The Buddhist site of Lalitgiri which is located between the valley of two rivers Birupa and Chitrotpala (All Pics. Courtesy odishatourism.gov.in)
Odisha Tourism’s mega roadshow in Vietnam’s capital city Hanoi was a mega hit. The event saw more than 130 tour and travel operators from Vietnam attending it. At the event, the officials of the Department invited the participants to explore Odisha’s varied tourist places and attractions, in particular the Buddhist circuit.
Speaking at the event, Sachin Ramchandra Jadhav, Director Tourism, Odisha Government highlighted the parallels between the cultures of both the regions which came into being because of the ancient maritime trade connection between Kalinga (erstwhile Odisha) and Champa (ancient Southern Vietnam).
Talking in the same vein, Phan Lan Tu, Chairperson of Hanoi Vietnam India Friendship Association and Rachna Srivastav, First Secretary (Consular), Embassy of India at Vietnam appealed to the Vietnamese tour operators to develop and curate special packages for travellers to explore the Buddhist sites of Odisha.
Buddhism in Odisha
It was during the rule of Bhaumakara dynasty during the 8th–10th Century AD that Buddhism was considered as the State religion of Odisha. It is said that Lord Buddha’s first disciples – Tapasu and Bhallika – were from the region which is now the modern day city of Jajpur.
While the religion had come into Odisha much before the Kalinga War, it established itself under the patronage of Emperor Ashoka. Writings of the Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang also talk about Buddhism in Odisha.
The religion has left a deep impact on the art, culture and lives of the people and the State boasts of several notable Buddhist monuments and sites. Among these is Lalitgiri which is located between the valley of two rivers Birupa and Chitrotpala. It is also called Naltigiri and is the oldest of the Buddhist Diamond Triangle triad as they are referred to in Odisha.
There is a monastery here which was built in the 1st Century AD and is the oldest known Buddhist monastery in the State. This institution propagated both the Hinayana and Mahayana sects of Buddhism. Later, it embraced Vajrayana sect under the influence of Bhaumakara Kings. The monastery survived till the 13th Century AD.
The complex includes the majestic ruins of the Mahastupa atop a hill, the Chaityagriha’s (prayer halls), the numerous Votive Stupa’s (stupa erected after fulfilment of a wish/vow) all of which are situated in the lush green surroundings.
A museum inside the monastery complex houses artefacts recovered during the excavation of the site and include statues of Buddha, Bodhisattva and statues of Tara, Jambhala amongst others.
Another attraction is Udayagiri, the biggest site of the BDT triad. It is situated between the foothills of two mountain ranges of the Eastern Ghats, Excavations here resulted in discovery of a monastery divided into two parts, namely the Madhavpura Mahavihar and the Simhaprastha Mahavihar. The former has a massive Mahastupa along with Chaitygriha. There are also Votive Stupas and Commemorative Stupas (erected in memory of a monk with his relics).
Ratnagiri is the most famous and comparatively well excavated site of the BDT triad. Some experts consider that Ratnagiri was a rival to Nalanda as a centre for Buddhist learning. The beautifully carved entrance gate of the Monastery is one of the most photographed Buddhist structures in the world.
The monastery here is the only one in India to have a curvilinear roof has Votive Stupas, Commemorative Stupas, the massive Mahastupa, Chaityagrihas, and statues of Buddha
Among other Buddhist attractions in Odisha are the Dhauli Shanti Stupa or the Peace Pagoda and Jirang monastery. The former was built by the Japan Buddha Sangha and the Kalinga Nippon Buddha Sangha in 1972. It commemorates the mission of peace that the Kalinga War achieved and is built on the site where this well-known war was fought.
Jirang or Padmasambhava monastery, the largest one in eastern India was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama in 2010. It is a residence-cum-monastery for budding Buddhist monks who come across India to study here.