A New Discovery
When Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese pilgrim of 7th century A.D., visited Odra, the modern coastal region of Orissa, around 639 A.D., he was amazed to see a Buddhist 'Vihara' (monastery) called "Puspagiri Mahavihara", which he described in his travelogue Si-U-Ki. In Puspagiri, a stone that was placed atop a 'stupa' (the circular reliquary mound) emanated supernatural light and did other equally miraculous things. A covering placed by worshippers between the stupa's dome and the 'Amalaka' (the stupa's crown) remained suspended there without any visible support.
Over the last fifty years, the outstanding forays of the Archaeological Survey of India into the Buddhist universe of the days of yore, has unearthed a number of Buddhist sites in coastal Orissa.
The excavations have undoubtedly led to new fascinating discoveries at Ratnagiri, Lalitagiri and Udayagiri. But the modern-day site corresponding to the erstwhile Puspagiri remained elusive till quite recently, when the ongoing excavation at Langudi, not far from the afore-mentioned Buddhist triangle led to the discovery of an inscription that has confirmed its identity as Puspagiri.
Langudi, a low hill running from north to south, is located in the plains of the Mahanadi Delta about 90-km from Bhubaneswar in the Jajpur district. The hill that is mostly devoid of vegetation is an exposed stretch, with several khondalite clusters all around. The River Kelua, a tributary of the second largest river of the state of Orissa, Brahmani meanders across the northeast and eastern parts of the Langudi Hill. The effect of this river flowing against a backdrop of hills and plains is picturesque.
The Dhyani Buddhas
In this landscape lie a series of rock-cut Buddhist stupas and several early medieval Buddhist shrines. These include the "Dhyani Buddhas" or the meditative Buddhas in different postures, the 'Bodhisattva Avalokiteswaras' who were the deities of the 'Vajrayana' pantheon and feminine deities like 'Tara' - the Seafaring Goddess and 'Prajnaparamita' - the Divine Mother of all the celestial Dhyani Buddhas, or the Compassionate Goddess of Transcendental Wisdom.
The hill has also preserved the ruins of an imposing brick central stupa and a large quadrangular monastery. All in all, the Buddhist remains of the Langudi hill indicate that this place was a significant centre of the 'Hinayana', Mahayana and 'Vajrayana' sects of Buddhism.
Exquisite Rock-Cut Stupas
The northern spur of the Langudi Hill is noted for its unique 34 rock-cut stupas. These forms of varying sizes, carved exquisitely in low relief, resemble the 'Amravati' group of Buddhist Art in South India.
Of these, the most outstanding structure is the gigantic central rock-cut stupa - a telling specimen of the extraordinary workmanship of the early period (2nd-3rd century A.D.). It represents the traditional architectural features of a stupa that comprise a colossal circular drum, a cylindrical dome and a rectangular "Harmika", which is the ornamented section of a stupa, formed like a pedestal that supports the honorific umbrella.
A "Chhatravali", the honorific umbrella in the shape of a crescent is perched atop its cylindrical dome. The topmost extreme left and right terminal edges of the stupa are adorned with two kneeling "Vidyadharas" or the divine semi-gods, who live in between Heaven and Earth. They not only pay the stupa a respectful floral tribute but also their highest obeisance to it.
The rock-cut tradition that began in the early centuries of the Christian era continued in the succeeding early medieval time. The southern spur of the hill has preserved a galaxy of Buddhist rock-cut sculptures with exquisite carvings in bold relief over an extensive panel. The panel with two distinct compartments has a seated Dhyani Buddha 'Amitava' in the "Samadhi Mudra" or the posture of salvation and a seated Tara in the "Varada Mudra" or the posture of blessing. These have been carved in minute details.
Elegantly poised on a "Viswapadma" lotus pedestal in the "Vajraparayankasana" pose, with one leg touching the earth and the other resting over the former. The Buddha in the Samadhi Mudra is manifested in various postures too. The expression on his face is serene, contemplative and compassionate. The face wears a half-smile bordering on the benign and is lit up with yogic ecstasy characteristic of a 'Mahapurusa Chakravartin', or a living Universal Lord-Saviour. Stylistically and iconographically, this rare rock-cut image of the Buddha is tentatively attributed to the 7th-8th century A.D.
A Remarkable Creation Of Serenity
Another remarkable rock-cut image of the panel shows the Goddess Tara with two arms, a round face with a serene look and mild smile. Poised on a "Viswapadma" in the "Ardhaparayankasana" attitude, the Goddess is further displayed with graceful costumes and celestial ornaments. A bisected bun-shaped hairstyle of elongated luxuriant hairs, which seems to radiate from the head sporting a garland-like beaded ribbon, only adds to the beauty of the Goddess.
Her right hand is poised in the 'Varada' pose and the damaged left hand holds an 'Utpala' (a lotus flower) in full bloom, with a soft cable-like elongated stem emerging between the thumb and the index finger.
The extreme terminal end of the rock-cut panel has a representation of the female Mahayana deity, 'Prajnaparamita'. In one hand she holds a lotus, while with the other she strikes the Varada pose.
The other noteworthy rock-cut Buddhist divinities include a seated Dhyani Buddha, which is shown in various postures. He is seated at the centre of a panel, amidst a circular drum, an elongated dome and a damaged rectangular 'Harmika'. The last three elements together are reminiscent of the identical excavated remains of the structural khondalite stupa hoards of Lalitgiri that contained the relics of the Buddha.
The Relief Figures
Langudi also flourished as a major centre for fashioning of relief figures. And this seems to be evident from the remains of a two-armed, round-faced image of the Padmapani Bodhisattva in a graceful 'Tribhanga', or thrice-bent posture, holding an 'Utpala' in full bloom in his left hand.
