Where stones speak
Discover a treasure trove of rock carvings and stone images in Tripura
Compared to the number of domestic and international tourists received by other Indian States, Tripura’s share is certainly negligible. Nestled in a corner of northeast India, it, however, is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered by travel enthusiasts. This largely hidden land, ruled by a number of kings for several hundred years, deserves a visit for many reasons, one being its rich art of rock carvings and stone images.
Some of the rock carvings and stone images in Tripura go back to the seventh century,if not earlier. Travelling through the Statecan make one come face to face with several such art and architectural marvels, also dating from the eight to the 15th centuries.
Despite their enormous archaeological value, the negligence of the State authorities and the Archaeological Survey of India -- the prime agency for preservation of our heritage, is palpable. Add to it natural factors likeearthquakes, rains, etc. over the centuries, and what you get now are heaps of stones scattered all over these sites. Yet, whatever has remained is valuable, not just from the point of attracting tourists but also for the study of art history in Tripura.
Tripura’s royal dynasty, which controlled it for 517 years through 184 kings, had been known for their passion for art and culture, a reflection of which could be seen in the rock carving sites.Also in architectural splendours like the majestic Udaipur Palace. King Krishna Kishore Manikya Bahadur (1748-1783) shifted the Capital from Udaipur in southern Tripura to PuranHabeli in 1760. In 1838, he shifted the Capital yet again, this time 10 kms northeast of PuranHabeii, to Agartala.
At the end of the 517-year rule by the royal dynasty, Tripura joined the Indian Union on October 15, 1949, as per an agreement signed by KanchanPrabha Devi, the then regent queen.
Though the erstwhile royal family is still prominent in the State, and still comes across as art and culture enthusiasts, it has,however, done little to preserve theprecious rock carvings and stone images that its forefathers have left behind, perhaps due to lack of funds and skilled hands. Not just the rock carvings, the Udaipur palace too is in in need of urgent attention.
Of late though, the State Tourism Department has taken up aRs 1.41 crore project to give a facelift to Unakoti in northern Tripura, the most precious of sites for rock carvings and stone images in the State.
Those interested in taking a peek at Tripua’s rock carvings can start their discovery trail from Unakoti itself. They can thereafter visit Deotamura and Pilak.Below are a few guidelines, tips and specific notes on the sites put together for a comfortable trip of a heritage hardly heard.
The largest rock carvings and stone images are in Unakoti in Kailashahar in northern Tripura. According to historians, Unakoti’s rock carvings and stone images are ofa ‘Shaiba’ (Saivite) pilgrimage and dates back to 7th to 9th Centuries or a little earlier. The splendid rock carvings, murals with their primitive beauty and waterfalls have been attracting historians, scholars, and researchers besides a handful of tourists from across the country and abroad.
The word ‘unakoti’ means one less than a crore. There is a common lore that binds these jumble of rock images.It is believed that when Lord Shiva was going to Kashi along with one crore gods and goddesses, he made a night halt at this forested location. Shiva asked all the gods and goddesses to wake up before sunrise and proceed for Kashi, in present-day Uttar Pradesh.
However, in the morning, except Shiva himself, no one else could get up very early.So Shiva set out for Kashi alone, cursing the others to become stone images. The reason why Unakotionce had stone images that numberedjust one less than a crore.
These carvings are located at a picturesque forest area with green vegetation all around which add to the overall beauty. The images found at Unakoti are of two types -- rock-carved figures and stone images.
Among the rock carvings, the central Shiva head and a gigantic Ganesha figure deserve special mention. The Shiva head, known as UnakotiswaraKalBhairava, is about 30 feet high. It includes an embroidered headdress which itself is 10 feet high. On each side of the headdress of Shiva stands two full size female figures -- one of them is Durga on a lion. In addition, three enormous images of Nandi are found half buried in the ground.
Every April, a fair popularly known as AshokastamiMelais held at Unakoti where thousands of pilgrims from within and outside the State gather.
Location: Unakoti is180 km north of Tripura capital Agartala. It is 8 km from Kailashahar.
Accommodation: Unakoti Tourist Lodge in Kailashahar;Juri Tourist Lodge and Uttarmegh Tourist Lodge in the adjoining town Dharmanagar.
How to reach: From Agartala to Kailashahar by bus or by train up to Kumarghatfollowed by a half an hour journey by taxi to Kailashahar.
