Tripura situated in the extreme north-eastern part of India is a uniquely variant cultural hub which has kept hidden many treasure trove of historical and cultural importance. Even the name of Tripura is in itself a mystery; some say it has derived its name from the presiding goddess Tripura Sundari of the region. Yet others say Tripura means three cities. The recorded history of the place dates back to the (AD 1431-62) starting with the Dharmamanikya dynasty. It was during the rule of the manikyas that the historical chronicle was compiled.
These dynasties created beautiful and attractive architectural edifices some of which are still standing and tell us various stories related to them. Amongst these many architectural beauties there is one site which is considered the abode of Shiva; it is a hill which is about 178 km away from Agartala, the capital of Tripura. The hill of Unakoti as the name suggests means one less than a crore i.e. 99,99,999 in figures. It is a purely Shaivite pilgrim site and the entrance gate which is made of stone mentions is as ‘Shaivatirtha Unakoti’.
According to history and archaeological records it is believed to be dated back to 8-9th century during the time of the Pal dynasty. There are various mythological legends related with this particular hill of Unakoti which houses some of the most gigantic reliefs and sculptures of Shiva and his family. The locals mention two very interesting legends, one of them says that when Shiva and his entourage heading towards Kailash were passing through the place called Kailashahar which is 10km downhill from Unakoti, decided to rest for the night. Shiva warned everyone to wake before dawn, so the next morning when no one woke up Shiva got furious and cursed his entire entourage of eternity on earth. Thus, it is said that the entourage of Shiva are the stone reliefs of the Unakoti hill.
The second legend says that once Parvati and Shiva were passing through the region of Unakoti where a sculptor named Kallu resided, who was a great devotee of Parvati. He showed his willingness to accompany Shiva and Parvati but Shiva was not very happy with this proposition. In order to solve the problem, Parvati asked the sculptor to carve out one crore images of Shiva to appease him so he should be able to accompany them. But, the next day when the sun rose, the sculptor was short of just one image and thus Shiva was able to leave him beside and continue their journey. These legends add to the already existing beauty of the exquisite standing relief sculptures.
The images found at Unakoti are mainly of two types namely the rock cut figures and the stone sculptures which are near about 30 ft to 40ft in height. The carvings are vertical and are scattered on the open atmosphere amidst the flowing waterfalls and lush forest making it a perfect abode to securely hide the artistic ancient treasure trove of a period bygone. Amongst the other images, two of the most magnificent and worth mentioning sculptures are the central Shiva head which is about 30ft high which adorns a detailed embroidered head-dress that alone is 10ft high. On each side of the head-dress are two females standing, one of them is that of Durga standing on a lion. There are three images of Nandi, the bull which is below and are half buried under the ground. The other eye catching image is three Ganesh figures on a single rock which has a rivulet flowing from the top bathing him.
The sculptures here represent the unique tribal aesthetic that makes it different from the usual Indian classical sculptures belonging to that period found in the rest of India. With the passage of time many images have withered in the harsh climatic conditions, and the ones which are still surviving needs proper protection and a thorough research to get to the roots of its history in order to understand and know the mystery behind these magnificently sculpted images. It is reflected in these huge images the skilled craftsmanship of the people of that century who created such wonderful pieces of art that imbibes a sense of serenity, purity and devotion in the mind and heart of the onlooker. Nowadays pilgrims in large numbers visit this place during an annual mela called Ashokastami held during the month of April.
Such a wonderful place needs proper recognition across the globe, yet again sometimes some things are best left hidden as they can be treasured and kept alive in their natural ethereal atmosphere. It has to be earned by laymen to find the opportunity to visit this mysterious place and find solace in the abode of God himself.