Unakoti: Centre of Indian Mythology


Unakoti, located in the northern region of Tripura in India, is a fascinating tourist destination that offers a unique blend of history, culture, and mythology. Known for its rock-cut sculptures and carvings, Unakoti is one of the most significant sites of archaeological importance in India. The name is derived from the Unakoti Hilll and it means ‘one less than a crore’ and refers to the one crore (ten million) rock carvings and sculptures that were supposed to exist in the area.

The Legend of Unakoti

Unakoti is a place steeped in legend and mythology. According to popular belief, the sculptures were created by Lord Shiva himself. The story goes that Lord Shiva was on his way to Kashi along with one crore gods and goddesses when they stopped at Unakoti to rest. Lord Shiva instructed everyone to wake up early the next day and continue the journey. However, the next day, only Lord Shiva was awake, and he became angry at the others for not following his instructions. He cursed them to turn into stone, and that is how the sculptures were created.

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Another legend associated with Unakoti is that of the Matsya Purana. According to this legend, when Lord Shiva was on his way to Kashi, he decided to spend the night at Unakoti. The next day, he wanted to continue his journey, but he realized that one crore gods and goddesses were still asleep. Lord Shiva then decided to continue the journey alone, and as a result, the gods and goddesses were turned into stone.

The Rock-Cut Sculptures of Unakoti

Popularly known as “Angkor Wat of the Northeast”, the rock-cut sculptures at Unakoti are believed to date back to the 7th-9th century CE. The sculptures are carved on the hillside and include depictions of Lord Shiva, Goddess Durga, Lord Ganesha, and other deities. The most striking feature of the sculptures is their sheer size. The largest sculpture is a 30-foot-high carving of Lord Shiva’s face. The sculptures are carved in a distinct style, and the attention to detail is impressive.

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Unakoti’s rock carvings face west and can be found in a stunning environment with a verdant landscape and a stream that runs through the center of the hillock, flowing from east to west. The stream creates three ponds at the base of the hill, which was revered for their significance in Brahmanical Hinduism’s religious rituals and is a major highlight of the annual Ashokashtomi Mela (fair) held in Unakoti.

The region’s sculptures showcase the impact of Buddhism, with a variety of representations of Boddhisattavas, Buddha, and Buddhist symbols. Additionally, numerous images discovered in this area indicate the existence of religious groups like Sakta, Tantric, Bajrayanis, and Nathayogis.

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Apart from the sculptures, it is also known for its natural beauty. The hillside is covered with lush green forests and is home to several species of birds and animals. The nearby Kailashahar town is also worth a visit, as it has several ancient temples and other historical sites.

In December 2022, the site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site tentative list.

Tips for Visiting

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If you are planning a trip to Unakoti, here are a few tips that will help you make the most of your visit:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes: Unakoti is a hilly area, and you will have to do some walking to explore the sculptures. So, make sure you wear comfortable shoes that are suitable for trekking.
  2. Carry a camera: Unakoti is a photographer’s paradise, and you will want to capture every moment of your visit. So, make sure you carry a camera with you.
  3. Hire a guide: To truly appreciate the significance of the sculptures at Unakoti, it is recommended that you hire a guide. A guide can provide you with valuable insights into the history and mythology associated with the sculptures.
  4. Respect the culture: Unakoti is a place of cultural and religious significance. So, it is important to respect the local culture and customs. Make sure you dress appropriately and avoid causing any damage to the sculptures or the surrounding area.
  5. Carry water and snacks: There are not many shops or restaurants in the area, so it is advisable to carry your own water and snacks.
  6. Plan your visit: Unakoti is a popular tourist destination, so it can get crowded during peak season. To avoid crowds, it is best to plan your visit during weekdays and arrive early in the morning.

Unakoti is a hidden gem in Tripura that offers a unique blend of history, culture, and mythology. The rock-cut sculptures are a testament to the rich cultural heritage of India and are a must-visit for anyone interested in history and mythology. With its lush green forests and serene surroundings, Unakoti is also an ideal destination for nature lovers and photographers. So, if you are planning a trip to Tripura, make sure you include Unakoti in your itinerary.

How to get there

By Air:

The town of Kailashahar, which is approximately 8 kilometers away from Unakoti, is the closest settlement to the historical site. Visitors can reach Kailashahar via road transportation from Agartala, the nearest airport located approximately 178 kilometers away.

By Rail:

The closest railway station is located in Kumarghat, approximately 26 kilometers away from the town of Kailashahar. Visitors can easily access Kailashahar from Kumarghat via bus, autorickshaw, or other small vehicles.

By Road:

Unakoti, located approximately 8 kilometers away from Kailashahar town, can be accessed from several nearby cities including Guwahati, Silchar, Shillong, and Agartala via bus and other small vehicles.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to go is between the months of October and April. During this period, visitors can enjoy pleasant weather and experience the natural beauty of the surrounding area. For those interested in attending a local festival, the Ashokastami Mela is held annually in April and attracts thousands of pilgrims. This is a great opportunity to witness the local culture and traditions of Tripura.

A smaller festival takes place in January, which may also be of interest to visitors. Be sure to plan your visit accordingly to make the most of your experience at Unakoti.

(To know more about Tripura State Tourism check the link here.)

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