For bookings, contact: Tripura Tourism Development Corporation – 0381-2325930/2317878, Unakoti Tourist Lodge in Kailashahar – 03824-223635, Juri Tourist Lodge in Dharmanagar – 03822-231921
Deotamura or Devatamura is famous for its rock carvings panels done on a steep mountain wall facing River Gomati, Tripura’s main river that flows to neighbouringBangladesh and merges with Meghna. There are huge carved images of Shiva, Vishnu, Kartika, MahisasurMardiniDurga and other gods and goddesses here. This is also called Chabimura. These images date back to 14th and 15th centuries.
This peak of gods is an extensive hill range situated on a bifurcation of the BaramuraMountain between Udaipur and Amarpur sub-divisions under Gomati district. This site has remained a place of interest for researchers and archaeologists because of the panels of rock sculptures carved out of high rocky walls.They depict the regional style of rock carving and are marked by ethnic elements of the local areas inhabited by both tribals and non-tribals.
However, lack of preservation of these panels is beginning to take a toll on them. Former senior bureaucrat, writer and tourism specialist Subhash Das says over 35 percent of these have been damaged during the last five-six decades.
Location: Deotamura is 80 km northeast of Agartala and 15 km from the Amarpur sub-divisional town.
Accommodation: Sagarika tourist lodge;Raima tourist lodge and Jatanbari guest house at Jatanbari and Amarpur tourist lodge in Amarpur.
How to reach:From Agartala to Amarpur by taxi or bus and then by a hired boat.
For bookings, contact: Tripura Tourism Development Corporation – 0381-2325930/2317878 and Sagarika tourist lodge – 09774517820
Pilak in southern Tripura, adjoining Bangladesh, is a prominent site of a civilization which flourished fromthe 8th to the 12th Centuries. It was a cradle of culture of heterodox creeds and sects representing Hinduism -- Shiva, Surya, Vaishnavi and Buddhism -- Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana, which bear testimony to the peaceful co-existence of the two cultures.
The important places in Pilak are ShyamSundarTilla, Deb Bari, ThakuraniTilla, BalirPathar, Basudev Bari and SagarDeba. The art form and style followed in the making of the images and in the sculptures appear to have remote resemblance to the sculptural and architectural style of the Palas and Guptas of Bengal. The influence of Arakan (in Myanmar) and local style is discernable in the form and style of Pilak images and sculpture.The moulded terracotta plaques bear resemblance to moulded plaques recovered from Paharpur and Mainamati. The Buddhist Complex here may be assigned a date between 9th and 10th Century A.D.
However, a number of rockcuts and terracotta plaques lie scattered in various places of the area under Santir Bazar sub-division in the South Tripura district.
Unlike some other sites, ASI has taken several steps to protect the sculptures found in Pilak though. During excavation in the late sixties, ASI found brick built stupas. It has plans to do some more excavation to unearth the hidden cultural heritage of the neighbouring area.
It may be presumed that the extensive plains of Tripura were under the control of several dynasties who ruled Eastern Bengal and Samatata in the ancient period. Some of these rulers were Buddhists while the others were Hindus. Most of these rulers had their capitals near this region. The ancient kingdom of Pattikera had its capital in Comilla region and Pilak is not very far from Comilla in eastern Bangladesh.
The ancient mounds of this area, situated in low lying areas, are now being largely converted into agricultural fields and homestead lands. Fortunately, a few mounds have survived. Many antiquities including stone and metal sculptures, terracotta plaques and sealing and coins have come to light from these mounds. The adjoining Belonia sub-division, now the district headquarters of South Tripura district, was contiguous to the southern part of the erstwhile Chakla-Rosnabad, a zamindari region of the former Tripura kings, now in Bangladesh.
Pilak and nearby areas are regarded as places of concentration of the Magh tribes who are Buddhist by religion.Buddhist tourists from Southeast Asia and Japan often visit the place. Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama visited it in 2007.
Location: Pilak is 115 km south of Agartala and 66 km from Gomati district headquarters Udaipur.
Nearest Town: Santir Bazar (19 km), Jolaibari (2 km), Belonia (25 km) and Sabroom (40 km).
Accommodation: Pilak Tourist Lodge (Jolaibari);PilakPantha Niwas (Bagafa) and Manu Yatriniwas (Manu Bazar).
For bookings, contact: Tripura Tourism Development Corporation – 0381-2325930/2317878.
( The author is a senior journalist based in Agartala and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )