The regular readers of my blog are aware of my penchant for traveling. I love to explore the not-so-famous tourist spots with all their serenity and beauty. Recently I visited the three Tantric Buddhist sites of Odisha, Ratnagiri, Udaygiri, and Lalitgiri. The credit for making this tour possible goes to Amrita, a blogger friend, and Odisha Tourism. I won the 2nd prize in a quiz conducted by them and thus proved myself lucky enough to earn a free stay at the Toshali Resorts.
The Tantric, Esoteric or Vajrayāna sect of Buddhism, it is said, first flourished in Bengal and then spread to other states making its impression deepest in Odisha. We can find remains of the Pushphagiri Mahavihara sprawling over the surroundings of the Mahanadi basin and, speaking of the majestic architecture of the Buddhist monastery. The exquisite chaityas, stupas, and magnificent statues of Lord Buddha have been found in Ratnagiri, Udaygiri, and Lalitgiri; the three hills together called the Diamond Triangle, was the seat of one of the earliest educational centres for higher learning in India along with Nalanda, Vikramshila, and Takshila universities. The mention of Pushphagiri Mahavihara has also been found in the writing of the famous Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsiang (Xuan Zang) in his book Si-Yu-Ki. Hiuen Tsiang visited India around AD 627-643, the Mahavihara flourished from 5th to 11th century AD.
The 70 km road journey from Cuttack to Ratnagiri made us ( me and my sister) a bit tired and, after reaching the resort, we decided to take some rest. But, we just passed into a deep slumber post lunch only to wake up in the evening. The next day, early in the morning, we started our journey for the excavated sites. Taking a cue from the map, we decided to start with the farthest one first, the Lalitgiri.
“Look within. Be still.
Free from fear and attachment,
Know the sweet joy of living in the way”
Lalitgiri, one of the three campuses, is adorned with numerous trees, some of which are prehistoric ones, standing tall against the raging tide of time. The verdant vegetation worked as a wonder for us after a short uphill trek. It was extremely hot, but the air up there seemed cool. The Archeological Survey of India (ASI) has done a pretty good job excavating 4 large brick monasteries (perhaps to house the wandering monks during the rainy season), a number of votive stupas (a signature architecture of the Mahavihara), different statues, and a chaityagriha stupa here.
A small one-room museum atop the hill houses stone statues of Buddha in different mudras. Several artifacts made of gold and silver, a stone casket, and statuettes have also been unearthed from the site. Some stone columns have intricate symbols and inscriptions etched on them reminding us many of the unsolved mysteries of the ancient times. However, photography is prohibited inside the Lalitgiri museum.
“Health, contentment, and trust
Are your greatest possessions,
And freedom your greatest joy.”
Just like Lalitgiri, Udaygiri is also situated on a small hilltop. The picturesque green valley at once comforts the spectators. At the foothill, there is an ancient step well; bare feet, we went down the staircase, the deep water looked green due to the abundance of algae and scum. A brick pathway by the side of the step well led to the main excavation point.
The panoramic view of the green hills offset by the relics and statues made us one with the Nature here. Tranquility and peace prevailed over Udaygiri reminding us of the days when thousands of pupils used to live here making their way to the higher path of learning. Altogether 14 stupas have been unearthed here along with numerous small statues and inscriptions. A local villager guided us as there was no one inside the large ASI compound, he described the historical aspects of the place in broken Hindi and Bengali. The inhabitants, very rightly, take pride to the seat of ancient civilization here.
“Be lamps unto yourselves.
Be refuges unto yourselves.
Take yourself no external refuge.
Hold fast to the truth as a lamp.
Hold fast to the truth as a refuge.”