Udayagiri Complex – Cave 1: Rani-Gumpha


Cave 1: Rani-gumpha

This is the largest and the finest cave in the complex. Facing west and built in two storeys, around three sides of a quadrangle, it is lavishly decorated with sculptures, friezes and motifs. The pillared hall of the lower story has been collapsed long back. The upper story is provided with a recess in the front, forming an open terrace running around it. It is locally called as Rani-naur, Rani-antahpur or Rani-hansapur (Queen’s chamber), or Rani-gumpha as it is believed that the queen of king Lalatendukesari occupied this cave.

General view of the facade of the Rani Gumpha, Udayagiri, taken by Alexander E.Caddy in 1895 (image courtesy – British Library)
Main gallery of the Rani Gumpha, Udayagiri, taken by Alexander E.Caddy in 1895 (image courtesy – British Library)

Lower Storey – Left Wing

Lower story, left wing – This wing has three cells preceded by a verandah, latter is supported on two pillars and two pilasters. Beyond the pilasters, on either side, are dvarpalas, much damaged.

Main Wing – Cell Entrance

Lower story, main wing – The main wing has four cells, three in the rear wall and one on the right side. The veranda in front, once supported on six pillars, has long fell off. The cells on the rear walls have multiple entrances, middle has three and side cells have two each. The cell on the right side has single door. Like the side wings, doorways are made with arched torana supported on side pilasters. These doorways toranas are all interconnected with railings. This arrangement resulted in nine spandrels, all embellished with sculptural decoration.

First Scene – A Double-storey building

Starting from left, the first scene shows a double-story building with vaulted-roof. The upper story has an entrance on its long axis, and a balcony with railing all around. A woman is standing in the balcony while a male head is peeping out of entrance. The lower story has two entrances, with a female figure in each one. A mango tree is shown right of this building.

Third Scene – Royal Procession
Fourth Scene – Elephant Riders

The next scene is much defaced, only outlines of three figures riding an animal can be made out. The next compartment shows a royal procession, evident by present of an umbrella. From what remains, it appears a person is riding an animal while his attendants are following him. The fourth scene is of elephant riders.

Fifth Scene – Royal Procession

In the fifth compartment, a royal procession is shown where a royal personage is followed by two attendants, holding an umbrella and sword. Opposite to this royal personage, four figures are shown, in veneration. In the sixth scene, we see three standing figures, of which one would be a royal person as evident with an umbrella above him. The seventh scene depicts a royal party around a person of royal personage as he has an umbrella above him.

Eighth Scene – Submission in front of a Royal Personage

The eighth compartment is overcrowded with many figures. On extreme left is a royal personage, probably a king, standing with his two attendants, one holding umbrella and another with folded hands. In front of them are three figures kneeling below. The kneeling figure on the side of the king appears to be part of the latter’s party. Two kneeling figures opposite to him, seems to be in submission mode. One of them wear a flowing fillet round the head, a Greek feature 2. On the side panel is shown a horse without rider and three attendants. It can be drawn that the two kneeling figures have been alighted from this horse and submitting to the king. Behind these two kneeling figures, are two women, one carrying basket and another offering flowers.

Ninth Scene – Reception of the king

The last and ninth compartment appears to display reception of the victorious king back to his capital. On the left is standing the king, under umbrella, with his attendants behind him. On his right are six figures, four women and two men. All the women carry water pitchers, while one is pouring its content to wash feet of the king. Mitra3 suggests that this whole episode of nine scenes may be the story of King Kharavela, starting from his departure and ending with his return to the capital.

Fergusson1 writes that looking at these sculptures, the first question arises is, are they Buddhist? He explained that these sculptures do not show any affinity with the Buddhist, Brahmanical or Jaina religion as known during his time. And thus, he says that we are consequently forced to the conclusion that they must represent scenes from the Buddhist Jatakas, or events occurring among the local traditions of Orissa.

