Undavalli Caves are a monolithic example of Indian rock-cut architecture and are famous throughout the country. These caves were carved out of solid sandstone on a hillside in the 4th to 5th centuries A.D. They are located in Undavalli of Guntur district in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
It is a four-storeyed temple with an east-facing facade with a variation in the depth and plan of excavation of each storey. With eight pillars and seven door openings on the facade, the ground floor is an unfinished low pillared hall. The first storey accommodates three separate sanctuaries for Trimurthi that is Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara, each with a pillared hall in front. Trinity in Hindu mythology holds a significant place and is worshipped as an embodiment of cosmic functions of creation, maintenance and destruction. There is a pillared rectangular shrine of Anantasayi (Vishnu reclining on serpent couch) on the second storey of the Rock cut Cave Temple.
The second floor contains the most amazing sculpture in this temple, a huge, 5 m long statue of Lord Vishnu in his Padmanabha aspect shown in a reclining posture. Also, this statue resembles similar Buddha statues in some other cave temples. The sculpture is made out of a single block of granite. Over Vishnu there is a canopy of multi-hooded Adi-Shesha, king of all nagas, the shrine is adorned with numerous other sculptures as well.
Facade of the third floor is adorned with numerous sculptures, including depictions of lions and elephants. There opens beautiful view through these ancient sculptures towards other green hills and stands of palms below.
The overall structure resembles that of Jain architecture and it is said that these caves once served as Jain Viharas and accommodated Jain sadhus. In fact, one can see the sculptures of Thirthankaras and Vihara structure in the first level of Undavalli caves. The cave is also structured like Buddhist monasteries with Buddhist carvings. A historical record also mentions that Undavalli Caves was once a site of Bikkhu (Buddhist monks) monastery complex.
As per the historical evidence, Madhava Reddy, who ruled this region as the subordinate under the Reddies of Kondaveedu, gifted the caves to the temple of Anantha Swamy. Cave in its planning belongs to the earliest examples of Gupta architecture although several details on the second floor show the influence of Chalukyan architecture.
There is an exciting legend about the cave which states that here starts 9 kilometers long underground passage leading to the sacred Mangalgiri mountain. Many locals believe in its existence and consider that the entrances have been closed and hidden by authorities to avoid accidents. From the distance, it resembles an abandoned fort but when approached it reveals an exciting sight, whole enormous structure is cut in a monolithic sandstone cliff.
Undavalli Caves, by their sheer beauty of design and construction, speak volumes of the inconceivably advanced architectural skills of the ancient Viswakarma sthapathis which means temple architects and builders which leaves one in wonderment and pride about India’s advanced culture during the ancient and medieval times. Undavalli Caves doesn’t belong to one particular religion. It has been occupied and developed by people of different faiths. So, it has served as a spiritual center for three religions at different time intervals.