The Diamond Triangle – Buddhist Heritage in Odisha


“Whenever we talk about travelling in Odisha, we usually think about the Golden Triangle of Bhubaneswar, Konark, and Puri along with the Chilika Lake. But Odisha is also quite rich in heritage and archaeological sites. We are talking about the Diamond Triangle of Odisha, excavation sites that are rich in Buddhist relics and heritage.”

Far away from the hustle and bustle of the cities along the riverbanks and serene surroundings lives remnants of Odisha’s glorious tryst with Buddhism. The contribution of Buddhism in shaping the cultural heritage of Odisha & the latter’s contribution in spreading the religion to Asian countries is a perfect example of symbiotic relationship.
During the 8th Century -10th Century AD under the Bhaumakara dynasty rule, Buddhism was considered a state religion of Odisha. In fact, it’s believed that the first disciples of Lord Buddha were Tapasu and Bhallika who hailed from the modern-day city of Jajpur. Though Buddhism entered Odisha long before the Kalinga War it took wings in the region after the under the patronage of Emperor Ashoka. Odisha’s most famous poet Jayadeva went on to describe Lord Buddha as one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu in the 12th century AD. The writings of fabled Chinese Traveler Hiuen T’sang just reinforces the glorious chapter of Buddhism in Odisha. The influence of Buddhism can be found in the socio-cultural life of the people of Odisha and rich depository of history is reflected in the Buddhist monuments of the state.

Top Places to Visit
Buddhist sites in Odisha have been excavated recently and are largely unexplored. More than 200 Buddhist sites, scattered across the length and breadth of the state, were revealed by these archeological excavations. They show the prominence of Buddhism in Odisha from the 6th century BC to at least the 15th-16th centuries AD, with the 8th-10th centuries being the period when it really prospered. Buddhist teachings from all sects (including Hinayana, Mahayana, Tantrayana, and offshoots such as Vajrayana, Kalacakrayana, and Sahajayana) are believed to have been conducted in
Odisha, giving the state a rich Buddhist heritage.

The largest concentration of Buddhist remains can be found at three sites — Ratnagiri, Udayagiri, and Lalitgiri — referred to as the “Diamond Triangle”.The sites consist of a series of monasteries, temples, shrines, stupas, and beautiful sculptures of Buddhist images. Their rural setting, among fertile
hills and paddy fields, is both picturesque and peaceful. Odisha Tourism has spent the last few years developing tourist facilities around these important Buddhist sites, which are now one of the top tourist
places to visit in Odisha.

Remnants of An Illustrious Seat of Learning
Ratnagiri, “Hill of Jewels”, has the most extensive Buddhist ruins in Odisha
and is of great importance as a Buddhist site — both for its magnificent
sculptures and as a center for Buddhist teachings. One of the first Buddhist
universities in the world, rivaling the renowned one at Nalanda (in Bihar
state), is believed to have been located at Ratnagiri.

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The Buddhist site at Ratnagiri dates back to the 6th century AD. It appears that Buddhism flourished unhindered there until the 12th century AD. In the beginning, it was a center for Mahayana Buddhist. During the 8th and 9th centuries AD, it became a significant center for Tantric Buddhism. Subsequently, it played a notable role in the emergence of Kalachakra Tantra.

The Ratnagiri site was discovered in 1905. Excavations carried out between 1958 to 1961 revealed a massive stupa, two monasteries, shrines, numerous votive stupas (the excavations turned up as many as seven hundred of them!), a large number of terracotta and stone sculptures, architectural fragments, and plentiful Buddhist antiquities including bronze, copper and brass objects (some with images of Buddha).

The monastery known as Monastery 1, constructed in 8th-9th centuries AD, is the largest excavated monastery in Odisha. Its elaborately carved green doorway leads to 24 brick cells. There’s also an imposing seated Buddha sculpture, flanked by Padmapani and Vajrapani, in the central sanctum.

