caves are situated on two adjacent hills, Udayagiri and Khandagiri, mentioned as Kumari Parvat in the Hathigumpha inscription. They have a number of finely and ornately carved caves. It is believed that most of these caves were carved out as residential blocks for Jain monks during the reign of King Kharavela. Udayagiri means “Sunrise Hill” and has 18 caves while Khandagiri has 15 caves.

khandagiri udaigiri photowalk eodisha.org bhubaneswar photography by Abdul

The caves of Udayagiri and Khandagiri, calledlena or leṇa in the inscriptions, were dug out mostly during the reign of Kharavela for the abode of Jaina ascetics. The most important of this group is Ranigumpha in Udayagiri which is a double stored monastery.

Once upon a time there was a ruler called King Kharvela .He was crowned King at the age of 24 and the kingdom of Kalinga flourished under his rule. Kharavela was a king of the Mahameghavahana dynasty, who is known for expansion of the Kalinga empire and his installation of public improvements, such as canal systems. King Kharvela was a great patron of the Jain culture. Although he was tolerant of all faiths, Jainism was injected with a fresh vigour and made the state religion during his long tenure and it was he who got 117 caves excavated at a great cost on these hills during the 13th year of his reign. The origin of the rock cut caves date back to the 1st Century BC .

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As we closed in , the first cluster of caves looked down on us in a way that would make us take our hats off and make the humblest of bows ! Carved and tunneled these multi storied caves reveled in their beauty. We did not need the awestruck whispers round us to tell us what it was. Presenting the Rani Gumpha or the Queens Cave with its breathtaking panorama and balance. King Kharvela’ queen was evidently quite a patron of the arts, and probably had much to do with the impressive sculptural decoration of these caves. Description of King Kharvela’s capital and kingdom remain recorded for posterity in these caves, through inscriptions and carvings.

khandagiri udaigiri photowalk eodisha.org photography by Abdul
photography by Abdul

We moved on to the next site called Ganesh Gumpha . Flanked by two elephants on either side the Ganesh Gumpha is riddled with carvings that narrate the Story of the elopement of a Royal princess. More solitary caves for the Jain monks were perched above the Ganesh Gumpha. The gaping caves were very alluring and it was here that we took a brief moment to understand Jainism and the austere life of a Jain monk .

Jainism is an ancient religion from India which teaches that the way to liberation and bliss is to live lives of harmlessness and renunciation. The essence of Jainism is concern for the welfare of every being in the universe and for the health of the universe itself. Jains believe that animals and plants, as well as human beings, contain living souls. Each of these souls is considered of equal value and should be treated with respect and compassion. So the most central Jain teaching, and the heart of Jain ethics, is that of ahimsa (non-violence).

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Renouncing all worldly affairs the Jain monks often dwelled in hills and caves . These dry shelters amidst the forest provided them the perfect ambience to meditate and attain peaceful liberation. But the shocking dimensions of these caves will leave you stunned. There is just enough space to sit cross legged and recline a bit , but no more than that . One cannot stand inside it and there is no provision for keeping any belongings or stocking food items . These stone beds with a slightly reclined end give the feel of a reclined pillow , but it’s still stone ! Small holes dug by the monks along the roof and floors of the caves were the only way to conserve water as and when it rained or flowed through the rocks.

There is absolute solitude in caves. The spiritual currents are elevating and probably that’s the reason monks preferred to mediate in caves.

Leaving behind the solitary caves we made our way through the rocky terrains and finally end our trail of Udaygiri at the Hathi Gumpha . At towering heights the Hathi Gumpha with its inscriptions and balance often leaves visitors stunned.

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