Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves are a bunch of partly natural and partly man-made caves that had been carved out by the Jain monks during the reign of king Kharvela, of the Mahameghavahana dynasty. The caves are situated in two adjacent hills namely, Khandagiri and Udayagriri. These caves have very intricately and ornately carved out from mountains in the 2nd century BCE, mostly for residential purposes.
Two of these cave complexes are maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India and are popular tourist spots in Odisha B.M Barua, based on the 14th line inscription of the Hathigumpha, declared that there were about 117 caves in total, were excavated in the reign of king Kharvela on the Kumari hill. But later researchers like Marshall and M.M Ganguli have come with numbers like 38 and 27 respectively.
Currently,Udayagiri, which literally means the “sun-rise hill”consists of around 18 caves and Khandagiri caves have 15 caves, which are still standing strong. These caves are not only architectural masterpieces of the ancient indian architecture and marvellous work of craftsmanship, it is also a symbolization of peace, love and religious tolerance. On these sister hills are called “lena” in the inscriptions and the hills taken together called the “kumari” hills.
The most important of these caves is the “Rani-Gunmpha” which is a lavish two-storied cave, which is believed to have been carved for the Queen and hence the name. The other important caves include Hathigumpha, Anantagumpha, Ganeshagumpha, Jaya Vijayagumpha, Mancapurigumpha, Bagha/Byaghra/Vyaghragumpha and Sarpagumpha. These names have the word “gumpha” in common which means ‘cave’.
The caves that are excavated near the top ledge were probably made for meditations, prayers or for sleeping because they don’t have the height for a man to be able to stand in them. They are pretty plain and simple, exactly how the life of a monk ideally should be.
The cabins are made with utmost simplicity, with only minimal of belongings to support. But the walls inside these caves have been carved out with auspicious rituals, occasions and ceremonies etc.
in 1825, The Sterling, the historian, asked the police authorities to be given a chance to translate the inscriptions on the walls of the caves, but because of the weathering of the inscriptions and lost use of the language Bramhi- the translations did not come out to be accurate.
Khandagiri and Udaygiri caves are open for from sunrise to sunset throughout the year and the peak tourist seasons are from October to March. The entry fee for children under the age of 15 is free and for all the other ages of people, it is just 5 rupees. But if you are visiting from countries America or countries other than the SAARC countries which are(Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) then the fees could go up to 2 USD or 100 rupees.
These caves remind mankind of the simplistic and minimalist requirements of the human beings and hence try to keep us grounded and preach love and peace. So the place is a must- visit, in my opinion, just be aware of the monkeys there though!