The massive stone sculptures of Lord Buddha’s head at Ratnagiri are particularly awe-inspiring. More than two dozen heads of various sizes, magnificently depicting the serene meditative expression of Buddha, were found during the excavations. They’re considered to be fine works of art. The Ratnagiri site is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entry tickets cost 25 rupees for Indians and 300 rupees for foreigners. Numerous stone sculptures have also been removed from the site and are now displayed in the four galleries at the Archaeological Survey of India Museum in Ratnagiri.

The Hill of The Rising Sun
Nestled between the foothills of two mountains ranges of the Eastern Ghats, Udaygiri is the biggest and most picturesque site of the triad. However, it is also the least excavated site amongst the triad and is often confused with the more prominent Udaygiri and Khandagiri Caves of Bhubaneswar.

Udayagiri Caves, Bhubaneshwar, Orissa, India. (Photo by: IndiaPictures/UIG via Getty Images)

Udayagiri, “Sunrise Hill”, is home to another large Buddhist complex in Odisha. It consists of a brick stupa, two brick monasteries, a stepped stone well with inscriptions on it, and numerous rock-cut Buddhist sculptures.

The Udayagiri site has been dated back to 1st-13th centuries AD. Although it was discovered in 1870, excavations didn’t commence until 1985. They’ve been undertaken in two phases across two settlements around 200 meters apart — Udayagiri 1 from 1985 to 1989, and Udayagiri 2 from 1997 to 2003. The remains indicate that the settlements were called “Madhavapura Mahavihara” and “Simhaprastha Mahavihara”, respectively.​

The stupa at Udayagiri 1 has four seated stone statues of Lord Buddha, enshrined and facing each direction. The monastery there is also impressive, with 18 cells and a shrine chamber that has an intricately carved ornamental facade. The excavation turned up many Buddhist images and stone
sculptures of Buddhist divinities as well. At Udayagiri 2, there’s an extensive monastic complex with 13 cells and a towering statue of Buddha, seated in bhumisparsa mudra. Its vaulted archesare an architectural marvel from 8th-9th century AD. What’s unique about this monastery is the path around its shrine, which isn’t found in any other monastic settlements in Odisha.

Another attraction at Udayagiri is a gallery of Buddhist rock-cut images, overlooking the Birupa river (locally known as Solapuamaa) below. There are five images consisting of a standing life-size Boddhisattva, a standing Buddha, a goddess seated over a stupa, one more standing Boddhisattva,
and a seated Bodhisattva.

The Udayagiri site promises additional treasures, as there’s still more to

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Lalitgiri The Glory of The Past Reflected In Stone

Lalitgiri lies between the valley of two rivers Birupa and Chitrotpala. Also known as Naltigiri amongst the locals, Lalitgiri is the oldest of the Buddhist Diamond Triangle triad as they are referred to in Odisha. The monastery built in the 1st Century AD is the oldest known Buddhist monastery in the state.

Though the site was discovered in 1905, it was excavated as late as 1985- 1991, based on the chronicles of the famous Chinese Traveler Hiuen T’sang, excavations are still being carried out albeit sporadically at the site. The findings indicate the Monastery propagated both the Hinayana Sect of
Buddhism (name for schools of the earliest Buddhist doctrine) and Mahayana sect of Buddhism (a path where a follower seeks enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings). Later on under the influence of Bhaumakara King’s it embraced Vajrayana sect of Buddhism (Tantric Buddhism). Thus the monastery survived till the 13th century AD.

The majestic ruins of the Mahastupa (Main Stupa) atop a hill, the Chaityagriha’s (prayer halls), the numerous Votive Stupa’s (stupa erected after fulfillment of a wish/vow) amidst lush green surroundings gives a magical feel to this ancient Buddhist complex.

Among the many noteworthy findings at this site is the relic casket which comprised of four containers made of Khondalite, Steatite, Silver and Gold. Its antiquity and the gold and silver contents have led to speculations that these are relics of Lord Buddha.

