The Buddhist Heritage in Orissa is
remarkable for its rich architectural remains and sculptural wealth. The
great 'Kalinga' war, which transformed 'Ashoka' into a devout Buddhist and
a great champion of Buddhism,
had been fought on the Orissan soil on the banks of the river 'Daya', not
far from the temple city of
From here the light of Buddhism radiated to different Far Eastern countries like China and Japan. It is here that the foundation of a great religion and culture was laid. Orissa held the torch of peace and non-violence ('Dhamma') to the whole world. This great transformation, which literally changed the whole world, could be felt and experienced when one walks through the vistas of Buddhism in Orissa.
The Rock-Eddicts Of Ashoka
As a testimony to this great transformation we have the famous major rock-edicts of Ashoka at Dhauli near Bhubaneswar and Jauggada in Ganjam district. Throught the years, from the 3rd century B.C., Orissa had nurtured a number of Buddhist centres of learning, art and establishments in several places, which flourished up to the 12th - 13th century A.D. In fact, these places of Buddhist interest had been a great source of attraction to outside visitors from as early as the 7th century and the famous Chinese traveller 'Hiuen T'sang' were one of them.
Plushed with Buddhist Complexes
Orissa is almost littered with several Buddhist centres of art and learning. Lalitagiri, Udayagiri and Ratnagiri in Cuttack district on the banks of river 'Birupa' is the most opulent Buddhist site (the mini golden triangle of Orissa Tourism).
Besides places like Khiching in Mayurbhanj district; Ayodhya, Solampur, Kupari and Khadipada in Balasore district; Rameswar, Banesvaranasi, Brahmavana near Salipur, Choudwar and Prachi Valley in Cuttack district; Boudh town, Baliguda area, Paragalpur and Shyamsundarpur of Phulbani district; Banpur, Aragada, Bhubaneswar and Kuruma of Puri district; and Ganiapalli of Sambalpur district have great potentiality from the Buddhist-Tourist-Centre point of view.
All these places have vestiges of rich sculptural art of both 'Mahayanic' and 'Vajrayanic' Pantheon. In addition these places have beautifully laid out Buddhist Viharas, Stupas and 'Chaityas'. The recent discovery of sacred relics in caskets at the Lalitagiri excavation site has added to the importance of the Buddhist sites in Orissa.
The recent archaeological excavations at Ratnagiri, Udaigiri, Lalitagiri, Brahmavana Kuruma etc have added new dimensions to the Buddhist establishments in Orissa. The "Tantric-Vajrayana" range of sculptures from Orissa are unique for their novel concept, fine execution and sensitive modelling and their only parallels could be found in the Buddhist art from Tibet, Nepal and China.
The recent findings from excavations and the identifications of a number of sites with Buddhist remains open up a new vista in the field of Buddhist Tourism in Orissa. These provide unique opportunities for specialized groups from the Buddhist dominated countries like China, Japan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Burma. Some of the richly treasured Buddhist sites are Dhauli, Lalitagiri, Ratnagiri and Udayagiri, which a visitor to this land cannot afford to miss in the itinerary.
Lalitagiri, the earliest Buddhist complex of 1st century A.D. and which forms a part of the mini golden triangle, is well connected to Bhubaneswar by a good road. The recent excavation has brought to light significant archaeological material which upholds Lalitagiri as a great centre of Buddhist attraction.
Art And Antiquity
Lalitagiri lies majestically in the ruins singing the glory of a past heritage. The huge brick monastery, the remains of a "Chaitya Hall", a number of votive 'stupas' and a renovated stone stupa at the apex of a small rugged sand stone hill dominates the rural greenery around.
The excavations thread up a number of archaeological findings ranging from post-Gupta sculpture to an archer type gold coin of 'Chandra Gupta-I', 'Kishan' coins and Andhra ceramic a contemporary to the 'Satavahana' period. Other findings are 'Kishan Brahmi' inscriptions, inscribed sculpture, terracotta seals, monastic seals and water reservoir in the citadel. The antiquities and art objects having 'Kushan/Gupta' idiom are also notable findings.
In addition, the museum displays a large number of 'Mahayana' sculptures consisting of colossal Buddha figures, huge 'Boddhisattva' statues, 'Tara', 'Jambhala', 'Padmapani', 'Aparajita', 'Avalokiteswar', 'Manjushri', 'Haviti', 'Maitreyas', and sculpture of Buddha showing his descent from 'Tushita' heaven. Interestingly, most of these sculptures contain short inscriptions on them. The standing Buddha figures with the knee-length draperies over the shoulders reminds one the influence of the 'Gandhara' and 'Mathura' School of Art.
This also brings to mind the fact that 'Prajna', who had come from 'Takshasila' to ancient Orissa to learn the yoga philosophy, later left for China with the autographed manuscript of Buddhist text 'Gandavyuha' from the then Orissa king 'Sivakara Deva' I to the Chinese Emperor 'Te-Tsong' in 8th century A.D.
The discovery of caskets containing sacred relics, probably of the 'Tathagata' himself, from the stone stupa at the top of the hill further enhances the sacredness of the stupa and the place for the Buddhists of the world. It also brings to mind the description of Hiuen T'sang, the Chinese traveller of 7th century A.D., about the magnificent stupa on top of a hill at 'Puspagiri Mahavihara', which emitted brilliant light because of its sacredness. The search is on for the identification of Puspagiri with Lalitagiri.
Relics And Caskets
The most important and absorbing findings have been the relics and caskets recovered from the core of a hemispheric mound exposing the vestiges of a ruined stupa on the top of the Landa hill. The technique of preserving relics is a Chinese artefact and has unique characteristics in India.
Four caskets form one set, with the outer one made of locally available Khandalite stone, carved in the shape of a 'Votika stupa'. The second is made of stealite in a light grey colour, preserved within a socket inside the first one. The third is of silver and the fourth of gold. Within the fourth is the relic or the 'dhatu' in the form of a small fragment bone is preserved.
Scholars believe that the corporeal relics found in the caskets recovered at Lalitagiri could well be those of Buddha or one of his favourite disciples.
Excavations also revealed a huge Apsidal "Chaitya-griha" (brick) facing east, measuring 22m in length and 11.40m in breadth. This solitary and unique structure was supposed to be the biggest prayer hall of the 'Vihar'.
The top of the hill is the seat of saint 'Arkshita Das' who renounced the world in search of truth like Buddha in the medieval period and got enlightenment in the Olasuni cave and postulated a secular, non-sectarian and egalitarian philosophy.
Even after 15 years of excavation at Lalitagiri the ASI, in a sense, has just started exploring some positions of the "Landa hill". Other hills and mounds still remain untrodden.
School-Cum-Shelter Buildings Completed
15 School-cum-cyclone shelters built with the funds available from the Prime Minister's Relief Fund and under the supervision of the Paradip Port Trust were completed. The keys of these buildings, 11 of which were under Ersama Block and four in Tirtol area, were handed over to the Honourable Chief Minister, Shri Naveen Patnaik by the Chairman of Paradip Port Trust, Shri Santosh Kumar Mohapatra. These two-storeyed structures would serve as relief shelters at the time of natural calamities.
All these excavations make Lalitagiri the first priority for the tourists, particularly the ones from the Far East as well as South-East Asian countries.
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