About the Blog: The Diamond Triangle in Odisha is one of the hidden gems of the state. Comprising the archaeological sites of Lalitgiri, Udaygiri and Ratnagiri, the Diamond Triangle is a reminder of the importance of Odisha in Buddhism. Read the blog to know more about the three places as we had explored the Buddhist excavation sites in Odisha.
Our search for stories of the past often takes us to several offbeat places that are usually not known in the general tourism circuit. Udaygiri, Ratnagiri and Lalitgiri are such places in Odisha that had definitely left us wondering about the importance of Buddhism in medieval Odisha. Udaygiri and Ratnagiri located in Jajpur district and Lalitgiri in Cuttack District forms the Diamond Triangle of Odisha – excavation sites that are rich in Buddhist relics and heritage.
Odisha is thus not only about Puri, Konark and Chilika Lake. This eastern state of India has a lot to offer and the Diamond Triangle is just one of the many wonders of Odisha. We have visited the state a number of times and explored its various facets.
Infact, we had visited Udaygiri, Ratnagiri and Lalitgiri, the Diamond Triangle of Odisha once in 2017. Of late, we had the opportunity to visit the Udaygiri and Ratnagiri once again during the Jajpur Mahotsav 2023. It was quite an experience to revisit the place. Glimpses of history and facts that we had missed the last time became clearer in this trip. So, read on to know more about the Diamond Triangle of Odisha.
Odisha and Buddhism
Odisha is one such place where Buddhism has 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 had a thriving center of learning and excellence in the form of the Diamond Triangle – the three Buddhist sites of Ratnagiri, Udayagiri and Lalitgiri. Odisha was, in fact, the cradle of Vajrayana or Tantric or esoteric Buddhism. Believed to have 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.
Diamond Triangle Odisha
Located only about 100 km from Bhubaneswar city, Ratnagiri, Udayagiri and Lalitgiri forms the Diamond Triangle of Odisha, showing the prominence of Buddhism in Odisha from the 6th century BC to at least the 15th-16th century AD.
It is believed that this area was once the cradle of Vajrayana sect of Buddhism. Translating into Sanskrit, Vajra means thunderbolt and yana means vehicle. In Sanskrit, diamond is also known as Vajramani. Hence, Vajrayana is often termed as the Diamond Vehicle sect of Buddhism. And as such, the three places Udaygiri, Ratnagiri and Lalitgiri are known as the Diamond Triangle. Also, these three places form the perfect triangle on the map!
History of Diamond Triangle in Odisha
Parts of Eastern India that consisted of some parts of present-day Odisha were ruled by the Bhauma-Kara Dynasty between the 8th and 10th century CE. Buddhism was one of the main religions of the region, though Shaivasim and Vaishnavism was also practiced.
The kings were patrons of Buddhism and many scholars and monks migrated to this region and settled down in various monasteries here. Patronage of the Bhauma-Kara Kings played an important role in the growth of Ratnagiri as a major Buddhist center. Their rule saw a gradual shift from Mahayana to Vajrayana in the region.
The monasteries have been mentioned in the chronicles of famous Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang or Xuanzang, who had traveled in these regions during his visit in India between 627 – 643 AD and then sometime between 8th and 9th century.
He had mentioned Pushpagiri Mahavihara as the center of Buddhist learning as elite and famous as the Nalanda, Takshila and Vikramshila universities. Although the exact location of Pushpagiri Mahavihara is yet unknown, it is an established fact that there were Buddhist monasteries and centres of learning at Lalitgiri, Udaygiri and Ratnagiri of present-day Odisha. This center of excellence flourished during the period 5th to 11th Century.
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 Buddhist monastery and centers of learning.
Location of the Diamond Triangle
The sites of Udayagiri and Ratnagiri are located in the Jajpur district of Odisha about 75 km to the northeast of Bhubaneswar. Lalitgiri is located in Cuttack district. The Diamond Triangle is the most important site of Buddhist heritage and culture but unfortunately, also the least promoted.
There was not a single visitor other than us in Udayagiri 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 and II. Excavations at Udayagiri started in the 1960s, and have been carried out in several phases, and continues to this day.
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.
The Stepwell of Udaygiri
The stepwell is the first structure that you will come across in this archaeological site in Udayagiri. This is an ancient well with a flight of steps that led down to the water body. Now all dilapidated and with dirty water, this step once served as the source of water for the Buddhist monks. There is also a small temple just beside the stepwell. In all probability, this temple was built later.
Shrine Complex at Udayagiri
Taking the left pathway, we came across a vast stretch of stone formations that resembles stupas. There are also several votive stupas found here as well. This place also has a Chaitya Stupa complex with several smaller stupas and a shrine complex. A large number of sculptures of Buddha and other Buddhist divinities like Tara, Manjushri, Bhrikuti, Hariti, Chunda, Avalokitesvara, Maitreya, Aparajita, Vairochona and Vasudhara have been discovered here.
Going past the shrine complex, you will reach Monastery II. It is rectangular in structure and in the middle is a courtyard with a stone statue of Lord Buddha.
Mahastupa at Udayagiri
From the stepwell if you take the right pathway you will reach the Udayagiri I which was first to be excavated. The most prominent structure here is the Mahastupa made of burnt bricks. The Mahastupa has images of Buddha in the four cardinal directions, with Dhyani Buddha Akshobhya on the East, Amitabha on the West, Amoghasiddhi on the North and Ratnasambhava on the South. This feature definitely makes this Stupa one of the most unique structures of the Diamond Triangle.