The 'Utpala' has a soft cable-like elongated stem emerging from in between the thumb and index finger. In addition to this image is another one of a serene, compassionate, mildly smiling Buddha poised on a 'Viswapadma' of two rows of eight radiant petals in the "Vajraparayankasana" style. The right arm of the image further manifests marks of the "Dharmachakra" or the Sacred Wheel of Buddhist Laws.
The archaeological treasures of Langudi show the artists' mastery over form, and their ability to depict figures from every angle. The poses struck by the figures are easy and natural, and give the impression of vivacious and elastic movements. The figures of men and women are marked by the suavity of outline.
1st Year Of Excavations
The Orissa Institute of Maritime and Southeast Asian Studies, in Bhubaneswar is currently excavating the hill in collaboration with the Orissa State Archaeology. The first year of excavation has revealed rare rock-cut panels, stupas, "Brahmi" inscriptions - the early Indian script, believed to have been created by Brahma, Creator in Hindu Holy Trinity of Creator-Preserver-Destroyer, terracotta figurines and a host of unique images of the Buddha. Traces of rock-cut caves have also been discovered from the hill.
Some other findings include terracotta lotus medallions, 'Suchis' or cross bars in the railing of a Buddhist stupa and natural caves. Some of the rock-cut stupas show the transformation from the "Hinayana" to the "Mahayana" sect during the 2nd-3rd century A.D. However, the most striking discovery is a fragment of a stone Brahmi inscription that reads as 'Puspa Sabhara Giriya' or the loads of flowers on a hill. The inscription is dated the1st century A.D. and confirms the hypothesis that Hiuen Tsang's Puspagiri is today's Langudi Hill.
2nd Year Of Excavations
The second year of excavation at Langudi has yielded a rare Ashokan stupa atop the hill along with an inscription, which refers to the great 'Mauryan' Emperor Ashoka (268 B.C.-231 B.C.). The stupa is the only one of its kind in Eastern India, and one amongst very few in the entire Indian subcontinent.
It is encircled by a laterite wall and covered with burnt bricks. A parasol of the Mauryan era, an uncovered 'Suchi', pillars and northern black polished pottery has also been unearthed from the stupa. The stupa is circular in shape with a diametre of 60 feet, and dates back to the 3rd century B.C. Uniform sized bricks have been used for its construction.
The Ancient Capital Of Radhanagar
Langudi Hill with its splendid Buddhist remains is situated within close proximity of the ancient city of "Radhanagar" that has been identified as "Dantapura", the capital of ancient "Kalinga". Dantapura was a prosperous trade and mercantile centre of eastern India during the early centuries of the Christian era.
Located neither too far from a community of prosperous lay people capable of supporting the 'Sangha', nor too close to the urban centre of Dantapura, which could have been a distraction, Langudi was an ideal place for its resident monks and nuns for their meditative and scholarly pursuits. The locations of both Radhanagar and Langudi further exemplify the representation of the lay and the monastic communities, prevalent during the times of early Buddhism.
BUDDHIST SITES AROUND LANGUDI
Kaima is a small hill, though barren and devoid of vegetation, forms a spectacular backdrop to the confluence of the rivers Brahmani and Kimiria about a kilometre north of the hill. The most fascinating remain of Kaima is a unique rock-cut elephant that rises abruptly over the lower elevation on the eastern limit of the hill, facing the river Kimiria. The elephant stands above an artificial surface surrounded by four monolithic khondalite pillars. It has been carved out from live rock with excellent and highly naturalistic craftsmanship. The tentative date of the image has been assigned to the Mauryan era, around the 3rd century B.C.
Deuli, another hill near Langudi, is located near the confluence of the Brahmani and Kimiria rivers, next to the National Highway. The hill has preserved five rock-cut Buddhist chambers on its southern side. The caves that had been excavated in strategic locales to exploit maximum free passage of air constitute both single and double-chambered cells.
The Legend Of The Buddhist Rock-Cut Caves
The rock-cut caves of the Langudi region certainly reflect the growth of the pre-monastic movement in Orissa during the early period. Dwelling in caves in the rainy seasons was a common practice since the time of the Buddha. During the formative phase of the monks, they spend the rainy season in secluded places from where they could reach nearby villages or towns in order to procure food.
The "Mahabhaga", a 'Vinaya' text talks of the Buddha prescribing retreats into certain places during the rainy season. According to Buddhist and Jain sources, monks and nuns were expected to live in caves mainly to prevent them from trampling over insects and worms that proliferate during this season.
"Chullabhaga", another 'Vinaya' text lists four types of "lenas", or dwellings meant for the 'Sanghas' (communities of monks) - 'Vihara', 'Pasada', 'Hammiya' and 'Guha'. The inscriptions on the caves indicate that the excavations carried out in these caves were supported by donations made by kings as a mark of patronage extended towards the community of monks. Officers of high rank also offered caves to the Sanghas.
Apart from this class, thousands of lay worshippers of both genders - the "Upasakas" (the lay male worshipper) and "Upasikas" (the lay female worshipper) were prepared to provide dwellings and other requisites for the Sanghas.
There are also a number of Buddhist caves, dilapidated stupas and ruined monasteries near every hill and paddy field lying close to the Langudi Hill. Surprisingly, one also notices a large number of isolated Buddhist images in the surrounding village shrines and in the Hindu temples. All these put together definitely establish Langudi and its surroundings as one of the largest Buddhist complexes in India.
HOW TO GET THERE
Road: Langudi Hill can be approached from the townships of Jaraka and Chandikhol both located on the National Highway No. 5, connecting Calcutta with Chennai. Further the townships are well connected with Bhubaneswar and Cuttack.