The museum located inside the monastery complex houses artefacts recovered during the excavation of the site. On display are spellbinding statues of Buddha,Boddhisattvaand statues of Tara, Jambhala amongst others. Interestingly, most of these sculptures contain short inscriptions on them. The Standing Buddha figures, with knee length draperies over the shoulders remind one of the influence of the Gandhara and Mathura school of art.

Dhauli hill A Monument That Celebrates & Conveys The Message of Peace.
Dhauli hill is on the bank of the river Daya, about 8 kms south of Bhubaneshwar. In the year 272 B.C., the Kalinga-Nippon-Buddha Sangha established a peace pagoda (Shanti Stupa) at Dhauli along with the
construction of a monastery called Saddharma. “Ashoka the Great” transformed totally and changed his mind in favour of spiritual conquests.

Looking down on the plains bearing witness to the gruesome war waged on Kalinga by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka, stand the rock edicts of Dhauli. It was here that Emperor Ashoka, full of remorse renounced his bloodthirsty campaign and embraced Buddhism. The edicts are a living testimony to the
King’s change of heart, where he urges his administrators to rule the land with justice and compassion. The edicts are so remarkable that they have been excellently preserved, despite the fact that they date back to the 3rd century BC. A sculpted elephant, the universal symbol of Lord Buddha, tops the rock edicts.
The moment one enters near this place, one realizes that it is here after the battle Ashoka was transformed to Ashoka – The Compassionate who championed the cause of Buddhism. The Shanti Stupa or the peace pagoda, built through the Indo-Japanese collaboration, is located on the opposite hill.
It has an interesting background that goes. As per Japanese belief, there is a prophecy handed to history about 7 to 7 1/2 centuries ago by Mahatma Nichiren Imaha Bhikshu. He prophesied that the chief priest of Nipponzan Myohoji Fuji Guruji would come to India in 1930 from Mt. Minobu, theoriginal holy place of the Nichiren sect. He came and got the Shanti Stupa built, which was inaugurated on November 8, 1972.
It is a round structure with a dome on top, with mushroom-like structures on top, raising their umbrella heads as if speaking to God. The stupa is decorated with speaking stone panels. Prominent amongst them being the reclining Buddha, an elephant procession, the bodhi tree, footprints of Buddha bearing the chakra (wheel), a sleeping beauty fanned by female attendants, procession on horse back, and Emperor Ashoka renouncing war by offering his sword to Lord Buddha at Dhaulagiri Hill. Each is a sensitive portrayal of an event ranking outstanding Buddhist tradition.

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Jirang Where Happiness & Peace Are A Way of Life

Odisha’s Little Tibet- is not as well-known as the abode of his holiness the Dalai Lama at Mcleodganj in Dharamsala and Majnu ka Tila in Delhi, but it offered the Tibetan settler’s a home nevertheless after China invaded Tibet in 1959. Chandragiri was designated as camp no.4 for settlement of Tibetan’s.
The first batch of Tibetan’s arrived in Chandragiri on 1st May 1963. Since arriving they have not only made Chandragiri and the adjoining camps at Labarasingh, Mahendragadh, Tankilipadar (all located at a radius of 4-5 KM around Chandragiri) their home, but through their enterprise and demeanor added colour to the picturesque mountains of the Eastern Ghats in this part of Odisha. The Tibetan’s have named this place “Phuntsokling”– which means land of plenty and happiness.

The major attraction is the Padmasambhava Monastery popularly known as the Jirang Monastery. It is the largest monastery in Eastern India. The monastery was inaugurated by His Holiness The Dalai Lama in 2010. It is a residence cum college for budding Buddhist monks who come from all over India here to study.

The Avalokiteswara statue in a sitting position at Mahedragad is another attraction along with the
Monastery at Labarasingh. Don’t miss the peace pagoda at the entrance of Camp No. 4.

When Is Best to Visit?
The cooler dry months from October to March are the most comfortable.