In December 2016, I’d gone to spend a few days with my in-laws in the family home at Vidisha, about an hour and half drive from Bhopal where we stay. The thing about Madhya Pradesh is that the state is bestowed with oodles of rich history and heritage. One can just take off in any direction and will soon land in some place of historical importance. It was sad to think that I’ve been in the region since more than three years now, and had not visited Udayagiri caves. So while on our drive back home, we took a detour and went to see these caves which happen to be national heritage.
A stone’s throw from Vidisha, Udayagiri caves were exactly the opposite of what I had imagined. I had honestly gone there expecting old, shabby caves and lots of dust. On the contrary, the caves were extremely well-maintained and kept clean. There are two entrances to the caves and it doesn’t matter where you come from.
We entered from the end which comes first while driving down from Vidisha. The other end comes if you are driving from Sanchi.
As can be guessed, if you are visiting the Stupas of Sanchi, it is best if you include Udayagiri caves in the same day as it doesn’t make any sense to split them into different days.
It being winter, the weather was pleasant. And since the area isn’t huge, one can visit the caves in the middle of the day also. Otherwise, Madhya Pradesh being in the center of the country and the Tropic of Cancer running from very near this place, it does tend to get very hot and uncomfortable during the day, in other seasons.
Ancient caves going back to as far as the 5th century AD, one look at them, and I was impressed with how well they were maintained. The more delicate and even the more closed ones were actually protected with doors which were locked. The caretaker opened the doors so that we could take a look inside.
Conservation of History
The area is well-protected and like can be seen at other such historical sites in Madhya Pradesh, the government and ASI have together made genuine efforts to keep the place as intact as possible. At a stone’s throw from the caves is a MP Tourism guesthouse where you can halt for the night, unless you have already booked at Sanchi.
After Chandragupta Vikramaditya defeated the Shaks in the 4th and the 5th C AD, he established these caves. the caves had inscriptions and sculptures of the deities on the walls. It is said that the main purpose of making these was to promote Jainism in the region. Two of the caves here are related to Jainism, while the remaining eighteen of the twenty caves are about Hinduism.
There are about 20 caves which have been excavated on the spot. Of them, cave number 5 (below) is the most significant. There is a figure of Varaha, which is also the third incarnation of Vishnu and is in the form of an animal-human (a boar’s head on a human body). Also shown is Prithvi, the goddess of earth, who is depic ted to be coming out of the ocean.
The plaque erected by Madhya Pradesh Tourism which stands outside the campus, talks in brief about the caves. It states that the caves are an exquisite illustration of the local art forms. And if the art works are observed carefully, they do depict stories of Hindu mythology, displayed through exquisite works of art made centuries ago.