Unakoti, literally meaning ‘one less than a crore’, is one of the most dramatic attractions of the north-eastern state of Tripura.
It is a Lord Shiva pilgrimage site which dates back to the period between 5th and 7th century. Historians, however, have not been able to pin an exact date about the emergence of the ancient spot.
The Unakoti hill is believed to bear one less than a crore gigantic carvings of Hindu gods and goddesses, some of them over 30 feet tall. This is where it gets its name. Throughout history, rampages by kings and natural causes resulted in the wear and tear of the place. As a result not all of the statues can be spotted or located.
However, there are enough statues to leave one spellbound. Even the path to this low hill, located about 160 kms from the state’s capital, Agartala, is strewn with idols that have been etched, like the faces in the hillside.
The most striking carving is the head of Lord Shiva, locally referred to as Unakotiswara Kaal Bhairava. The majestic sculpture’s headdress alone is over 10 feet tall. On each side of the sculpture are female deities – Durga with her lion and another female on the other side. In addition, three enormous images of the Nandi Bull are found half buried in the ground. Carvings of other deities including Vishnu, Ganesha, Hanuman and others complete the collection.
There are many legends surrounding the hill and how the sculptures came into being, but according to the most enduring one, one crore divine beings including Lord Shiva were passing through the region on their way to Varanasi. They paused to rest overnight at the hill, but Lord Shiva placed a condition that they must depart for their destination at the break of dawn. In the morning, no one woke up except for Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva left, leaving one less than one crore deities in the majestic hills of Unakoti.
Another legend has it that a sculptor, Kalukumar, wanted to accompany Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati on their journey. On Goddess Parvati’s insistence, Lord Shiva allowed him, but on the condition that he would make one crore sculptures in one night. The sculptor set to work but fell short of one sculpture by the time dawn broke.
The best time to experience Unakoti is during the vibrant Ashok Ashtami Mela, organised every April. Thousands of Lord Shiva pilgrims flock the area.
The Unakoti hill is situated at a distance of 10 kms from the district headquarters of Kailashahar, which is about 160 kms northeast of Agartala. The nearest airport is Kolkata and the nearest railway station is Kumarghat station which is 30 kms from Unakoti, the train for which needs to be boarded from Agartala.
The place is also accessible via road, and taxis are available for a day trip from Agartala. Buses also ply to the destination.