Khandagiri Cave Complx – Cave 1 to Cave 6

Tatowa-gumpha 1

Cave 1: Tatowa-gumpha 1 – This cave is named after the figures of parrots carved on the arches of its doorways. It is consisted of a single cell with two entrances, preceded by a benched veranda. The façade has a single pillar and two pilasters. Two guardians are placed over these pilasters. They are much damaged and shown wearing a dhoti and holding a long sword.

Arch with a parrot on top

The cell doorways are adorned with arches, supported on pilasters topped with capitals composed of addorsed animals, bulls and lions in this case. The arch of the left doorway has lotus decoration with a parrot carved on the top-left. The spandrels between the doorways and sides are decorated with barrel-shaped roof, supported on brackets, topped with railing pattern.

Inscription above railing-pattern

The spandrel between the doorways has a short single-line inscription which reads, “Cave of Kusuma, an inhabitant of Padamulika”.

Tatowa-gumpha 2

Cave 2: Tatowa-gumpha 2 – This cave is also named after the figure of parrots carved on its cell doorways. It is larger, spacious and better decorated than its predecessor, cave no 1. It is consisted of a single cell with three entrances, preceded by a benched veranda. The back wall has few letter of Brahmi inscription with symbolic representation of sun and moon. These letters on the inner walls of the cell are much obliterated on its left end, however right end these are better preserved. Debala Mitra1 dated these Brahmi letters between 1st BCE and 1st CE. As some of the letters are repeated many times, Mohapatra2 suggests that some recluse tried to improve his writing while Sahu3 tells it is some random writing carrying no meaning.

Cell doorways

Cell doorways have arches supported on pilasters. The pilasters have vase-bases (ghata-base) supporting the shaft topped with capitals. These capitals have animals, elephants on central doorway, bulls on right doorway and lions for left doorway. The arches are decorated with various flowers and creepers i.e., honeysuckle with central lotus is the theme of the left arch. Various birds, animals are carved on the sides of the nandipada of these arches, deer on the left arch, parrots on the central arch and doves on the right arch.

Central doorway

A new design element is found in this cave, the space between the arches and door-lintel is decorated for the first time. The middle doorway has a honeysuckle decoration, while the two side doorways have lotus-garlands. The spandrels have similar design as of cave 1, barrel-shaped roof with pinnacles at intervals and supported on bracket. It is topped with a railing-pattern. The pinnacles of the roof has two animals at the terminals, a lion on the left and an elephant on the right. The Front façade is supported on two pillars and two pilasters.

Inner bracket

Inner brackets of the façade pillars are better survived than their outer counterparts. These are decorated with various themes, dancers & musicians, foliage designs, female devotee etc.


Cave 3: Ananta-gumpha – This important cave at the site is comprised of a long narrow cell, entered through four doorways and fronted by a benched veranda. The bench is no more extant now there as the floor had been raised to its level. The veranda is supported on three pillars and two pilasters, resulting in four openings. The pillars are devoid of capitals as the shaft continues till the top. Brackets are provided at the place of capitals. Bracket on the left pilaster has a dwarf supporting an elephant while the one on the right has an elephant carved on a lotus motif. Brackets on the pillars have women with folded hands. The outer brackets, on the pillars show pot-bellied ganas as bharvahakas and the one on the pilasters depict cavaliers.

Flying vidhyadhara

The inner cell originally had four doorways, two of which have been destroyed at some later point of time. Now only the third and fourth doorway stands. The back wall of the cell has few carvings, a nandipada on a pedestal with three symbols on either sides. These three symbols are a triangle-headed symbol over a pedestal, a Srivatsa also on a pedestal and a svastika. A figure of a Jain tirthankar is also noticed near these group of symbols, however it was carved during medieval period.

The arches on the cell doorways are formed by the intertwining of serpent tails. The serpent is shown with three-headed hood, giving the name of this cave as Ananta-gumpha. Over these arches, on the entire length across the veranda and continuing on its sides, runs a railing-pattern design. This is only interrupted at the places where stepped merlons pop-up. The remaining space between the arches is decorated with semi-diving flying figures.

Elephant frieze

The semi-circular space under the arches is decorated with various themes. Fergusson and Mitra discussed the theme of the last two tympana, as the first two were not exposed during their visit. Alexander E Caddy exposed the first two tympana to the notice of scholars. The first tympana shows an four-tusked elephant, accompanied with a she-elephants on his left. There would be another she-elephant on his right, however that has not survived. The she-elephants are shown offering lotus to the male elephant. Caddy4 takes this representation to be connected with the Chadanta Jataka. Sahu on other hand takes this to be a representation of Vesantara Jataka. Both these Jatakas have different main themes, however their main hero is an elephant. There is no doubt that the elephant depicted here has some special quality and the reason why he is being revered by two she-elephants, however connecting it with any these Jatakas will be quite tricky.

