Located in the Raghunandan hills of the northeastern Indian state of Tripura, Unakoti has been a Hindu pilgrimage site since at least the 7th century. Unlike most Hindu sacred sites with temple constructions, Unakoti is famous for its collection of enormous bas-relief carvings on the side of a rocky hill.
Many of the rock carvings here depict the life of Lord Shiva as well as other instances from the Hindu Mythology. Sculptures of the Nandi Bull, Lord Ram , Lord Ganesha , Lord Hanuman and Lord Ganpati can also be seen here. Unakoti also makes a good place for hiking, trekking and other activities given the terrain and the natural offerings of the area.
Legend states that there was a local sculptor named Kallu Kumar, a devotee of goddess Parvati. When he expressed his desire to follow Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati to Kailash, Shiva tasked him to create stone-cut images of One crore gods and goddesses before sunrise. Some say, he was unable to do so and was one short of one crore before the sun rose, while other versions of the legend state that he started sculpting his own image to become immortal, and was unable to complete the task.
There is another legend, according to which one day, while on his way to Kashi, Lord Shiva along with an entourage of ten million gods and goddesses, decided to take a break and spend the night at Unakoti. He instructed all the gods and goddesses to be up and ready before dawn to re-embark on their journey. When everybody failed to wake up before dawn, Lord Shiva cursed them to turn into stone.
The legends still hold significance with the tribes in and around Unakoti, and every year they celebrate Ashokashtami between March-April, by worshipping Lord Shiva and his divine consort.
The most famous of the Unakoti reliefs is perhaps a figure of the face of Shiva known as the ‘Unokotiswara Kal Bhairava’. This image measures at about 9 meters in height, including an elaborate headdress which takes up a third of the entire relief. The figure is flanked by two goddesses on each side, one being Durga, identified by the lion she is standing astride on, and another unidentifiable goddess.
Three images of Nandi, the bull can also be found, half-buried in the ground nearby, along with stone images of Lord Vishnu, Lord Hanuman and other gods and goddesses.
Nobody has yet counted the total number of sculptures at Unakoti, but the Archaeological Survey of India suggests that numerous other sculptures remain undiscovered in and around the forests.
Although Unakoti is a well-known pilgrimage site for Hindus, there is much more to learn about the site and its reliefs. Apart from the lack of information regarding the age of the reliefs and the people who made them, it is also unclear as to the total number of reliefs. According to an assessment made by the Archaeological Survey of India, it seems that there are still reliefs and statues in the jungle yet to be discovered. Perhaps one of these undiscovered objects may provide us with more information about these works of art.