I had heard about Udaygiri caves for almost a decade. Every time I read about Sanchi in any travel magazine or brochure, the name Udaygiri sprung up, as a must visit excursion. Thus, on a recent visit to Bhopal and Sanchi, I decided to visit Udaygiri, known for its caves and many reliefs and sculptures, the most prominent one being of the Varaha, the third of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu.
My first impression of Udaygiri was luke warm. It wasn’t monumental like Mughal architecture, it wasn’t narrative like the Toranas at Sanchi, but it was mysterious. The name means ‘mountain of the sunrise’ and once I pictured it in its original form, it would have had that monumental importance for the Gupta kings to stop by. Home to 14 caves, which were commissioned by Chandragupta II in the 4th and 5th century, Udaygiri reveals itself to the few visitors as you go around the hill. I started with Cave 1 and slowly worked my way up to 13. Most of the caves are now empty but few still have Gupta inscriptions and idols of Ganesha and Kartikeye, sons of Lord Shiva. Cave 4 has a beautiful Shiva-linga. I couldn’t stop admiring as it radiated this energy even in the middle of the afternoon.
Cave 5 has the impressive and the most famous relief of the Varaha, the third incarnation of Vishnu, which had the body of a human and the head of a boar. The relief shows Varaha slaying the demon Hiranyaksha and rescuing Bhudevi (Earth Goddess) from the primordial waters. The legend is that the demon stole the earth and hid her in the primordial waters. Upon seeing Bhudevi’s ordeal, Lord Vishnu takes the form of a Varaha and comes to fight Hiranyaksha, who was blessed with a boon that he could not be killed by either a man or an animal. The Varaha avatar, being half man-half boar, could kill him and save the earth. Thus Bhudevi is shown as Varaha’s consort in images from Indian mythology, often sitting on the Varaha’s tusks.
If weather and energy permits, do see all the caves, a couple of the Jain caves being on the top of the hill. Cave 13 has a beautiful carved relief of Lord Vishnu lying on the serpent Ananta. The number of these caves was done in the 19th century by Alexander Cunningham.
Udaygiri is one of the treasures of Madhya Pradesh and I recommend everyone to visit it. Just another piece of information- there are two Udaygiri caves, one in Madhya Pradesh and the other is in Orissa, both bearing good historical importance. Keep exploring!