Ruins of the Past Dhama

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All right! It’s raining in Odisha and the monsoons have finally kicked in with full glory. The rivers are in spite and as usual Cuttack has already been submerged at least once and not to be left far behind Bhubaneswar too got flooded. Our dear friends, Cholera and Typhoid seem to be looming above us. Giving, enough reasons to Paulo Coelho for writing another book with the word ‘cholera’ in its title.

Wait a second, you are reading our travel section isn’t it? Well where does one go on a road trip in this bleak and damp weather? Folks! That is what we were thinking too when our sales and distribution honcho Rocky ‘bro’ walks into the room. “Guys the weather is great, there is a nice breeze blowing outside and I think we can plan a trip to the Ratnagiri Buddhist complex.” Pointing to a black and white photograph on the desk.

We think that the statement apparently came out from him probably because of his proximity to the MGM Group calendar kept on his desk. Truly a very nicely done calendar which showcases every year a unique theme about Odisha with the 2018 calendar focusing on Buddhist sites across the state.

Located at 95 kilometres from Bhubaneswar and 70 kilometres from Cuttack the Ratnagiri- Udaygiri- Lalitgiri also known as the ‘Diamond Triangle’ is an ancient Buddhist complex which boasts, remains of a huge stupa along with many other buildings which were used for monastic studies by Buddhist monks. It was also a very massive complex and as per archaeological evidence it also served as a university having students from all across the sub-continent and Asia.

So off we went to Ratnagiri with a mild drizzle accompanying us along the way on our weather beaten Renault Duster (read as the company staff car). The roads as in any part of Odisha, are superb! One has to take the NH- 16 till Chandikhole, from then on proceed on the Chandikhole-Paradeep expressway and finally take a left turn at an Odisha Tourism Signpost towards the Buddhist complex. The distance from Chandikhole to the Ratnagiri Buddhist complex is hardly 35 kms.

As we break off from the expressway at Krusnadaspur the road becomes narrow with twists and turns. The roads are really good except for a small patch further up the road. Our first stop is the Udaygiri hill where two monasteries have been excavated by the Archeological Survey of India. The place also boasts of a park and playground too providing tourists a great place to have a picnic or just while away their time in basking themselves in Buddhist heritage. As we walk around and explore this beautiful archeological site we learnt from a local ASI official that Udayagiri is the largest Buddhist complex in Odisha. It is composed of stupas and monasteries also known as ‘viharas.’ Together with the nearby complexes of Lalitgiri and Ratnagiri, it is part of the greater Puspagiri University located at Langudi Hill. The heritage sites are also known collectively as the ‘Diamond Triangle’ of the ‘Ratnagiri-Udayagiri-Lalitgiri’ complex. As per artifacts found at the site, its historical name was ‘Madhavapura Mahavihara.’ This Buddhist complex, is interestingly preceded by the Ratnagiri and Lalitgiri sites, with their monasteries, it is believed to have been active between the 7th and the 12th centuries. Isn’t that food for thought?

Just a few minutes away after we crossed the bridge on the Brahmani river we reach Ratnagiri Buddhist Hill complex. Yes, dear readers this is the place which has been featured in oh so many of our tourism videos and promos. From fairs in Germany to Airport lounges in Singapore. Odisha Tourism is quite butch and is aggressively marketing Odisha as a Buddhist tourism destination. Viewing this place in person you get an inkling of how stunning it is in to witness the monastery atop Ratnagiri with its iconic rock cut stupas, votives, myriad of statues and various iconic images of Buddha. It is said that Ratnagiri was built probably in the 9th century AD on the remains of an earlier Gupta era stupa. Ratnagiri give us a glimpse into how developed our sculpting techniques and art form were in the past with prominent, well-preserved standing statues of the bodhisattvas Vajrapani and Padmapani can be found in niches in a portico. As we walk around the complex which radiates a slight hue of green maybe because of moss intertwined in the Khondolite stone we reach Monastery No. 2 which features a central paved courtyard flanked by a pillared veranda around which have eighteen cells which for a photographer is an amazing sight to document, along with a central shrine featuring an image of Shakyamuni in Varada Mudra flanked by Brahma and Sakra, along with elaborately ornamented entrance porticos. Ratnagiri comprises two magnificent monasteries, also rebuilt more than once. One of them was double-storyed and had an extensive courtyard with two sides of it having a number of cells for habitation of monks. One can also visit the museum located nearby which displays statuary featuring Tara, Avalokiteshvara, Aparajita, and Hariti have also been found, all in typical of Gupta style.

As we stepped out of the museum and headed towards our final destination- Lalitgiri we stopped for a break at the Toshali Resort at Ratnagiri. A great location for some good food and tea or coffee which is budget friendly and provides refuge from the downpour. We found the staff really courteous and also met with a few Sri Lankan Buddhists who had come to visit the other Buddhist sites of India apart from the ones at Maharashtra and Gaya. With our stomach filled we finally head to Lalitgiri our last stop in the diamond triangle.

Lalitgiri is one those few places in the world where archeologists have found relics which may pertain to Lord Buddha. The excavations carried out by the ASI at Lalitgiri have unearthed remnants of a large stupa on the hill. Within the stupa, two rare stone caskets were found with relics of Buddha; this was the first such find in Eastern India. The stone caskets, like Chinese Puzzle boxes, made of Khondalite stone, revealed three other boxes within them, made of steatite, silver and gold respectively; the gold casket, which is the last one, contained a relic or dhatu in the form of a small piece of bone. At its peak it contained more than four monastries and also had a Chaitagriha, like ones which we see in the Bhaja and Karla caves in Maharashtra.

As we end our trip we make a stopover at another very famous location called ‘Pahala’ and as we step out of the car the clouds open up pouring enough water to make us think that probably Bhubaneswar has flooded again. So, we lodge ourselves near the hearth of charcoal inside the sweet shop and end our trip as Rocky bro shouts out to his favourite Pahala vendor “Hei, Pintu” – “Arrey Rassogulla garam haba ki.” Pat comes the reply – “Haan, agyaan basantu.”

The entire trip of the ‘Diamond Triangle’ can be done in less than a day and if you wish to stay back and explore some other parts of Jajpur, Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara then we suggest you stay at the Toshali Resort- Ratnagiri or at Killa Dallijoda- Choudwar and don’t go back to Bhubaneswar.

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