Going past the Mahastupa, you will come across Monastery 1. This also houses a giant statue of Buddha. This site is called the Sinhaprastha Mahavihara, with ‘Pradakshina Patha’ (parikrama) around the sanctum.
Around it, you can see the contours of rooms that might have been used by the monks. The monastery seems to have existed on multiple levels. You will also see water channels running around the monastery complex showing a well-managed system of water utilization.
After spending a couple of hours at Udayagiri, we went towards Ratnagiri.
Entry Ticket to Udayagiri
We did not find any entry tickets to Udayagiri archaeological site.
Udayagiri – Diamond Triangle in Pictures
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. We walked through the village roads to reach the entry gate of Ratnagiri of Diamond Triangle. A flight of stairs leads to an open space and we get a first glimpse of the archaeological site.
The monasteries at Ratnagiri were built around the 8th 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.
The first thing that you will perhaps notice is a large number of votive stupas. The votive stupas are miniature versions of the stupas that were consecrated as a votive offering. These are miniature stupas of one or two feet in height.
Monastery – 1, Ratnagiri
This is perhaps the most majestic site at Ratnagiri of Diamond Triangle Odisha. 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.
At the farthest end of the courtyard, there is a temple with 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. The presence of the Bodhisattvas Vajrapani and Padmapani bears testimony to the fact that Mahayana Buddhism was practiced here.
Monastery – 2, Ratnagiri
Next, to this monastery, there is another monastery but this one is not as grand as the other one. There is an open courtyard with a room with a Buddha statue.
In front of the Monastery 2, you will find some votive stupas surrounding a statue of Buddha.
Mahastupa at Ratnagiri
There is a Mahastupa at Ratnagiri located on the highest point of the landscape. This structure is believed to belong during the 10th century while the walls belong to around the 13th century. there are several votive stupas found surrounding the Mahastupa.
Mahakala Temple at Ratnagiri
There is a temple dedicated to Mahakala or Shiva found at one end of the Ratnagiri complex. The structure of the temple is similar to that of temples of Odisha. The temple is still in use. From the temple complex, you can get quite a sweeping view of the valleys beyond. The overlooking valley with paddy fields looked simply mesmerizing and the beauty of the place was enhanced by the imposing Mahakal Temple.
There is a museum at Ratnagiri where many artifacts and relics are displayed. But please keep in mind that the monastery is closed on Fridays. Unfortunately, both the times we visited Ratnagiri, it was a Friday and we missed the museum.
Entry Ticket to Ratnagiri
- Citizens of India, BIMSTEC countries, and SAARC countries : INR 25
- Foreign Tourists: INR 300 (approx. USD 4).
- Camera charge: INR 25 (approx USD 0.35).
- Children below 15 years of age enter for free.
- Museum Entry Fee (for all) = Rs. 5
- Museum Entry Fee (below 15 years) = Free
Ratnagiri – Diamond Triangle in Pictures
The final piece of the Diamond triangle is or the last site of the Diamond Triangle is Lalitgiri or the ‘crimson hill’. We had to take the Paradeep Highway to go towards Lalitgiri. This is the oldest Buddhist site among the Diamond Triangle and 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 was initially confused as Pushpagiri Mahavihara, but the excavations in 1980s proved that Pushpagiri was located somewhere else. The excavations had revealed many statues of Buddha and several inscriptions that referred to both Mahayana and Hinayana form of Buddhism. This conclusively shows that Lalitgiri perhaps existed even before the tome of the Bhauma Kara Dynasty that supported Vajrayana sect of Buddhism.
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. There are 6 galleries and gallery 4 contains the relic casket.
Entry Ticket to Lalitgiri
- Citizens of India, BIMSTEC, and SAARC countries : INR 25
- Foreign Tourists: INR 30
- Camera charge : INR 25
- Children below 15 years of age enter for free.
- Museum Entry Fee (for all) = INR 5
- Museum Entry Fee (below 15 years) = Free
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 they have been unearthed again, the onus is on us to preserve our heritage to safeguard our future.
How to visit Udayagiri, Ratnagiri and Lalitgiri?
Udaygiri, Ratnagiri and Lalitgiri of Diamond Triangle can be visited as a day trip from Bubaneswar, Cuttack or Jajpur. The easiest option is to hire a private cab and visit the 3 sites of Diamond Triangle.
Earlier, there was a stay option at Ratnagiri where you could stay for the night and then explore the 3 sites. However, post-Covid, the property is closed down. So your best bet is to stay either at Bhubaneswar, Cuttack or Jajpur.
What is the best time to visit the Diamond Triangle?
The best time to visit Diamond Triangle in Odisha is the winter months between November to February. The weather will remain pleasant at that time. Since the ruins are in the open, we recommend you visit these sites either in the morning or in the late afternoon.
Some Tips for Visiting the Diamond Triangle
- You can stay at either Bhubaneswar, Cuttack or Jajpur and hire a car for doing the Diamond Triangle tour.
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. You have to walk around to see the three sites.
- Carry a cap, sunglasses and sunscreen. Also carry water with you.
- Finally, travel responsibly. As they say, leave only your footprints and not plastics and your name on the shrines. Believe me, we have seen love stories immortalized on stones. We would not want that on the structures of Lalitgiri, Udayagiri and Ratnagiri.
Hope you enjoyed reading about the Buddhist heritage of Odisha. Would you like to visit Diamond Triangle of Odisha? Let us know in comments below.
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