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Khandagiri

Guarding the entrance to Cave 1, are two sentries in dhotis and scarves and armed with swords. Between the two arches of the doorways providing entrance to cell is a one line inscription calling the cave that of Kusuna. Cave 2 is more spacious and its decorations more elaborate. On the back wall of the cell are Brahmi inscriptions in red pigment, of the first century BC to first century AD, presumably scrawled by a monk in attempt to improve his handwriting.

Farther ascending by the same flight of steps, the path goes to Cave 3, Ananta Gumpha or Snake Cave after the figures of twin serpents on the door arches. It is one of the most important caves on the Khandagiri hill on account of its unique motifs in some relief figures of boys chasing animals including lions and bulls, geese with spread wings holding in its bill the stalk of a lotus bud or a blue lotus, a royal elephant flanked by a smaller one carrying lotus flower, a female figure driving a chariot drawn by four horses and the Lakshmi in a lotus pool being bathed with water from pitchers held by two elephants.

On the back wall of the cell is carved a nandipada on a stepped pedestal flanked on either side by a set of three symbols-a triangle headed symbol, a srivatsa and a swastika, auspicious to the Jains. Cave 7, Navamuni Gumpha, called so due to the figures of nine (nava) tirthankars carved on the back and right walls and Cave 8, Barabhuji Gumpha, named so from two 12 armed (bara-bhuj) figures of sasana-devis carved on the side walls of the verandah, both also have relief of Hindu deities.

The last noteworthy Cave out of 15 Caves of Khandagiri, Cave 9, like Cave 8 was also reconverted in medieval times. Ranged along the three sides of the chamber is the relief of 24 robeless tirthankars. Except for the three standing images of Rishabnath, the rest of images exhibit some crude workmanship.

The 18th century, Jain Temple, at the top of the hill dedicated to Rishabnath, was most probably built on the site of an earlier shrine. The temple enshrines some old tirthankars and affords a panoramic view across the plains. The site, every year, late in January, for a week attracts holy men who assemble on the hillside to intone verses from Hindu epics and meditate. A lively fair comes up at the foot of hills attracting crowds who enjoy the religious spectacle and the shops set along the roadside do brisk business.

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