Some of the scenes, where presence of a royal personage is evident, those can be interpreted with king Kharvela’s life and his exploits, especially the scenes where submission of a party and reception of the king when back in his city is shown. However, as these scenes do not depict a specific episode of Kharvela’s exploits, when so many are enumerated in his inscription, therefore it can be argued why to depict a general theme rather than a specific important episode which can be easily related and attached to the memory of the king.

O’Malley11 mentions that these all scenes, interconnected, depicts procession of saint through a town where all the town people look from their houses, roofs, balconies and few follow the saint over horses, elephants etc. O’Malley is of opinion that the saint might be Parshvanatha as the hill has specially honored to Parshvanatha.

N K Sahu12 mentions that these all scenes are interconnected and depicts military exploits of King Kharavela. The narrative starts with depiction of Kalinganagari with its double storey buildings where people stand and watch the army procession of King Kharavela leaving the city. The procession is continued in first four scenes. No war scene is depicted however scene sixth onward, the King is shown receiving his enemies surrendering to him. These scenes may represent the chiefs or kings mentioned in the famous Hathigumpha inscription. The eighth scene is most important among these. Mitra suggests that it shows submission of a Yavana king however Sahu is of opinion that it is the surrender of Bahasatimita, the Magadha king.

Leoshko4 remarks that it seems useful to wonder exactly for whom and for what effect these reliefs might have served as we recall that these spaces are supposed to be residences of ascetics. She raises an interesting question, “were these scene of veneration, and the wonder they inspired, aimed at these occupants or those who come to visit them? Did ascetics also become wondrous and venerable by occupying these spaces?


On either side of the main wind, at the joining of it with left and right wing, are places two small pavilions or guard-rooms. The one on left has one entrance while the one on the right has two entrances. These are decorated with sculptures all around their external walls. The scenes are of animals in their natural habitats, trees in forests. Scenes on lower side is of elephants sporting in pools.

Lower Storey – Right Wing

Lower story, right wing – It is consisted of a single cell with three entrances, preceded by a hall, entrance of which is supported on two pillars and two pilasters. The pillars are since long gone, remaining the bases and capitals. The capitals of pillars and pilasters are decorated with animals. The pillar capitals have six animals, bulls on left and lions on the right, in combination of seating back-to-back and opposite. Pilaster capitals have three animals, horses on the left and elephants on the right. Stone seats or benches are provided inside on either sides of the hall. The hall entrance is guarded by dvarpalas, left one is better preserved. The dvarpala is shown holding a spear and a sword.

Relief Scenes

Entrances to the cells are designed with two pilasters supporting an arched torana above. The arched torana of all the three entrances, is connected by a railing. The capitals of the pilasters are shown with animals, winged-lions and bulls. This arrangement, results in two full and two half spandrels on which four scenes are carved. Starting from the left, the first scene depicts a couple standing with folded hands with two attendants, one dwarf of the left and a lady holding a basket of offerings on the right. Heavy earrings are most striking among other jewelry items. The next scene shows one male seated with two females, all with folded hands in veneration. They are accompanied with two female attendants, standing on either side, holding baskets of offerings. Presence of umbrella above the seated party suggests their royal connection. They all wear heavy jewelry, earring, bangles, necklaces etc. N K Sahu takes these as King Kharavela with his two wives.

Dance Party
Family visiting a religious site

The next spandrel has a scene of a dancing party where a female is dancing under a pavilion. She is accompanied with four musicians, playing mridangam, dhakka, harp and flute5. The fourth and the last scene is of a family, consisting of a male, a female and a child, all marching to some place of veneration. There is also a female attendant in the party. Both the females in the scene hold a basket of offerings.

Upper Storey

Upper story, main wing – This story is not exactly above the lower one, but recessed behind, thus providing space for a verandah. The verandah is supported on nine pillars, all original pillars are replaced with recent ones. There are six cells in total, four on the rear wall and one each on the side. Two guardians, carved in high relief at each corner of the verandah, are shown riding over animals. The one on the left is shown riding a bull while the one on the right is riding a lion.

