Buddhism in Odisha (Orissa)
Buddhism in Odisha (Orissa):
Lord Buddha had never visited Odisha during his lifetime, but the state has a rich heritage of Buddhism. In fact, Odisha is home to more than 200 Buddhist sites, scattered across its length and breadth. Here, Buddhism flourished from the 6th century BC to at least 15th to 16th century AD. After the death of the Buddha, his followers were divided into two sects―'Hinayana' and 'Mahayana'. The latest Buddhist phase is 'Vajrayana' which is believed to have been originated from Odisha.
In the 7th century, the visit of Hiuen Tsang to Odisha vividly accounts the flourishing state of Buddhism in Odra. Between the 8th-10th century, Buddhism was the state religion under the Bhaumakaras and this period also saw the evolution of the tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism. The influence and impact of Buddhism continued in Odisha until 15th century. The innumerable stupas, and images found across Odisha testify to its long heritage.
Ratnagiri (Jewel Mountain) is an excavated area comprising of two quadrangular monasteries, along with the remains of eight temples and about 300 minor stupas. The development of Buddhist art and architecture at Ratnagiri, whose ancient name was Ratnagiri Mahaviharaya Arya Viksu Sangha, took place between the 5th century AD and 13th century AD. Most of the sculptures found here date back to 8th and 9th centuries. It was a part of the Puspagiri University, together with Lalitgiri and Udayagiri.
Udayagiri is situated in the basin of a U-shaped hill. The site hosts the remains of a huge monastic complex, a brick stupa, two brick monasteries, a massive shrine complex along with a stepped well and a large number of rock-cut sculptures. The monastic complex was excavated sometime during the years 1997-2000. The complex has a large courtyard, a huge statue of Buddha in a seated posture, 13 cells, a secret chamber, a brick water reservoir and evidence of an upper shrine chamber. The inscriptions and architectural style found here prove that the monastery was at its peak between the 7th and 12th centuries AD.
Set in the valley of two rivers, Birupa and Chitrotpala, the monastery was discovered by a local British official in 1905. A seven-year excavation of the site by the Archaeological Survey of India beginning in 1985 yielded a number of stone inscriptions, seals, sealing, and potsherds, which established the site as having flourished between 2nd-3rd and 14-15th century AD. It is a popular tourist destination and pilgrimage site for its enormous brick monasteries.
Dhauli is also famous for its Buddhist monuments. It happens to be the place where the bloodiest of battles were fought and won by Emperor Ashoka. This monument marked his transformation from an ambitious king of a prospering kingdom to a follower of Buddha and his teaching. The evidence of this transformation can be seen at Dhauli, 8 km from Bhubaneswar, in the form of a rock edict marked by the image of an elephant sculpted from the overhanging rock. There are two such rock edicts still surviving in Odisha.
In the year 2010, Dalai Lama inaugurated South Asia’s biggest monastery at Chandragiri near Berhampur. Spread over 10 acres, the monastery houses a 21 feet high idol of Buddha, 17-feet high second Buddha Padma Sambhav and the idol of Avaloketeswara. The foundation stone for the monastery was laid in 2003 and the construction was completed in 2009 at a cost of rupees eight crores.
Langudi Hill is believed to be the place where the Buddhist monks met Emperor Ashoka the Great. which was one of the major events responsible for his transformation. Unlike other sites, this place has a large number of stone inscriptions which are believed to be written and installed by the emperor himself. The most important feature here is the rock-cut stupas and sculptures. One would come across the ruins of a monastery, terracotta figures, seals and different types of broken pottery, which have been unearthed from here.
Apart from these, Buddhist monuments are scattered throughout the state still awaiting further excavation and study. Cuttack, Sambalpur, Balasore, Ganjam, and Phulbani are some, to name a few.