Gopika Cave Inscription

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Gopika Cave Inscription
Barabar Nagarjuni Caves, Anantavarman Inscription Sanskrit.jpg
Gopika Shaktism-related Sanskrit inscription
MaterialCave rock
WritingSanskrit, Gupta script
Period/cultureMaukhari dynasty (Gupta era)
DiscoveredGaya district, Bihar
PlaceNagarjuni hill, Barabar Caves
Present locationGopika Cave
Nagarjuni-Barabar Caves is located in India
Nagarjuni-Barabar Caves
Nagarjuni-Barabar Caves
Nagarjuni-Barabar Caves (India)

The Gopika Cave Inscription, also called the Nagarjuni Hill Cave Inscription II of Anantavarman, is a 5th- or 6th-century CE Sanskrit inscription in Gupta script found in the Nagarjuni hill cave of the Barabar Caves group in Gaya district Bihar.[1]

The inscription is from the Shaktism tradition of Hinduism. It is notable for its dedicatory verse to Durga, and including the symbol for Om in Gupta era. The inscription states that king Anantavarman is dedicating a goddess Katyayani (Durga-Mahishasuramardini) statue to the cave. The statue was missing when the caves came to the attention of archaeologists in the late 18th-century.[1][2]


The Gopika Cave, also called Gopi ka Kubha is one of three caves found in the Nagarjuni Hill cluster near the Barabar Caves in Bihar. The other two are Vapiyaka Cave and Vadathika Cave, also called Vapiya ka Kubha and Vadathi ka Kubha respectively.[3] These are near the Lomas Rishi Cave, the earliest known cave excavated in 3rd century BCE and gifted by Ashoka to the Ajivikas monks. The Nangarjuni Caves were excavated in 214 BCE from a granite hill by the grandson of Ashoka.[3] They are about 16 miles (26 km) north of Gaya.[3]

According to Arthur Basham, the motifs carved in these groups of caves as well as inscriptions help establish that the Nagarjuni and Barabar Hill caves are from the 3rd century BCE.[4] The original inhabitants of these were the Ajivikas, a non-Buddhist Indian religion that later became extinct. They abandoned the caves at some point.[4] Then the Buddhists used these caves because there are the Bodhimula and Klesa-kantara inscriptions found here.[3] Centuries later, a Hindu king named Anantavarman, of Maukhari dynasty, dedicated Hindu murti (images) of Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism in three of these caves in the 5th or 6th century.[2] To mark the consecration, he left inscriptions in Sanskrit. These inscriptions are in then prevalent Gupta script and these have survived.[3][4][5] After the 14th-century, the area was occupied by Muslims, as a number of tombs are nearby.[3]

Gopika Cave plan with the location of Dasaratha Maurya's dedicatory inscription over the entrance.

The Gopika Cave, literally "milkmaid's cave", is the largest of the three caves in the Nagarjuni hill. It is found on the southern side of the hill, with an entrance facing south. The other two caves (the Vadathika and Vapiyaka caves) are on the northern side of the same hill.[3] The cave is approached by a flight of steps also carved in stone. When Alexander Cunningham visited the cave in the 1860s, he wrote, "the cave was concealed partly by a tree and by an Idgah wall" built by Muslims. The cave is about 46.5 feet (14.2 m) long by 19.16 feet (5.84 m) broad, with semi-circular ends.[3] It has one entrance. Over the entrance is an inscription by the grandson of Ashoka, Dasaratha Maurya, dedicating the cave to the Ajivika ascetics, which dates the cave to the end of the 3rd-century BCE. This smaller inscription, as translated by James Prinsep starts with "The Gopi's Cave, an abode....", which gives the cave its name.[3]

The Gopika Cave inscription of Anantavarman, inside the entrance corridor on the left handside, was first noticed in 1785 by J. H. Harrington, then reported to scholars in the 1788 issue of Asiatic Researches, Volume 1.[1][6] Harrington stated that Muslims were living near these caves. He speculated that these once were "religious temples" because he saw three defaced images in them.[6] The inscription as copied by Harrington was first translated by Charles Wilkins in 1785, who correctly identified the inscription to be related to Hinduism.[6] Another translation was published by Kamalakanta Vidyalankar with James Prinsep in 1837. John Fleet published another revised translation in 1888.[1]


Entrance corridor of the Gopika cave, with the Gopika Cave Inscription of Anantavarman on the polished granite wall to the right.

