The Undavalli Caves, an example of Indian rock-cut architecture and a finest testimonial of ancient vishwakarma sthapathis, are located in the village of Undavalli in Tadepalle Mandal in Guntur District, near the southern bank of the Krishna River, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. The caves are located 6 km south west from Vijayawada, 22 km north east of Guntur City and about 280 km from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh.
The caves are associated with Vishnukundina kings, an influential dynasty ruling over significant part of contemporary India in 420 – 620 AD. The first Vishnukundina kings were supporters of Buddhism and Undavalli Caves were started as Buddhist temples. For a while they were used by Buddhist monks and there are some preserved Buddhist statues up to this day. Later though, the caves were taken over by Hindus and the major part of artwork we see here today is related to Hindu religion. There is an exciting legend about the cave – it tells that here starts a nine-kilometre long underground passage leading to the sacred Mangalgiri mountain. Many locals believe in its existence and consider that the entrances have been closed and hidden by authorities to avoid accidents.
The main attraction is a large four-storied cave. From a distance, it resembles an abandoned fort but when approaching it, there reveals an exciting sight. The whole enormous structure is cut in monolithic sandstone cliff.The caves have four stories, each successive floor recedes. The facade is 29 m wide. The first floor can be entered through one of 8 – 9 roughly shaped openings with massive square columns in between. Planning and style of sculptures in the first floor shows that this was a Buddhist monastery – vihara. Part of chambers are primitive rock-cut monastery cells. The hall is not completed. It contains 8 columns. There are three separate sanctuaries for the Hindu trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, each with a pillared hall in front. The Walls in the first floor are adorned with frescoes showing scenes from mythological stories from 7 – 8th century AD. Some paintings here have been done also in later time periods.
The second floor contains the most amazing sculpture in this temple – a huge, 5 m long statue of Lord Vishnu in his Padmanabha aspect shown in reclining posture. This statue resembles similar Buddha statues in some other cave temples. The sculpture is made out of a single block of granite. Over the statue, there is a canopy of multi-hooded Adi-Shesha, king of all nagas. The shrine is adorned with numerous other sculptures as well.
The facade of the third floor is adorned with numerous sculptures, including depictions of lions and elephants. Beautiful views of green fields along the krishna river and the skyline of Vijayawada city are visible from this floor.