Undavalli Caves are a monolithic example of Indian rock-cut architecture and are famous throughout the country. These caves were carved out of solid sandstone on a hillside in the 4th to 5th centuries A.D. They are located in Undavalli of Guntur district in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The caves are located 6 km south-west from Vijayawada.
Undavalli Caves, by their sheer beauty of design and construction, speak volumes of the inconceivably advanced architectural skills of the ancient Viswakarma sthapathis (temple architects and builders) leaving you in wonderment and pride about India’s advanced culture during the ancient and medieval times.
Here are certain facts about these mind-boggling caves:
1. Undavalli Caves were carved out of solid sandstone on a hillside and they serve as one of the finest testimonials to the viswakarma sthapathis.
2. Caves are associated with Vishnukundina kings – influential dynasty ruling over significant part of contemporary India in 420 – 620 AD.
3. 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.
4. There are several caves and the best known largest one has four stories with a huge recreated statue of Vishnu in a reclining posture, sculpted from a single block of granite inside the second floor.
5. Undavalli Caves doesn’t belong to one particular religion. It has been occupied and developed by people of different faiths. So, it has served as a spiritual center for three religions at different time intervals.
6. 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.
7. Later though caves were taken over by Hindus and major part of artwork we see here today is related to Hindu religion.
8. It is said that these caves once served as Jain Viharas and accommodated Jain sadhus. In fact, we can see the sculptures of Thirthankaras and Vihara structure in the first level of Undavalli caves.
9. These caves also stand as an example of how Buddhist artifacts and stupas were converted into Hindu Temples.
10. 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.
11. From the distance, it resembles an abandoned fort but when approaching it there reveals an exciting sight – whole enormous structure is cut in a monolithic sandstone cliff.
12. Planning and style of sculptures in the first floor shows that this was Buddhist monastery – vihara. Part of chambers are primitive rock-cut monastery cells.
13. 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.
14. There is another cave which is dedicated to Hindu Trimurti: to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
15. Facade of the third floor is adorned with numerous sculptures, including depictions of lions and elephants.