Translated from Kokborok by Bibhuti Debbarma
An intriguing mix of truth and myth greets visitors at Unakoti is a worship place and tourist spot in Tripura, that contains rock-cut sculptures depicting Hindu gods and goddesses. It is a group of hills where the rocky sides have been carved with images of what is believed to be Lord Shiva and other deities. However, there is still a fair bit of debate on whether the central giant statue of a God’s face belongs to Lord Shiva or to Buddha. The word “Unakoti” is taken from Bengali in which it means “one short of a crore.” The Kokborok name for Unakoti is Subrai Khung, as named by Jamatia Hoda, the institution that looks after the rights and safeguard of the culture of the Jamatia tribal community.
Image: Isha C
Legends have it that thousands of years ago, when gods and goddesses still roamed the earth, one crore deities had stopped at this hill to rest on their weary journey to Kailasa. They were supposed to wake up at dawn and continue on the travels. However, only Lord Shiva woke up on time and on finding the rest of the gods still sleeping and unwilling to wake up, he cursed them to be turned into stones. Hence, “unakoti” or 9,999,999 gods were destined to forever sleep in this remote place giving it its name. The spot has sculptures of Durga, Ganesha, Parvati, Hirimba and Kal Bhairava, among others.
Aside from the commonly believed story of Lord Shiva, the Borok people, indigenous to the state, narrate another tale of godly affairs. According to local elders, the history of mankind is divided into the “Age of Truth” and the “Age of Lies”. In the Age of Truth all the gods were alive and thriving, but when the world flung itself into the “Age of Lies,” they turned themselves into rocks. These elders further predict that when the “Age of Truth” returns, the rocks will come back to life and the gods will be freed from their stony existence.
Image: Isha C
How to Get to Unakoti
Unakoti is located in Kailashahar subdivision, which is about 140 kilometres from Agartala. This subdivision is well connected by buses and trains. People visiting Unakoti need to travel to Kailashahar or Kumarghat bus station/ train station and book a cab from there. It is usually best to go there in winters when the temperatures are pleasant for a trek in the hills. The site consists of rock-cut sculptures, a small waterfall, a museum, and a temple where an indigenous priest offers prayers. The museum houses big and small sculptures that have been unearthed from excavations around the hillside. Despite its story depicting a crore gods, in actuality, there are only a few hundred such sculptures. According to experts the statues and rock sculpture depict Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, and Ganesh among others, some of them 30-40 feet in height.
For many centuries this ancient place of worship was hidden deep in the forest and was forgotten by the communities living around it. It was just a few decades back that the local people began to re-discover the location and bring it to the attention of the government authorities. It has since been restored and turned into a comfortable tourist spot with stairs built around the hill for easy trekking. Today, a fair is held annually in the month of April where devotees travel to Unakoti to offer prayers.
The tourist site is visited by many national and international visitors every year. Many first-time visitors are taken by surprise at the magnitude and size of the rock sculptures. It makes one wonder how the sculptors of ancient days managed to carve these rocks without modern technology. An interesting fact about this location is that big trees do not grow on the hill and so it is mostly surrounded by local plants and bushes.
If you’re ever in Tripura, you should definitely visit these mysterious relics, you won’t be disappointed!
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.
This article was first published in Youth Ki Awaaz