Undavalli caves, situated in the hills near Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh
, are the most striking and biggest monumental structures in the region, amongst the rest of the rock-cut structures. The Hindu temples in Undavalli caves are an astonishing accomplishment or architecture and engineering. There are several murals and sculptures in the four storied rock-cut temples, which is the biggest structure in Undavalli caves. Frescoes are present in the first floor that was created during 7th - 8th century AD. The paintings, which were made in a later period, portray numerous mythological tales of the Hindu religion.
History of Undavalli Caves
Undavalli caves are mainly related with the imperial Vishnukundina Empire
that reigned over a major portion of the country during 420 - 620 AD. Undavalli caves are dedicated to Anantapadmanabha Swamy and Narisimha Swamy. The Undavalli Caves had originated as Buddhist temples and monasteries as the Vishnukundina dynasty were followers of Buddhism. Initially they were utilised by Buddhist monks as dwellings. Many sculptures of Buddhist art have been preserved well. In a later period, Hindu religion dominated the caves and was converted in Hindu shrines. Artworks and sculptures related to Hindu mythology are present through out the caves.
According to legends, a 9 km long underground tunnel exists beneath the cave that leads to Mangalgiri Mountain, which is considered sacred. It is widely believed that the entrances to the tunnel have been sealed off.
Architecture of Undavalli Caves
There are numerous chambers cut in rock, other than the four storied cave, which is considered most significant. The entire four storied structure is cut out of massive sandstone precipice and the architecture resembles that of a deserted fortress. The front area is almost 29 m in width, and each consecutive floor diminishes and recedes in size. The architecture appears to be influenced by Chalukyan and Gupta architectural styles. There are around 9 separate accesses to enter the first floor, which contains enormous quadrangular columns. It is evident from the architectural planning and style of the artworks that the first floor was mainly used as a vihara or Buddhist monastery. There are ancient monastery cells cut in rock in the chambers. The hallway is unfinished and consists of 8 pillars. Three different sanctuaries with pillared lobby are also present devoted to the 3 foremost gods in Hindu religion, Vishnu
, known as Trimurti.
The first floor is decorated with frescoes that depict mythological tales, created in 7 - 8th Century AD. There are also few paintings that are created in a much later period. A statuette of Lord Vishnu is present in the second floor. The 5 m long figurine appears in the Padmanabha manifestation, lying in the reclining position. The statue is created of an individual granite block. The shrine is decorated with many other artworks and sculptures including an awning of Adi-Shesha, Lord of Nagas (serpents). The fascia in the third floor is ornamented with several sculptures, involving figures of wild animals like elephants and lions.
Main cave belongs are earliest examples of Gupta architecture, mainly rock-cut monastery cells carved into the sandstone hills. The walls display sculptures carved by skilled craftsmen.