Unakoti, which means “less than a crore in number”, has several discovered and yet-to-be-discovered sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses. Unakoti is hidden deep in the forest of Tripura and located 178km from the state capital of Agartala. Unakoti’s ‘Hill of Faces’ is a centuries-old Shiva pilgrimage spot, which is unlike any other place in the country. Unakoti is believed to be 11th-13th centuries old.
It has several majestic sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses possessing earthy rawness of the tribal school of the classical Indian style. The most revered of them is the Unakotishwara Kal Bhairav, a 33-ft-high carving of Lord Shiva’s head. What makes it more attractive is the 10-ft-high intricate headdress that is flanked by warrior-like Goddess Durga on one side and Goddess Ganga sitting atop Capricorn on the other.
The agreement among archaeologists is that although the predominant influence of Shaivism is obvious, the sculptures were also influenced by several other cults like tantric, shakti, and hatha yogis. It is believed that the site dates back to the period between the 12th and 16th centuries and that the sculptures belong to two different periods of art.
There are various interesting legends associated with the presence of the sculptures of Unakoti. Legend has it that once Kalu Kumhar, a devotee of Lord Shiva and his divine spouse Parvati, found the couple making their way to Mount Meru and expressed his desire to travel with them to their renowned abode. Shiva, however, promised to tag Kalu along only if he could sculpt a crore images of all the holy deities before daybreak. Kalu worked with undaunted spirit but, as fate would have it, he failed to sculpt just a single image.
As a result, Shiva and Parvati proceeded onward to their home leaving Kalu behind. There is another version of this story, which makes more sense, given its moral theme. It says that Kalu was assigned the job of carving images of the gods in a dream. But, he ended up making the last sculpture of his own self, thus, falling short of one image owing to his subtle desire for fame. The moral of Kalu’s story is to avoid falling prey to pride or ego.
The fascinating story of Unakoti is related to Lord Shiva. According to legends, Lord Shiva had spent a night here in this very spot on his way to Kashi. He was accompanied by 9999999 gods and goddesses, which is one less than a crore, hence the name Unakoti, meaning one less than a crore.
The story of Unakoti does not stop there. It is said that after a night’s rest, only Lord Shiva woke up the next morning, while everyone else was still asleep. Thus, Shiva put a curse on all the other gods and goddesses present there, before leaving for Kashi. The curse was that they will be turned to stone, and this is how this site came into existence.
The central rock carvings here are of course that of Lord Shiva, and also the larger than life Ganesha figures. The head of Lord Shiva is known as Unakotiswara Kal Bhairava, which is all of 30 ft high, and a head-dress that is 10 ft high. You will also see figures of Goddess Durga, and an unknown female on either side of Shiva.
The Unakoti site
is also home to other structures, such as three large images of Nandi the Bull, that are half-buried in the ground. There are numerous other structures, as you can imagine, given the name of this place. The best time to explore and experience the historic site is during the dry season from October to May.