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It was while still in school that I first heard ‘Udayagiri’ mentioned in a song from the then popular movie ‘Aaromalunni’. ‘Udayagiri kottayile chitralekhe’ the singer Susheela sings for the actor Sheela. ‘Oh you celestial being from Udayagiri fort!’ She is addressing the moon, and in the continuing lines asks if it knew the whereabouts of dawn. Ahh, what a picture that paints!

In the movie, as Sheela’s character based on the ballads of northern Kerala sings, her love enters her chamber secretly and soon they are hugging and also running around trees with gay abandon. Surprised? Don’t be. That’s an integral part of Indian movies of yore. If you were lovers you simply HAD to run around trees and shrubs while you sang songs. Come to think of it, it is popular even today though to a lesser degree.

Gosh! Look what’s happened. All I wanted was to tell you all when I had first come across the word ‘Udayagiri’ and now I have gone on a ramble talking about the movie which incidentally has absolutely no relevance whatsoever to the topic of this post. Sigh. That’s what happens when you rewind in time and find yourself mentally reliving teenage times. Romance, where art thou? But seriously, watching the video of the song in the present dispelled all thoughts of romance instead making me cringe and also double over with laughter at the ludicrous and totally out of place costumes and settings.

Anyways, getting off the topic right away and moving on to other things…

The second time I came across the name was when we visited a fort by the same name in Tamil Nadu. Udayagiri fort? Could it be the same one from the song? How exciting! But all I got for my effort of visiting the place was getting bitten by armies of giant mosquitoes already well fed on human blood. From the indifferent staff to the overgrown grass high enough to hide a herd of elephants, to graffiti covered walls and resting places of people long gone, to sad animals in cages, it was altogether a sorry affair. I haven’t gone back yet to check if things have improved. May be one day I will, but don’t hold your breath on it.

On my recent visit to Bhubaneswar, I heard it again. Udayagiri. By the way, the word itself means ‘the peak on which the morning sun’s rays fall first’. Apologies for not making that clear at the outset. That name again and this time it was in connection with caves. Udayagiri caves. This better be good, I thought, and it actually was, you know.

Udayagiri and Khandagiri (originally called Kattaka) are caves on adjacent hills of some religious and archeological importance. These caves, dating back to first century BC, some natural and others artificial, are believed to have been carved out as residence for Jain monks during the reign of King Kharavela. I am afraid I hadn’t heard of the king prior to visiting the place and know next to nothing about him.

Between the two hills, there are an estimated thirty three caves or more, some figures based on inscriptions go up to one hundred plus. The famous ones in the Udayagiri hill include Ganesha Gumpha, Rani Gumpha, Hathi Gumpha, Jaya Vijaya Gumpha, Vyaghra Gumpha, Thakurani Gumpha so on and so forth. Gumpha means cave. The carvings on walls and doorways and pillars are all exquisite. Our guide made us crawl through a three feet high passage while he waited at another point to click our picture as we emerged through a hole in its roof.

No mention of the caves at Khandagiri is being made here because the L&M and I, along with my sister-in-law visited only the Udayagiri caves. It was so hot by the time we finished seeing it that we gave a miss to Khandagiri. Also, there was only so much climbing/clambering up and down I could do. While standing at the top of the Udayagiri hill with the sun beating down mercilessly on us, all I could think of was, ‘Omg, one misstep and I would be done for!’ Nope. Not because it is high or a too treacherous climb, but because even a small fall on those rocky paths/steps could break my osteoporotic bones.

Thankfully nothing untoward happened and we got back safely to our waiting vehicle. But not before cooling ourselves by guzzling water from freshly cut tender coconuts. Below are some pictures.

©Shail Mohan 2022