The inscription is carved on the wall inside the entrance corridor, and is about 4.92 feet (1.50 m) by 2 feet (0.61 m) in surface. It has ten lines in Gupta script, with letters approximately 1 inch (25 mm) tall. It is one of the earliest Indian inscriptions that uses full matras (horizontal bar above each letter).[7] The inscription is well preserved except for the name of village gifted by the king for the maintenance of the Durga temple. The missing part is in the 10th line which seems intentionally damaged by someone.[8]

Inscription, edited by Fleet[edit]

1. Om unnidrasya saroruhasya sakalām ākṣipya śobhāṃ rucā | sāvajñaṃ mahiṣāsurasya śirasi nyastaḥ kvaṇannūpuraḥ |
2. devyā vaḥ sthirabhaktivādasadṛśīṃ yuñjan phalenārthitāṃ | diśyād acchanakhāṅśujālajaṭilaḥ pādaḥ padaṃ saṃpadāṃ ||

3. āsīd iṣṭasamṛddhayajñamahimā śrīyajñavarmmā nṛpaḥ | prakhyātā vimalendunirmmalayaśākṣāttrasya dhāmnaḥ padaṃ |
4. prajñānānvayadānavikkramaguṇair yo rājakasyāgraṇī | bhūtvāpi prakṛtistha eva vinayād akṣobhyasatvodadhi ||

5. tasyodīrṇamahārṇavopamaraṇavyāpāralavdhaṃ yaśaḥ | tanvānaḥ kakudaṃ mukheṣu kakubhāṃ kīrtyā jitedaṃyugaḥ |
6. śrīmān vandhusuhṛjjanapraṇayinām āśāḥ phalaiḥ pūraya | puttraḥ kalpataror ivāptamahimā śārdūlavarmmā nṛpaḥ ||

7. tasyānantam anantakīrttiyaśaśo nantādivarmmākhyayā | khyātenāhitabhaktibhāvitadhiyā puttreṇa pūtātmanā |
8. āsūryakṣiticandratārakam iyaṃ puṇyāspadaṃ vāñcchatā | vinyastādbhutavindhyabhūdharaguhām āśritya kātyāyanī ||

9. dhautāṅhomalapaṅkadoṣam amalair māhānadair amvubhiḥ | vyādhūtopavanapriyaṅgubakulair āmoditaṃ vāyubhi |
10. kalpāntāvadhibhogyam uccaśikharicchāyāvṛtārkkadyutiṃ | grāmam analpabhogavibhavaṃ ramyaṃ bhavānyai dadau ||

– Gopika Cave Inscription[9]

Gopika Cave Inscription, John Harington eye-copy version

Translation by Prinsep[edit]

James Prinsep translated the Gopika Cave inscription as:[10]

Om! May the foot of Devi make your fortunes prosperous and successful in proportion to your firm devotedness to her; (which foot) reproaching all the splendour of the well-blown waterlily by its own beauty, was put with contempt on the head of Mahishasura (a daitya), (and which) wears a sonorous nepur (tinkling ornament), and seems fringed with matted hairs from the bright rays of its nails (and which) is the spring of all wealth.

There was a celebrated rāja named Yajna Varma, who became very great for his performing a desired ceremony named Surabha, whose fame was pure like the spotless moon; who was a tabernacle of the spirit of a true kshetri, possessed of all the good qualities of wisdom, good family, charitableness and courage; who was the first of all princes in honor and respect, who was the sea of undaunted power ; and although possessed of all these qualities he was through humility never out of his own good disposition.

He had a prosperous son of the name of Sardula Varma who diffused like the great ocean his well known fame gained in war through every part of the world; who gratified the expectations of his friends, intimates and kinsmen, whose dignity resembled the Kalpataru (a sacred tree which affords every thing desired): through his son, called Ananta Varma, of endless and unbounded fame, whose understanding was chastened with devotion, whose soul was virtuous —(the image of) Katyayani was established and deposited in this cavern of the Vindhya mountains, with a hope that this act of virtue will remain as long as sun, earth, moon, and stars endure.

He consecrated to this goddess a beautiful village named Dandi, the wealth of which cannot be exhausted by short enjoyment, whose impurities mud and blemishes are washed away by the clear water of the Mahanadi, perfumed by the odoriferous breezes of a full blown-garden of Priyanga and Bacula trees — and shaded by a cold mountain intercepting the rays of the sun; to be enjoyed for the period of a Kalpa (432 million of years).”

