The Diamond Triangle – Buddhist Heritage in Odisha
Whenever we talk about travelling in Odisha, we usually think about the Golden Triangle of Bhubaneswar, Konark and Puri along with the Chilika Lake. But Odisha is also quite rich in heritage and archaeological sites. We are talking about the Diamond Triangle of Odisha, excavation sites that are rich in Buddhist relics and heritage.
Odisha is one such place where Buddhism had flourished quite well. Infact, the first ones who had become lay-disciples of Lord Buddha were two merchants from Ukkala (Utkala, Odisha). It is also well known that the Mauryan King Asoka had played a major role in the propagation of Buddhism in and around India after the infamous battle of Kalinga. Orissa finds very less mention as Buddhists centre of learning; we hear more about Bodh Gaya, Sanchi, Sarnath, Nalanda, Amravati and the likes. But Orissa too had a thriving centre of learning and excellence in the form of the Diamond Triangle – the three Buddhist sites of Ratnagiri, Udaygiri and Lalitgiri. Odisha was, in fact, the cradle of Vajrayana or Tantric or esoteric Buddhism. Believed to have been originated from Bengal and then spread to other parts of India and Asia, this sect of Buddhism is hailed as the purest form of Buddhism by its followers. This sect of Buddhism is also known as the Diamond Vehicle and so comes the name Diamond Triangle. The Ratnagiri Mahavihara was an important centre of Tantric Buddhism.
Odisha was, in fact, the cradle of Vajrayana or Tantric or esoteric Buddhism. Believed to have been originated from Bengal and then spread to other parts of India and Asia, this sect of Buddhism is hailed as the purest form of Buddhism by its followers. This sect of Buddhism is also known as the Diamond Vehicle and so comes the name Diamond Triangle. The Ratnagiri Mahavihara was an important centre of Tantric Buddhism.
Discovery of the Diamond Triangle:
As early as in 1869, a sub-divisional officer in Orissa discovered two mounds within a deep jungle. He also found a large number of relics and other antiques at that place. from here, started the interest for unearthing the treasures of Orissa. In 1890, another official discovered a huge mound full of rare antiques. This place was Ratnagiri. Gradually, the sites of Lalitgiri and Udaygiri were also unearthed. The discovery of these large numbers of sculptures, images, pottery, coins, tablets and the huge stupas led to the inference that this place was actually the ruins of a university complex named Pushpagiri Mahavihara. These three places find mention in the writings of the famous Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang or Xuanzang as the centre of Buddhist learning as elite and famous as the Nalanda, Takshila and Vikramshila universities. Hiuen Tsang visited India during 627 – 643 AD. These centre of excellence flourished during the period 5th to 11th Century.
Location of the Diamond Triangle:
The three sites are located in the Jajpur district of Odisha about 75 km to the northeast of Bhubaneswar. The Diamond Triangle is the most important sites of Buddhist heritage and culture but unfortunately, also the least promoted.
There are no proper accommodations near these sites and also there are no eateries at these places. The best part in this way is that we had all the three beautiful places all to ourselves – to roam around and take photographs. There was not a single visitor other than us in Udaygiri and Lalitgiri. And whenever I find such solitude, my imagination runs wild and I usually start visualizing how the place actually was centuries ago! This time was also no exception!
To cover all the three places, it is better to start from Bhubaneswar early in the morning. We too did the same and reached Udaygiri first.
Our first destination of the Diamond Triangle was Udaygiri, which literally means the “Hill of Rising Sun”. Udaygiri is the largest site out of the three but also the least excavated one. The excavated sites are situated at a vast stretch of grassland at the foot of a hill. There are four excavated sites numbered as I, II, II and IV. One of the sites was atop a hill. We did not visit the site as the path was through thick vegetation and snakes!
As we entered the complex, we followed a tree lined path until we came to an open space where a few statues of Buddha were kept. There was also step well that led down to the water body. Now all dilapidated and with dirty water, this step well once served as the source of water for the Buddhist monks.
There is a path beside the step well that led to the first Monastery. This was called the Madhavpura Mahavihara and has one large stupa, a meeting place and an open space. The monastery was believed to be two-storied though now we have only the remnants of the ground floor. There is a giant statue of Lord Buddha inside the Stupa.
A little distance away was another site. This site also has a monastery and is called the Sinhaprastha Mahavihara. This place also has a Chaitya Stupa complex with several smaller stupas and a shrine complex.