The cells on the rear have two entrances each. All the cells of the rear wall has two entrances each. These entrances are designed in very same fashion as of lower story, comprising of an arched torana mounted over two pilasters. The capitals of the pilasters has winged addorsed animals, such as lions, elephants and horses. Similar to the lower story, the doorway arches are interconnected with a railing. This arrangement of four cells, two doorways each, results in nine spandrels which are embellished with sculptures and carvings. Mitra mentions that the scenes sculpted in these nine panels apparently depicts some Jaina legends, however no satisfactory interpretation has come till now. In such situation, it appears that the scenes are independent of one another.

Second scene – Elephant Attack

The first scene has a flying vidhyadhara holding a basket and a lotus stalk. The second scene is of a conflict between a herd of elephants and a picnic party. The herd has three elephants while the picnic party has ten people, men and women together. The herd enters into a lotus pond, creating panic into the party. The party tried to avoid this intrusion however all in vain. Men and women are shown holding different objects, whatever they could lay their hands on to nearby available.

Fergusson6 suggests that if it is meant for history then this scene may represent the story of conquest of Sri Lanka by Vijaya, which is very favorite subject of Buddhist artists, and where elephants with yakshas and yakshinis played an important role. Significance of this theme also becomes stronger as the conquest of Sri Lanka seems to have been originated from Orissa.

However, Agrawala7 suggests that this scene of the mad elephant can be identified with the Nalagiri story in Udayana legend. Nalagiri was an elephant of Pradyota, the king of Ujjayini. Once day, the elephant pulled up his post, killed two mahouts, getting out of control, terrified the crowd. At last, the elephant was controlled by Udayana using his flute.

Third Scene – Capture of a Lady

The third scene is narrating a story of capture of a lady by an armed man. The surrounding is of a forest, with a hill in the background where few natural caverns are shown. In one cave are few monkeys, terrified because of a serpent coming out of another cavern. The scene starts with a couple, the male partner is resting in the lap of his lady partner inside a cavern. The next scene shows the couple standing side by side. In the next is the combat between an armed man and armed lady. The last scene shows the defeat of the lady, where the latter is carried away by the armed male in his arms. The lady has her right hand our stretched, pointing towards the scene of the combat.

Fourth Scene – Sakuntala Story

The fourth scene supposedly depicts story of Dushyanta’s meeting with Sakuntala8  though Fergusson9 identifies the theme with Mriga (Sama) Jataka. However, Fergusson fails to explain the presence of lady on a tree at the extreme right. The scene starts from the left where a horse is shown with three attendants. The king has just alighted from the horse and is shown standing next to it, aiming his arrow towards a deer on his left. The deer is shown with wings and accompanied with two fawns. The next part shows the king standing resting his bow nearby and to his left is a woman sitting over a tree. The lady is in attitude of persuading the king not to kill the deer, which is lying near the base of the tree, while the king is shown with his hand in abhaya mudra, granting the wish of the lady.

Fifth Scene – Dance Party

The next scene is of a dance & music performance in a court. The performance happens in the middle, and at the ends are seated the queen and the king. The queen, at the left end, is attended by five females. The part where king and his attendants are shown is much damaged. The music party is comprised of six female, three dancing and three paying instruments, mridangam, harp and cymbals. The sixth scene is completely damaged and nothing can be derived out of what is left.

Seventh Scene – Three Couples

The seventh scene shows three couples, only the lower portion is visible, upper portion is all obliterated. The eighth scene is also much damaged, outline of an elephant and few people only can be made out from what is left now. The ninth and the last scene has a flying vidhyadhara, holding a basket and a garland.

N K Sahu10 interprets these scenes with the personal life of king Kharavela. He tells that this frieze of seven scenes, excluding the terminal scenes with flying gandharvas, represents how Kharavela married his second queen, the Queen of Simhapatha. The narration starts with scene of lotus pond where an elephant herd is irritated with intrusion from a human party. The party is consisted of a stalwart man and ten women. One of the woman took an extra courage and stood against the animals while the man also fought with bravery. The next scene depicts the same man and woman who fought with elephants in the previous scene. Here the man is seriously injured while the lady took care of him. Another lady of the troop brought a rapacious looking warrior who came to took vengeance on the wounded man. The wounded man is killed however the lady took a stand against this warrior, however she was overpowered and carried away by that warrior.

