AMBIKAPUR (CHHATTISGARH) SEPT. 2. A bouquet of red roses, an expensive gift, or just a simple card…. Love can be expressed in as many ways. But all these are momentary, not immortal expressions like a poem inscribed on the walls of Sitabengra cave — one of the world’s oldest amphitheatres — near Udaipur in the far-off Surguja district of Chhattisgarh. The poem, written in Brahmi script, describes the beauty of a dancer Sutnuka for whom the amphitheatre had probably been made by a prince Devdutta.
Archaeologists describe it as the world’s first documented message of love. So far this claim has not been challenged. Though now faintly visible, the inscriptions speak volumes about the intensity of love between Sutnuka and Devdutta who, archaeologists believe, used to watch his beloved dance in this theatre. The caves are believed to have been carved out in 2nd or 3rd century B.C. According to archaeologist, Dr. Hemu Yedu, the concept of `devadasi’ could also have originated from here. The Sitabengra and adjoining Jogimara caves were made by cutting the Ramgarh hills or the ancient Ramgiri ranges. However, over the years the names of the places were changed to relate these with the epics `Ramayana’ and `Mahabharata’ and it is now popularly believed that Lord Rama and Sita spent some time in this cave during their exile. ”These are all faiths related to regional history,” says Dr. Yedu. Rama and Sita did pass through these jungles while on their way to South, he adds. And yes, there is a possibility of Kalidasa having spent some time in the Ramgiri mountains while he was working on his `Meghdoot’, written sometime between the 16th and 17th Century.
The Sitabengra amphitheatre is 45 ft long, 15 ft wide and 6 ft high. Circular in shape it has straight walls and a polished roof. This was probably used as a gallery where the king or the guest of honour would sit to watch the show, held on a platform in front of it but lower than the gallery. This again, was made by cutting into the mountain. Steps were carved on the sides for the audiences. Dr. Yedu says both the caves had a very fine drainage system for the rain-water.
There are remnants to suggest there were facilities for putting up the curtains and lighting also. Unfortunately, the stage and the steps were repaired with concrete some years back, making a mockery of the rich archaeological heritage. The inscriptions can be seen on the inside of the main gallery.
Adjoining the Sitabengra is the Jogimara cave that has a rich heritage of paintings on its walls and roof displaying environment and various other aspects of life. These were painted in natural colours, about two inches in size and some of these are still visible though crying for attention. The excellent quality of the colours is considered as the best example of cave paintings in India. The paintings have several figures of saints that is perhaps what gives the cave its name. The cave is 15 ft long, 12 ft wide and 9 ft high.
`Haathi pol” is a long tunnel passing through the same mountain range. It is so big that an elephant could pass through. Dr. Yedu believes that the capital of the kingdom could possibly have been behind Ramgarh hills and the tunnel was carved to make it convenient for the king to reach the amphitheatre. A fair is held here on the first day of “ashad” as per the Hindu calender. This year the Chhattisgarh Government announced its decision to develop Ramgarh as a tourist spot to promote this historic site globally.