After spending a couple of hours at Udaygiri, we went towards Ratnagiri.
Ratnagiri, the jewel of the Diamond Triangle:
Ratnagiri, as the name suggests means the “hill of jewel”. This is the most excavated site of the trio and stands atop a small hillock. A flight of mossy stairs leads to an open space and we were in front of a large number of votive stupas. The votive stupas are miniature versions of the stupas that were consecrated as a votive offering.
The monasteries at Ratnagiri were built around 6th to 12th century. The site has two monasteries and a large stupa surrounded by smaller ones. The monastery at Ratnagiri has a strategic advantage over its position. It gave the monks the much needed seclusion and protection.
There is a beautifully carved gate as the entrance to a large courtyard. The door frame made of green granite was intricately carved with motifs and designs and depicts the artistic exuberance of the sculptor. The figures are exceptionally distinct. There are various stone statues at both the sides. As we entered the courtyard, we were simply awestruck seeing a large number of statues and relics there.
On the left side of the door, there is a huge Buddha head followed by many other heads of Lord Buddha of various sizes. Infact, we felt that we are somewhere in Indonesia (though we haven’t been there, we have seen many pictures of the wonderful place). These heads actually resemble the ones in Borobudur in Indonesia and Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka.
But let me tell you, it is the Ratnagiri school of architecture that had influenced the sculptures of Java, Sumatra and Bali. Such was the impact of the then Oriya King Sailendra that the Buddha statues of Borobudur in Indonesia are the prototypes of the Buddha statues of Ratnagiri.
At the farthest end of the courtyard, there is a massive 12 feet statue of Buddha in Bhumisparsha Mudra. There are two statues of Vajrapani and Padmapani on either side of the giant Buddha statue.
Next, to this monastery, there is another monastery but this one is not as grand as the other one. It has one Mahastupa along with other smaller stupas.
There is a museum at Ratnagiri where many artefacts and relics are displayed. But please keep in mind that the monastery is closed on Fridays.
There is a path leading towards the back of the monasteries. We followed the path to see a breathtaking view of the encompassing green valley. The overlooking valley with paddy fields looked simply mesmerizing and the beauty of the place was enhanced by the imposing Mahakal Temple a little downhill.
Our next and final stop for the day was the last site of the Diamond Triangle, Lalitgiri or the ‘crimson hill’. We had to take the Paradeep Highway to go towards Lalitgiri. We entered in the oldest Buddhist site that dates back to the 1st century. Lalitgiri is considered to be the holiest of the sites of Golden Triangle as it had unearthed a casket containing the sacred relic considered to be of Lord Buddha himself. The tooth of Buddha in the form of a bone was excavated from a stone casket inside a stupa.
Lalitgiri has four monasteries, but the main attraction of the place is the u-shaped Chaityagriha, surrounded by votive stupas. The sacred relic was found among one of these stupas.
At the far end of the complex, there is a 45 steps stairway that leads to the Mahastupa, a giant circular stupa. We took the stairs to have a look at the stupa. We were also greeted with a panoramic view of the green rural Orissa from there.
There is also a museum here that houses beautiful and illustrious relics, statues and figurines of Lord Buddha in various forms and other Buddhist pantheons.
We did not know how time flew by while we were engrossed in our past. Soon it was dusk and we were on our way back to Bhubaneswar.
The Diamond Triangle of Odisha surely shows that Buddhism was followed quite widely in Odisha and the place was also a centre of learning and excellence. Time and other historical incidents have led to a decay and decline of this rich heritage and these places were lost in the annals of time. Now that these sites have been unearthed by ASI, these places should be promoted well. These places should be well maintained and promoted. We found plastic bottles thrown at the step well in Udaygiri and Ratnagiri. Not to mention, people have immortalized their name on the stone structures. This is one habit of ours that is quite deplorable. It is high time that we become responsible towards our natural heritage. If maintained properly, the Diamond Triangle can be one of the most beautiful sites of Odisha.
Some Tips for Visiting the Diamond Triangle:
You can stay at either Bhubaneswar or Cuttack and hire a car for doing the Diamond Triangle tour. It is better to book a car for the tour.
There are no proper accommodations at these places. Ratnagiri has one property. Also, there are no eateries at the three places. There are only small shops. Carry your own lunch pack if you want.
Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. You have to walk around to see the three sites.
We would like to mention that we came to know about the Diamond triangle after reading Rangan Da’s blog.
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