Khandagiri Caves – Bhubaneswar

Located directly opposite the Udayagiri Caves complex on the other side of the road, Khandagiri Caves comprises of 15 caves in total, and it is believed the excavations here are a little later than Udayagiri. However, the use of the complex extended far longer than at Udayagiri, the last inscription at Udayagiri is dated to the 12th century A.D, but Khandagiri Caves continued to gain importance as a Jain tirtha, which it still is today. The caves were extensively renovated during the reign of Uddyotakeshari of the Somavamshi dynasty in the 11th century A.D.

Khandagiri means “broken hill”, which perhaps in some respects is a very apt name for this site. Anyone visiting these two sites on the same day will immediately notice how different they are. Although the ticket you purchase for Udayagiri also covers visiting Khandagiri Caves, there is no checking of your ticket at Khandagiri and before long you will come to realise that the site is not really maintained at all.

On my visit it was strewn with rubbish, with many of the locals just throwing rubbish on the ground without a care in the world. Inside a couple of the caves youths were smoking drugs, it was so disappointing to see. To be perfectly honest I think Khandagiri Caves is the worst maintained and managed archaeological site I have visited in India, and I’ve seen over 500 sites in the country.

I guess part of the problem here is that these caves are still in active use by the locals and open to all, and there’s even a modern Jain temple built on the summit of the hill. But the situation doesn’t appear to be anything new, Khandagiri Caves has been the subject of contention for its ownership for over 100 years.

In 1912 the complex was declared a protected site, and three years later in 1915 the Commissioner of Orissa became the sole guardian. But for the next 32 years there were many protests from both Hindus and Jains. The situation intensified further in 1947 when the ASI requested to acquire land and stopped a Hindu math from replacing a pre-existing building at the foot of the hill.

It is not clear to me exactly who owns the cave complex today or who, if indeed anyone, even cares and has the right to maintain it. The hill is equally sacred to Hindus and Jains, and is probably the most important pilgrimage site for the Jain community in Odisha. The site also seems to be extremely popular with the Hindu community of nearby villages and towns.

Feeling a little deflated by the initial state I found the cave complex, and having spent some time at Udayagiri already, my will to fully explore Khandagiri was quite diminished. Of the 15 caves on the hill, I saw and recorded 7 caves. By then I had simply had enough !

As with my recording of Udayagiri Caves, the caves will be listed in numerical order and is unlikely to be the order may explore the complex.

Cave 1 : Tatowa Gumpha I

Named after carvings of parrots on the arches of the doorways, this cave has a single cell with two entrances. Two guardians flank the cave entrance. This was one of the caves that I didn’t venture far into as it was already occupied by some youths clearly enjoying themselves.

An inscription that can be found inside this cave reads :

Cave of Kusuma, an inhabitant of Padamulika

Cave 2 : Tatowa Gumpha II

With the images of parrots also carved on the cell doorways, Cave 2 has confusingly adopted the same name as Cave 1. Unlike it’s namesake, this cave is larger and is more heavily decorated.

Unlike many of the caves both here and at Udayagiri, the space between the door lintel and archway above is decorated. Lotus garlands appear here on the outer doorways, with the central doorway depicting what appears to be a honeysuckle design.

A badly damaged Brahmi inscription exists on the inner wall of the cell (not photographed), the style of the script suggests a date between 1st century B.C. and 1st century A.D. Carvings of lions and elephants also form part of the overall design.

Cave 3 : Ananta Gumpha

One of the more interesting caves in the complex, if you’re limited in time this is definitely one of the caves to head to.

The inner cell originally had four doorways, but two of these no longer exist which is a great shame as the decoration in this cave is notable. On the back wall of the cell is the figure of a Jain tirthankar together with a group of symbols, all of these are dated to the medieval period.

The cell doorways are carved with intertwining serpent tails, which forms the arches. The serpent has a three-headed hood which give us the name of this cave.

As with Cave 2, the space below the arches before the top of the doorways are richly carved with various themes.

The first surviving doorway, now fragmentary, depicts elephants, one appearing to have four tusks. The elephant on the left is offering a lotus to the elephant on the right. One imagines this elephant theme would continue on had the doorway have been fully preserved.

Moving along, the next panel has also not fully survived. It depicts a man wearing a turban with an umbrella above him. He seems to be sitting on a chariot driven by four horses. The sun, moon and a star have been carved above and around him. The man is flanked by two women.

Some scholars have identified this image as Surya (Sun God), attended by his two wives, Chaya and Samjna. The obvious question here is, if this is Surya, why the chariot is driven by four horses rather than seven ?

The next panel is both complete and more easy to identify. It shows Lakshmi standing on a lotus in the middle, holding a lotus flower in each of her hands.

She is flanked by two elephants who appear to be pouring water over her, and behind both elephants are carvings of parrots. Lakshmi is a common motif that can be found in many Hindu, Jain and Buddhist sites.

A fourth panel (not photographed) depicts a group of four people around a tree that is enclosed within a railing. This is almost identical to a panel that can be seen in Cave 5 (Jaya Vijara Gumpha) at Udayagiri Caves opposite this site.

Cave 4 : Tentuli Gumpha

This cave is named after a tamarind tree that once stood nearby but has long since gone.

It has a small cell with two entrances, the capitals depicting elephants and lions, the central brackets carved with a woman holding a lotus

Cave 5 : Khandagiri Gumpha

Named after a crack in the cave, this double storey cave is the first one you come to when you enter the cave complex.

There is nothing of any particular note in this case. Access to the upper level is not very easy.

Cave 6 : Dhyana Gumpha

Judging by the chisel marks, it looks as though this cave once had pillars and veranda before the cell. At some point in the past it has been converted into a large and wide open-fronted chamber.

Cave 7 : Navamuni Gumpha

Similar to Cave 6, this cave appears to have been modified at a date after its original excavation with the removal of the partition wall creating two cells, and the veranda in front. This may have been done in order to accommodate the numerous carvings of Jain tirthankaras that are now present on the back and side walls which give this cave its name.

On the back wall we have the seven tirthankara images on the top row (Rishabhanatha, Ajitanatha, Sambhavanatha, Abhinandannatha, Vasupujya, Parshvanatha and Neminatha).

On the row below is Ganesha on the far left, followed by the respective tirthankara guardians (Chakresvari, Rohini, Prajnyapti, Vajrasrinkhala, Gandhari, Padmavati and Amra).

The right hand wall has carvings of Parshvanatha and Rishabhanatha.

There are a total of five inscriptions in this cave, two of which have been dated to the reign of the Somavamshi dynasty king Uddyotakesari (circa 11th century A.D.).

Cave 8 : Barabhuji Gumpha

Containing a number of carved Jain images similar to Cave 7, I did not visit this cave.

Cave 9 : Trusula Gumpha

This cave also contains quite a few Jain carvings, which are thought be be quite late in date, potentially 15th century A.D. Unvisited.

Cave 10 : Ambika Gumpha

Considerably ruined now and wasn’t visited.

Cave 11 : Lalatendu Keshari Gumpha

Some Jain carving exist in this cave, but I did not visit it.

Cave 12 & 13 : Unnamed

Both ruined and unvisited.

Cave 14 : Ekadasi Gumpha

Ruined and unvisited.

Cave 15 : Unnamed

Containing a small water pool, I did not see this cave.

In hindsight I do regret not visiting all of the caves at Khandagiri, but perhaps one day in the future I will revisit Bhubaneswar and complete the job. I also hope efforts will be made to clean up the site, my memories of seeing the complex are not very positive overall.

Khandagiri Caves does not appear to be a gated site, it looks as though it is open everyday at any time.

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