Package Name: Ancient Pilgrimage Spot: Unakoti Forest, in Agartala, a mysterious Shaivite pilgrimage from 600AD
Unakoti, in Bengali means one less than a crore (Una means one and Koti means crore). Unakoti Forest is a beautifully landscaped forested area with massive rock carvings of Gods and Goddesses surrounded by green vegetation, rolling hills and waterfalls, in the middle of no-where, inside a thick forest. It is bewitching, to say the least.
Nobody knows how these rock carvings came into existence. There are many explanations though. One of them is that Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati along with many Gods and Goddesses (that in all were a crore in number) were on their way to Varanasi and they decided to halt for the night in the forest. Lord Shiva gave clear instructions to all that they should arise before dawn and start the journey to Varanasi the next day. However, at dawn none other than Lord Shiva woke up. Enraged, he left everybody behind in the forest sleeping and they all turned into the rock. Another popular story is that of Kallu Kumar, who was a great sculptor and a devotee. Kallu Kumar wanted to go with Shiva and Parvati to Mount Kailasa. Parvati convinced Lord Shiva to give Kallu permission to accompany them to Kailasa. Lord Shiva, reluctant, put a condition that only if Kallu Kumar succeeded to carve a crore images of gods and goddesses overnight, he would grant him permission to come to Kailas. Kallu along with his team was able to make one less than a crore images in a single night and to Shiva’s delight failed to fulfill the condition. Whatever be the origins of these images, they exist to everybody curiosity and amazement. They date back to 600-700 AD if not earlier.
Unakoti forest is the pride of Agartala and a prime tourist spot. The central government has invested a huge amount in Unakoti Forest to develop it as an ancient archaeological site and major tourist destination in the North East of India. The Government has also approached UNESCO to give Unakoti Forest a heritage site status. Meanwhile the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) has undertaken its preservation and conservation as a heritage site.
Unakoti Forest is a Shaivite pilgrimage site. Many festivals take place here such as Shivratri, Makar Sankranti, and Ashokashtami. Ashokaastami, however is the main festival in Unakoti forest and it occurs in April. Thousands of pilgrims come here to take a dip in the Sita Kunda
The marvelous images in the forest are either rock carvings or sandstone images. The main image is the face of Kaal Bhairava or Shiva, which is 30 feet tall. Shiva’s head dress is about 10 feet and on one side of Shiva is Goddess Parvati and on the other side is Goddess Ganga. In addition there are enormous images of Nandi which remain half buried in the ground. There is a three eyed image of Lord Vishnu, a massive figure of Ganesha, a chaturmukha shivalinga, a Narasimha, Ravana, and Hanuman, to name a few. It is believed that besides Shaivite influence the sculptures also seem to influenced by other branches such as tantra, shakti, and hatha yoga.