India is a country filled with age-old temples, pilgrimages and sculptures. Some of them are already discovered and some are still yet to be. And one such age old sculpture is the Unakoti hill in Kailashahar, Tripura. Hidden away in the forests of Tripura, Unakoti is basically a pilgrimage site dedicated to Lord Shiva which is believed to be 11-13 centuries old.
The Unakoti hills are situated on the Jampui hills of North Tripura. It is about 178 kilometres from the state’s capital city of Agartala. Unakoti is famous due to the giant bas relief structure of Shiva. The term bas relief is a sculpture technique in which figures and/or other design elements are just barely more prominent than the (overall flat) background. It must be said that the sculptures carry a tribal look and emanate almost the same mysterious charm as the age-old fascinating figures in the Angkor Wat Temple of Cambodia.
Unakoti, which literally means one less a koti or crore believed to have more such undiscovered sculptures in the area. Of all the discovered ones, the 30-ft-long carving of Lord Shiva head called Unakotishwara Kal Bhairav is the most revered of all.
There are always various kind of legends and myths that are associated with such age-old sculptures and art. Unakoti is no different. Various legends are associated with the origin of the pilgrimage. Two of the most prominent of those would be :-
Once a devotee of Lord Shiva and his divine spouse Parvati, Kalu Kumhar, found the couple making their way to the Mount Meru and expressed his desire to travel with them to their renowned abode. Shiva, however, promised to take Kalu along only if he could sculpt a crore images of all the holy deities before daybreak. But Kalu couldn’t finish it in time with only one left. As a result, Shiva and Parvati proceeded onward to their home leaving Kalu behind.
Another legend associating the Unakoti hills is that Lord Shiva once set our for Kashi and 99,99,999 gods and goddesses followed him. They spent a night in Unakoti. Shiva had asked his followers to wake up before sunrise and make their way towards Kashi. Unfortunately though, except for Shiva, none woke up. So, before he set out for Kashi alone, he put a curse on the others, turning them to stone
As time passed, Unakoti has become both a kind of tourist spot and also a pilgrimage. Every year a big fair popularly known as Ashokastami Mela is held in the month of April. The festival is visited by thousands of pilgrims. Another smaller festival takes place in January which also attracts travellers amd pilgrims alike. Even though name depits less than crore. They sculptures that are found doesn’t amount to 99,99,999. If there are more that are lying to be found, only time will tell.
Visual by: Pallab Neog
Article by Puhar Pallab Bharali, The North-Eastern Chronicle