Wonder

Undavalli Caves

Four storied Undavalli caves, Andhra Pradesh
Four storied Undavalli caves, Andhra Pradesh / Kalyan Kanuri, / CC BY-SA 2.0

WorldBlue  In short

Hills around Vijayawada are rich with rock-cut architecture but the most magnificent and largest among these monuments is the largest of Undavalli Caves – amazing achievement of engineering, four floors high rock-cut temple with numerous sculptures and murals.

4.6 out of 10 stars 46.3%

GPS coordinates
16.4967 N 80.5816 E
Location, address
Asia, India, Andhra Pradesh, Guntur District, Across the Krishna River at Vijayawada, in hill to the west from Undavalli village
Buddhist shrines, Hindu shrines, Rock cut temples and monasteries
Alternate names
Anantasayangudi
Age
The 4th – 5th century AD
Religion
Buddhism, Hindu

Map of the site

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WorldYellow In detail

History and legend

Caves are associated with Vishnukundina kings – an influential dynasty ruling over a significant part of contemporary India in 420 – 620 AD. Caves were dedicated by local governor Madhava Reddy to the Anantapadmanabha Swamy and Narasimha Swamy temples.

First Vishnukundina kings were supporters of Buddhism and Undavalli Caves were started as Buddhist temples. For a while, they were used by Buddhist monks and there have been preserved some Buddhist statues up to this day.

Later though caves were taken over by Hindus and a major part of the artwork we see here today is related to the Hindu religion.

Vishnu statue in Undavalli caves, Andhra Pradesh
Vishnu statue in Undavalli caves, Andhra Pradesh / Wikimedia Commons, user Man praveen, public domain

There is an exciting legend about the cave – it tells that here starts 9 kilometers long underground passage leading to the sacred Mangalgiri mountain. Many locals believe in its existence and consider that the entrances have been closed and hidden by authorities to avoid accidents.

Description

There are several smaller rock-cut chambers nearby but the main attention is given to the large four-storied cave. From the distance, it resembles an abandoned fort but when approaching it there reveals an exciting sight – the whole enormous structure is cut in the monolithic sandstone cliff.

Caves have four stories, each successive floor recedes. The facade is 29 m wide.

Cave in its planning belongs to the earliest examples of Gupta architecture although several details on the second floor show the influence of Chalukyan architecture.

Undavalli caves, ornamented pillars in the third floor, India
Undavalli caves, ornamented pillars in the third floor / Wikimedia Commons, user Sigirisetty Surya Kiran, public domain

The first floor can be entered through one of 8 – 9 roughly shaped openings with massive square columns in between. The planning and style of sculptures on the first floor show that this was a Buddhist monastery – vihara. Part of the chambers is primitive rock-cut monastery cells. Hall is not completed, it contains 8 columns. Here are three separate sanctuaries for Trimurti – Brahma, Vishnu, and Shivu, each with a pillared hall in front. Trimurti is an important concept in Hindu religion – a triad of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, the embodiment of cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction.

Walls on the first floor are adorned with frescoes showing scenes from mythological stories and made in the 7th – 8th century AD, some paintings here have been done also in later time periods.

The second floor contains the most amazing sculpture in this temple – a huge, 5 m long statue of Lord Vishnu in his Padmanabha aspect shown in a reclining posture. Also, this statue resembles similar Buddha statues in some other cave temples. The sculpture is made out of a single block of granite. Over Vishnu there is a canopy of multi-hooded Adi-Shesha, king of all nagas, the shrine is adorned with numerous other sculptures as well.

The facade of the third floor is adorned with numerous sculptures, including depictions of lions and elephants. There opens a beautiful view through these ancient sculptures towards other green hills and stands of palms below.

References
  1. Image gallery – Undavalli Caves. Andhra Pradesh. INDIA. by Dr. Mohammed T. Kahn. Worldisround. Last accessed in 10 May 2010
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