For a number of years now I have wanted to experience the rock-cut Jain monuments that are a well known site to see when visiting Gwalior. From early research last winter it was clear that there are two main locations to head to; Gopachal Parvat and Siddhanchal, both of which are clearly marked on Google maps and well documented on the internet.
These rock-cut Jain sculptures are unique in Northern India in terms of their gigantic size and number. They are all excavated in the steep cliff immediately below the walls of Gwalior fort. From inscriptions we know oldest set of carvings were executed within a generation, and started around 1468.
Sadly, many of the carvings have also been mutilated. In Baber’s own memoirs of 1527, just 60 years after they were hewn from the cliff face, he records :
“They have hewn the solid rock and sculpted out of it idols of larger and smaller size. On the south part is a large idol about 20 gaz (40 ft). These figures are perfectly naked, without even a rag to cover the parts of generation. This is far from being a mean place, on the contrary it is extremely pleasant. The greatest fault consists in the idol figures all about it. I directed these idols to be destroyed.”
Thankfully his orders were not fully carried out. Only some of the faces were mutilated, and some have since been repaired with stucco.
The hill into which these colossal statues have been carved is itself huge, and it got me wondering if there were other lesser-known sites what existed elsewhere on the outcrop. Internet searches were not giving me any answers, so I decided to dig into the archaeological record to see what I could find.
Alexander Cunningham reported on his findings around Gwalior in a set of four documents that were published in 1862-1865. In the report I was glad (and excited!) to read that he mentions five separate groups of Jain carvings on Gwalior hill, so it would appear my hunch was correct and there was indeed more to see than the two sites I mentioned earlier. Luckily, he also provided a map of the hill and indicated where these five groups were located.
Using Alexander Cunningham’s classification and modern day names, the five sites are :
- Gopachal Parvat (SE Group)
- SW Group
- Siddhanchal (Urvai Group)
- NW Group
- NE Group
This was a challenge I could not resist ! I set aside a day to explore the rock-cut Jain monuments on Gwalior hill, mostly on foot, and below are links to the five sites as documented by Alexander Cunningham, and what there is to see today.
Click on the large tiles to view my photographic account of each location.
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