Bhubaneswar: The Odisha capital has memoirs not just of the eras of kings and queens, but that of early humans dating back to stone age. Evidence of pre-calendar era is splashed across rocks and caves on the outskirts of the city.
Not very unknown, the caves at Udaygiri (Rising hills) and Khandagiri (Broken hills), are one of the oldest heritage sites of Odisha. But did you know the history behind these historic hills?
In the pre-historic era, these hills were natural rock shelter at an elevated position where early men took shelter. The elevation helped these early humans to hunt safely.
With settlements, men started building houses and the caves were no longer used. During the Vedic age and the onset of religious practices, Jain monks started spending time here.
Jainism is said to be practiced in this part of Odisha from the time of Parshwanath, the earliest Jain Tirthankara, which is about 7-8 centuries before Christ. It is also said that Mahavir Jain, the 24th Tirthankara, himself visited these hills twice in 500 B.C.
But in around 200-300 BC, Buddhism became popular. After the Kalinga war, King Ashoka, who was extremely affected by the bloodshed and deaths in the war, started a missionary to spread Buddhism which had a huge influence across his reign and this religion took over for some time.
Jainism started to flourish yet again during 100 BC.
In the first century, under the reign of King Mahameghavahana Kharavela of the Chedi dynasty, tremendous changes were brought in the then Odisha. Technology evolved and stone-cutting tools came in, with the help of which, he got these natural caves chiseled into proper living rooms.
He excavated around 117 caves out of which only 33 caves can still be found. Stones from these hills were cut and used to build temples elsewhere. The chisel marks can still be seen!
King Kharavela got the walls of these caves carved, which was the beginning of stone-carving in Odisha. These seem to be uneven and crude since the local sculptors had not tried carving on stones before.
Caves here were also used by the king for administrative purposes, while monks took shelter here at night.
Royal families often spent time in these caves, especially in the ‘Rani Gumpha’, which was used for recreational purposes and is mentioned so in the big inscriptions on the walls of these caves.
Historians say that these inscriptions in Brahmi script and the Pali/Prakrit language, were written by two different writers since the handwritings are different. Various inscriptions and carvings also include Swastika symbolizing holiness or auspiciousness.
Most of the carvings show various activities of the kings with his two queens and subjects, while there are others that show victory march, win over Magadha, and the war days. The beautiful carvings have started to erode since these are sandstones of moderate quality.
Activities related to excavation and carvings continued in these caves till 1000-1100 A.D, and the recent ones can easily be differentiated from older carvings. The names assigned to various caves you see today are recent developments; these caves have been going through renovations from time to time.
King Kharavela ruled for 13 long years and what happened for the next 200 years is still a mystery!
These were some of the many facts discovered about the Monks, Caves, and Kings during the Ekamra Walks yesterday, in the cold rainy morning. It is being organized by Detour Odisha in association with Odisha Tourism, every weekend morning.