The fourth scene starts a new chapter in the narration where we find King Kharavela hunting in a forest. It seems that the warrior, who abducted the lady in the previous scene, fled after seeing the king and his party entering into the forest. The lady had perched on a tree taking shelter to safety. Coincidentally, the deer struck by an arrow of the king fell at the same spot where the tree is. The lady spotted the king and asked for protection, which was duly granted by the king.

In the next scene, we find a dance performance being witnessed by the king and the queen and the lady rescued by the king, shown seated on the right of the king. The next scene is completely damaged and nothing can be inferred. The seventh scene shows a couple in three different postures suggesting king enjoying his time with the lady he rescued. The eighth scene is also completely damaged and nothing much can be inferred from it.

O’Malley11 interprets the above scenes as the story of the marriage of Parshvanatha as narrated in Parsvanatha-charita, a work dated in 13th century CE and attributed to Bhavadeva Suri. Suri wrote based upon the traditions prevalent during his period however there is no proof if those traditions were known during the time of these excavations, around 1st century BCE. Also, the story mentioned by Suri differs in many important aspects to what is depicted in these scenes.

Dvarpalas right-wing upper storey, taken by Alexander E.Caddy in 1895, (image courtesy – British Library)
Upper Storey – Right Wing

The wing on the right has a cell preceded by a pillared verandah with benches on the sides. The roof of the verandah is supported on two pillars and two pilasters. Guards are provided on either side. Guard on the left is an interesting figure, as he is a foreigner shown in boots wearing a kilt. The guard on the right is much Indian in appearance, shown bare footed and wearing a dhoti.

The wing of the left is consisted of a cell and a veranda. The alignment of the cell and veranda is at an angle, unlike to the right wing. This results in a narrow veranda and thus no pillar was required to support its roof.

Dhiren Dash13 provides an interesting angle on the usage of the cave. He tells that the Ranigumpha was a playhouse or preksagrha of the Vikrsta (rectangular) type and of Madhyama (medium) variety as specified in Bharata Natyasastra. The measurements of the cave, exactly 64 cubits, confirms to the rules laid out in the text. On the objection that the caves were meant for the Jain arhats, Dash argues that as per the Hathimgumpha inscription, these caves were excavated to provide retreat during rainy season. The cave would have been used as a playhouse, when not occupied during non-rainy seasons.

Next – Cave 2 to Cave 9

1 Fergusson & Burgess (1880). The Cave Temples of India. Oriental Books Reprints Corporation. Delhi. p 80
2 Mitra, Debala (1960). Udayagiri & Khandagiri. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 24
3 Mitra, Debala (1960). Udayagiri & Khandagiri. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 25
4 Leishko, Janice (2010). Artfully Carved: Udayagiri/Khandagiri in Orissa published in Artibus Asiae Vol. 70, No. 1, “To My Mind”: Studies in South Asian Art History in Honor of Joanna Gottfried Williams. Part II, pp. 7-24
5 Mitra, Debala (1960). Udayagiri & Khandagiri. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 22
6 Fergusson & Burgess (1880). The Cave Temples of India. Oriental Books Reprints Corporation. Delhi. p 82
7 Agrawala, V S (1946). Vasavadatta and Sakuntala scenes in the Ranigumpha cave in Orissa published in Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art vol. XIV. pp 102-109
8 Mitra, Debala (1960). Udayagiri & Khandagiri. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 28
9 Fergusson & Burgess (1880). The Cave Temples of India. Oriental Books Reprints Corporation. Delhi. p 83
10 Sahu, N K (1984). Kharavela. Orissa State Museum. Bhubaneswar. pp 62-66
11 O’Malley, L S S (1908). Bengal District Gazetteer, Puri. The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot. Calcutta. p 256
12 Sahu, N K (1984). Kharavela. Orissa State Museum. Bhubaneswar. pp 81-83
13 Sahu, N K (1984). Kharavela. Orissa State Museum. Bhubaneswar. pp 166-167