– James Prinsep

Translation by Fleet[edit]

John Fleet translated it as:[11]

Om! May the foot of (the goddess) Devi, fringed with the rays of (its) pure nails point out the way to fortune, endowing with a (suitable) reward your state of supplication, which is such as befits the expression of firm devotion; (that foot) which, surpassing in radiance all the beauty of a full-blown waterlily, was disdainfully placed, with its tinkling anklet, on the head of the demon Mahishasura![note 1]

There was a king, the illustrious Yajnavarman, possessed of greatness by celebrating copious yajna;[note 2] renowned; possessed of fame as pure as the spotless moon; the abode of (all) the dignity of one of the warrior caste; who, though he was foremost of all kings in respect of wisdom, (high) descent, liberality, and prowess, yet, through modesty, was (like) an ocean which adheres to the natural state (of tranquility), (and) the calmness of which is never to be disturbed.

His son (was) the king Sardulavarman, who stretched out over the faces of the points of the compass, (as) an emblem of sovereignty, the renown that he had acquired in the occupation of war resembling (in its extensiveness) the great swollen ocean who conquered (the stains of) this present age with (his) fame; who was illustrious; (and) who acquired, as it were, the glory of the kalpa-tree, by satisfying with rewards the wishes of (his) relatives and friends.

Of him, who was always possessed of infinite fame and renown, the son (is) he, pure of soul, (and) possessed of intellect animated with innate piety, who is known by the appellation of Varman commencing with Ananta; by whom, desiring a shrine of religious merit that should endure as long as the sun, the earth, the moon, and the stars, this (image of) (the goddess) Katyayani has been placed in (this) wonderful cave of the Vindhya mountains.

He has given to (the goddess) Bhavani, to be enjoyed up to the time of the destruction of all things, the charming village of (...) possessed of a great wealth of enjoyment, the sin, impurity, mud, and blemishes of which are washed away by the pure waters of a great river ; which is filled with perfume by the breezes that agitate the priyamgu[note 3] and vakula-trees[note 4] in (its) groves; (and) from which the radiance of the sun is screened off by (this) lofty mountain.

– John Fleet


The inscription is a Shakti inscription. It mentions that a Katyayani (synonym of Durga) statue was consecrated in this cave, as well as the donation of a village's revenue to the maintenance and operation of the Bhavani temple (synonym of Durga).[2][12][note 5] The inscription starts with Om, just prior to the first line just like the Vadathika Cave Inscription, signifying its importance in 5th-century Hindu theology.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fleet, in note 5 of his translation, states this is the demon in Hindu mythology, one who shape-shifts to deceive, and who in his buffalo-demon form is slain by Parvati in her Durga Mahishasura mardini form as she rides on a lion and cuts off his head.
  2. ^ Fleet interprets it as sacrifice.
  3. ^ Fleet states this is Panicum italicum, an aromatic medicinal plant.
  4. ^ Fleet states this is Mimusops elengi.
  5. ^ Fleet states that the inscription may be considered to belong to Shaivism or Shaktism. It is dedicated to the wife of Shiva, using two of her common names – Katyayani and Bhavani.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e DR Bhandarkar, BC Chhabra & GS Gai 1981, pp. 226-228.
  2. ^ a b c Hans Bakker (2014). The World of the Skandapurāṇa. BRILL Academic. pp. 43–44 with footnotes. ISBN 978-90-04-27714-4.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sir Alexander Cunningham (1871). Four Reports Made During the Years, 1862-63-64-65. Government Central Press. pp. 43–52. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  4. ^ a b c Arthur Llewellyn Basham (1951). History and Doctrines of the Ajivikas, a Vanished Indian Religion. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 153–159. ISBN 978-81-208-1204-8.
  5. ^ Piotr Balcerowicz (2015). Early Asceticism in India: Ajivikism and Jainism. Taylor & Francis. pp. 335–336. ISBN 978-1-317-53852-3.;For more on Maukhari dating, see: Maukhari dynasty, Encylopaedia Britannica
  6. ^ a b c J. H. Harrington (1799). Asiatick Researches, Or, Transactions of the Society Instituted in Bengal, for Inquiring Into the History and Antiquities, the Arts, Sciences, and Literature of Asia. BMO Press. pp. 276–279.
  7. ^ DR Bhandarkar, BC Chhabra & GS Gai 1981, pp. 226-227.
  8. ^ a b DR Bhandarkar, BC Chhabra & GS Gai 1981, p. 226.
  9. ^ DR Bhandarkar, BC Chhabra & GS Gai 1981, p. 227.
  10. ^ James Prinsep, Gaya Cave Inscriptions, The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Volume VI, Part II, August 1837, pages 673-674, This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  11. ^ DR Bhandarkar, BC Chhabra & GS Gai 1981, pp. 227-228.
  12. ^ Kiran Kumar Thaplyal (1985). Inscriptions of the Maukharīs, Later Guptas, Puṣpabhūtis, and Yaśovarman of Kanauj. Indian Council of Historical Research. pp. 135–138.


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