Surya frieze

The next panel has not survived in full, from what remains now, it appears to depict a person wearing a heavy turban, with an umbrella above, and sitting over a chariot driven by four horses. Above him is the moon, sun and star representing stellar world. Caddy identifies it with Surya or Sun God, attended by his two wives, Samjna and Chaya. The dwarf holding a vase, he identified with Rahu with amrita vase. One argument against this identification is that the chariot is driven by four horses instead of seven.

Bodhgaya Surya Panel (courtesy – wikipedia)

Debala Mitra5 draws parallel of this four-horse chariot with a railing post relief at Bodhgaya. In this relief, the chariot is driven by four horses, however the attending ladies on either side of the Surya figure are shown shooting arrows, representing Usha and Partyusha. This is the second argument against the proposed identification, the ladies in this relief are shown holding fly-whisk but not bows. This panel shows a great affinity with a pillar found at Lala Bhagat, Kanpur, dated second century CE. V S Srivastava6 identifies it with some early tradition of Surya resembling that of at Bodhgaya and Lala Bhagat. Sahu7 rejects this identification stating that the very representation of sun and moon within the same sculpture does not guarantee of it being Surya, but it represents a royal personnel with two lady attendants and third attendant at the back holding a royal parasol. Mohapatra goes with identification with Surya, stating that representation of stellar world in the same relief represents the space from where Sun God starts his journey.


The next panel shows Gaja-Lakshmi theme. Lakshmi is standing in the middle, on a lotus, holding two lotus flowers in her hands. Two elephants, one on her either side, is in attitude of pouring water over her, providing a ceremonial bath. A parrot is shown behind each elephant. Lakshmi is a common motif in Jain, Buddhist and Hindu iconography. Among the Jains, it is considered among the fourteen auspicious symbols. Trishala, mother of Mahavira, had fourteen dreams and her fourth dream was of Sri or Lakshmi seated on a lotus, being bathed by two elephants.

Tree worship

The fourth panel has a tree enclosed within a railing and topped by an umbrella, suggesting its sacred nature. Four people, two male on one side and two females on another side, are offering prayers to the tree. Debala Mitra takes this tree as a kevala-tree of one of the tirthankar. There are two inscriptions8 in the cave, details of which provided below.

  1. Incised on outside architrave and reads, “The cave (which is excavated for) the recluses [of Kalinga?]……”
  2. On the rock outside the veranda, reads, “The [-] unconquerable cells (which are the meritorious works of) [-]”
    1. Debala Mitra mentions that the inscription on the outer side reads, the cave of the monks of Dahada (?).

Cave 4: Tentuli-gumpha – This cave is named so after the tamarind tree which once stood near it. It consists of a small cell with two entrances preceded by a benched veranda. The entrance has two doors and two pilasters. The capital of the left pilaster has a pair of couchant elephants, while that of the right has addorsed lions. Brackets of the veranda have survived, the inner ones are on better preservation state. The inner bracket is carved with a lady holding a lotus while the outer bracket has an elephant.


Cave 5: Khandagiri-gumpha – This is a named after a crack (khanda) in it. It is a double story cave and is the first cave a visitor sees when approached from main entrance of present complex. This cave is much damaged and of not much interest. The upper story is not reachable at present. To its right, there are two dilapidated cells, one above the other. The upper cell has a faint representation of a painted figure of Lord Jagannatha.


Cave 6: Dhyana-gumpha – This cave originally had a cell preceded by a front veranda supported on two pillars. However, it was later converted into a chamber open from the front, after removal of the pillars and front wall. Chisel marks and leftover of the front left wall are mute witness of this destruction or conversion. Architraves above the veranda pillars are extent. The sloping eaves have four rock-cut handle like centrivances, use of which is unclear9. There is a shell-character inscription on the left side wall and a single line inscription at the back wall.

Next – Cave 7 to Cave 15

1 Mitra, Debala (1960). Udayagiri & Khandagiri. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 52
2 Mohapatra, R P (1975). Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves in Orissa. PhD thesis submitted in Utkal University. p 102
3 Sahu, N K (1964). History of Orissa vol I. Utkal University. p 387-88
4 Mohapatra, R P (1975). Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves in Orissa. PhD thesis submitted in Utkal University. p 217
5 Mitra, Debala (1960). Udayagiri & Khandagiri. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 54
6 Mohapatra, R P (1975). Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves in Orissa. PhD thesis submitted in Utkal University. p 219
7 Sahu, N K (1964). History of Orissa vol I. Utkal University. pp 385-86
8 Barua, B M (1929). Old Brahmi Inscriptions. University of Calcutta. Kolkata. pp 107-118
9 Mohapatra, R P (1975). Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves in Orissa. PhD thesis submitted in Utkal University. p 113