• Erika Argiolas

STORY OF A MAGIC NUMBER AND MYTH: UNAKOTI IN TRIPURA - INDIA



|HISTORY|

Historic and sacred place, testimony of the cultural heritage of ancient north-eastern Tripura: this is Unakoti. One of the most popular Shaiva pilgrimage destinations. Dating back to the 7th-9th century AD, the place is studded with numerous rock sculptures and stone idols of Hindu gods.

Unakoti's kokborok name is Subrai Khung as confirmed by Jamtia Hoda ( Jamatia Hoda is the institution that looks after the rights and safeguard of the culture of the Jamatia community). Unakoti Hill literally means "one less koti" in Bengali (koti means a crore, karor or koti denotes ten million).

Unakoti hosts a very ancient Shaivite place of worship with huge rock reliefs celebrating Shiva. The pilgrimage in this area has very ancient origins, 7th-9th century, if not before and at that time the Pala Dynasty reigned over Bengal. At the time, the Tripura region was part of Greater Bengal under Samatat and historians claim that the kingdom of Tripura was also the center of East Bengal and Samatat. It was only the 14th century when the kingdom of Tripura began to rule the region.



|MYTH|

One of the many legends that shroud this magical place in mystery tells that Shiva was traveling with a crore of gods and goddesses to Kashi (Benares) - some sources say he also headed for Mount Kailash.

Along the way, Shiva decided to camp for a night on the rocky hill of Raghunandan along with the koti of other deities. Shiva, however, warned all the deities that it would be necessary to wake up before dawn the following day in order to resume the long journey. Upon awakening, however, he found them all still asleep and so taken by anger and dismay he went away by himself cursing and condemning them to turn into stone images.

At that time it is believed that in that place there are 9999999 images and stone sculptures, not a million, since Shiva abandoned them.




|ICONOGRAPHY|

Among the rock-cut carvings, the central head of Shiva and the gigantic figures of Ganesha

deserve a special mention. The central head of Shiva known as Unakotiswara Kal Bhairava is approximately 30 feet tall, including an embroidered headdress which itself is 10 feet tall.







On each side of the central Shiva headdress, there are two life-sized female figures: one of Durga standing on a lion and another female figure on the other side. Additionally, three huge images of Nandi Bull were found half-buried in the ground. There are various other stone and rock images in Unakoti.



|FESTIVAL|

A large fair popularly known as Ashokastami Mela is held every year in April. The festival is visited by thousands of pilgrims and takes place in the period of April.

The Ashokastami Festival is mainly associated with the sacred plunge into the sacred river. In the consecrated river of Astami Kunda the devotees take a bath and this is considered to bring the blessings of God. In Unakoti this immersion is the sacred festival and people perform it almost with sincere devotion.

This is usually celebrated in March and April according to the movement of the moon, also known as Tithi.


|LOCATION|

Unakoti lies 178 km to the northeast from Agartala which has the closest airport, 8 km to the east from Kailashahar, district headquarters of Unakoti district, 148 km to the south-east from Silchar.


FOOTNOTES



Shaivism is one of the major traditions within Hinduism, worshipping Shiva, also called Shiva-Rudra, as the Supreme Being. The followers of Shaivism are called "Shaivites" or "Saivites". It is one of the largest sects, incorporating many sub-traditions ranging from devotional dualistic theism such as Shaiva Siddhanta to yoga-orientedmonistic non-theism such as Kashmiri Shaivism. It considers both the Vedas and the Agama texts as important sources of theology.



Ganesha, or Ganesh, also known as Ganapati and Vinayaka, is one of the best-known and most worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon. His image is found throughout India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bali (Indonesia) and Bangladesh and in countries with large ethnic Indian populations including Fiji, Mauritius and Trinidad and Tobago. Hindu denominations worship him regardless of affiliations. Devotion to Ganesha is widely diffused and extends to Jains and Buddhists. He is also popular in Japan as Kangiten.



Durga, is identified as the principal Hindugoddess of war, strength and protection. The legend centres around combating evils and demonic forces that threaten peace, prosperity, and Dharma the power of good over evil. Durga is also a fierce form of the protective mother goddess, who unleashes her divine wrath against the wicked for the liberation of the oppressed, and entails destruction to empower creation





Nandi, is the gate-guardian deity of Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva. He is usually depicted as a bull . The decorated bull gangi reddu is the tradition of ancient south india. During the festival of pongal the bull is decorated and performs of stunning ‘feats’. “An ox can dance to the tune of its master’s nadaswara, it can nod at his command or shake its head to indicate no, kneel down and prostrate or bow when asked to. You can often see a Gangireddu stand on its master’s chest and bow in complete humility, appreciating a patron who has bestowed money or food on them.

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