Odisha, the site of the famous Kalinga War fought that was not only transformative for King Ashoka but also paved way for Buddhism’s spread across the world, is home to some of the oldest and most incredible Buddhist sites. Mansita Mishra, a travel blogger and a student at Culinary Arts Academy, Switzerland, talks about some of those beautiful sites that should be on every traveller’s itinerary.
Odisha houses more than 200 Buddhist heritage sites like Chandragiri Buddhist Monastery, Ratnagiri Monastery, Udayagiri Buddhist Complex, Kuruma Buddhist Heritage Site, Lalitagiri Buddhist Complex, Dhauli Shanti Stupa, and the Padmasambhava Mahavihara Monastery.Odisha is able to inspire serenity like how Gautam Buddha achieved enlightenment under the tree.
Tucked away in the lush green eastern ghats of Odisha, Chandragiri Buddhist Monastery offers a welcome respite from the city’s bustle and reminds us of how the seeds of the dharma were planted in Odisha. The stunning white structure with golden arches is in the Gajapati district and features distinctive architectural elements representing Buddhism’s Indian origin. There is a village of Tibetan settlement who came here in the 1960s after the Chinese invasion of Tibet where they fled into exile with Dalai Lama. With the help from local government, these refugees settled here.
Shanti Stupa, Dhauligiri
The monument is situated 8 km south on the outskirts of the town of Bhubaneswar. It was erected on the spot where the Kalinga War ended along the bank of Daya River and King Ashoka adopted Buddhism and denunciated violence. The war transformed Chanda Ashoka (fierce warrior) to Dharma Ashoka (peace lover) which was great enlightenment. The rock edicts made by Emperor Ashoka can be found here depicting the transformational journey of Ashoka. The most remarkable is the rock-cut elephant, which is considered to be the earliest Buddhist sculpture in Odisha.
The Diamond Triangle: Lalitagiri, Ratnagiri and Udaygiri
The Diamond Triangle, as the name suggests is the gem of the state which spotlights the importance of Odisha in Buddhism. It comprises of the stunning heritage archaeological sites of Lalitgiri, Udaygiri and Ratnagiri and is located about 100 km away from Bhubaneswar.
Lalitagiri: 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 built in the 1st century AD as they are referred to in Odisha. The monastery’s remnants include the main stupa (maha stupa), multiple votive stupas, and prayer rooms, which served as a home for both the Mahayana and Hinayana sect. Lalitgiri also boasts of a state-of-the-art museum that houses artefacts recovered during the excavation of the site and include statues of Buddha, Bodhisattva and statues of Tara, Jambhala amongst others.
Ratnagiri: Ratnagiri is considered to be at par with Nalanda as it is one of the best excavated Buddhist sites in Odisha. Monastery’s ornately carved green entrance gate is one of the most photographed Buddhist structures in the world. It houses maha stupa, votive stupas, commemorative stupas, and various Buddha images.
Udaygiri: It is situated between the foothills of two mountain ranges of the Eastern Ghats. The monastery here is 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 the memory of a monk with his relics). It is located at a close distance from Lalitagiri and one can also admire the brilliant sculptures, prayer halls, the great lion statue at the foot of the hill and native birds.
By Mansita Mishra
(Mansita is a travel blogger and a student at Culinary Arts Academy, Switzerland)