Unakoti means one less than one crore.
The air was thickly still and sweating. From climbing the short trail up the hill on the other side of the waterfall it had become uncomfortable and hard to breathe. It was one less than one crore. It was May and only fools arrive there then.
At the hilltop was a rock to sit on that had no divine face to it. It was a spot, on the rock, to contemplate and to rest. Time to time a traveller should take rest.
Below and by contrast, about the waterfall and along the stream was a crowd of rock-cut faces, chiselled, large and small, divine. Lord Shiva was there, depicted several times and at the largest size available in
India. There were many of his colleagues, Durga on a
lion and the image of Shiva’s son Ganesha carved, three times, into stone. Shiva’s Nandi Bull, his carriage, indeed
three examples of it too, waited and might wait forever half-submerged in river
sand. Other rocks had become turtles.
North Tripura, as if
to bless the moment, found a slight but unmistakable hilltop breeze. Or was it sympathy for the foolhardy May
The immediate world, the world in general and the inside world are the elements of Shiva’s trident. The beauty of the hills was immediate; the daily tension and trivialities removed, as it is when on the road, was the world in general; and peace, not least because the rock-cut faces, both in duration and in space, brought home the twin truths of insignificance and smallness, was inside.
Lord Shiva must’ve understood that contemplation as he is known as a yogi, often depicted in his cross-legged, meditating aspect of spirituality. And the tranquillity of the place, the music of water at its quietest in May, could’ve easily encouraged the going beyond contemplation into meditation.
But just how many images were there? It would’ve taken some effort to count them; perhaps it was just as well to leave it to the name of the place. Unakoti means the one less than one crore pairs of eyes looking out from about the waterfall.
Lord Shiva must’ve understood the taking breath there, on the hilltop rock, as it is said he also once took rest at the very spot. Time to time a traveller should take rest.
Shiva’s travel plan then was to reach
Varanasi as a member of a large party of gods
and goddesses, totalling one crore in number.
One evening they sheltered on Unakoti hill, with Shiva expressly
instructing that all should arise before dawn to set out once again.
But when dawn arrived, Shiva found he was the only one awake and in anger he cursed his companions, turning them to stone so that they could remain for eternity, while he set forth towards his destination, alone.
Unakoti means the one less than one crore deities left behind.
Shiva’s aspect of destruction and transformation seemed at odds with the valley. Yet, perhaps in his rock-cut image that once was bare stone is his transformative work. Perhaps there is the message that destruction is an essential part of nature, easily entwined, intermingling with the life of the waterfall and indigenous to the valley’s beauty: because it takes an end to make a beginning; because destruction too is necessity.
And the eastern tribal influences in Shiva’s features and decoration, as he is depicted in Unakoti, recall another legend, about one potter and sculptor called Kallu Kumhar. It is said the sculptor was a devotee of Parvati and wished to follow her home to
Shiva agreed on the condition that Kallu Kumhar carve one crore images of Shiva in a single night. He worked hard but by dawn he was still one image short, which gave Shiva the excuse he wanted to leave Kumhar behind with his carvings. Even the carver should pace himself.
Unakoti means the one less than one crore hopes, the trying and the devotion, dashed at last.
Shiva the dancer is not hard to find in the life of the light-hearted cascade tumbling among his images. Shiva the family man is there somehow, not only in the company of Ganesha his son, but in the families of pilgrims and visitors that venture there, even if not so often in that month.
And the archaeologists say the carvings date from the seventh to ninth centuries, possibly earlier. It is said the centre of worship flourished during the Pala rule three centuries on.
But Unakoti is not a triumph of the calendar only. It’s the joining of the trident: the immediate world, the world at large and the inside world.
Unakoti means the one less than one crore elements that arrive through three strands to make a singular unity. Even in that foolish month of May.