Magical Odisha – An Architectural and Cultural Odyssey

Odisha located on the eastern seaboard of India has long been known for its rich culture and heritage. Celebrated as Kalinga kingdom in the historical time, Odisha was once an important maritime nation. Odisha’s Sadhavas (merchants) often would make sea voyages to carry out trade with the merchants of Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Siam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka and bring enough wealth. Through these mercantile communities, Odisha also had made profound cultural expansion in Southeast Asia, which is evident among numerous Hindu and Buddhist art of the region. A comparison of Odisha’s historic art with Southeast Asia’s Hindu and Buddhist sculptures show strong cultural ties between the two regions.


The Golden Sea beach of Puri at the time of Sunrise


Odisha’s Wall Murals at Nuapatna Village

For an appreciation of Odisha’s heritage and to narrate the stories of Odisha recently Virasat E Hind Foundation had conducted its first curated trip for four guests from the National Museum of Thailand at Bangkok. It was the brainchild of our esteemed friend Ms Anita Bose who also worked as a volunteer in the museum until recently.  Though the guests are based in Bangkok at the moment they represent diverse nationality, Beverly from the United States, Cathy from the UK, Nathalie from France and Tasnee from Thailand.

The trip was for 5 days, part of an 11 day East India Tour, which also included West Bengal, Anita’s home state, apart from Odisha. In Odisha, the trip was conducted in the golden triangle (Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark), Buddhist excavated sites at Ratnagiri and Udayagiri, the royal heritage of Dhenkanal, Joranda, the global headquarter of Mahima Cult, Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga, Ragurajpur, Odisha’s craft village, Nuapatna textile cluster and Dokra craft of Saptasajya. The logistic support for the trip was provided by Discovery Tours and Travel, Bhubaneswar.

The trip had been designed to showcase Odisha’s diverse heritage in a capsule, from culture to heritage, forest and mountains, art and craft and food.

Visitors arrived from Kolkata in an early morning flight and they were received with a hearty welcome.


Receiving the guests at Bhubaneswar Airport

Our first destination was Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga. Dhauli is also where the story of Odisha begins. At the break of the dawn, the site of Dhauli is transformed into a mystical aura overlooking the Daya River, which was the stage of Kalinga battle. You become a time flyer visualizing how the site would have looked 2,300 years before at the time of the battle and Emperor Ashoka gave up his arms while surrendering to the eight noble paths of Buddhism.





At Dhauli Battle Site in the Early Morning

Our next stop was the Yogini Temple at Hirapur, one of the four open-air circular shrines dedicated to Tantric Yogini worship in the whole of India. Some of the Yoginis at Hirapur look terrific with their Tantric gesture and attire. Our guests also offered puja at the shrine and were narrated about the Tantric practice in Odisha in the historical era. The temple is dated to 9th century.

After visiting the Yogini temple, we headed for Ranch Restaurant to relish an Indian breakfast. It was also the occasion for a chit chat and to know the interest of the guests better.


The next stop was at Raghurajpur, Odisha’s craft village. Sri Gangadhar Maharana, Odisha’s finest patachitra artist had been intimated before. Our guests strolled through the open-air art corridor of Raghurajpur and interacted with several artisans and finally spent considerable time at Gangadhar Ji’s house to see his innovations for the art. We also narrated the origin and evolution of patachitra art and what makes it unique among all Odia crafts. Anita also has written a book on Patachitra and Jagannath cult. The next surprise was the Gotipua dance. The young boys had dressed up like girls and performed stunning dance sequences before us for about 30 mins. It was the highlight of the day. Our guests were simply astounded.







At Raghurajpur

We headed for Puri for the check-in at Cocopalm Resort, which is sea facing on the Beach Road.



On day 2 the early morning was spent at the golden beach of Puri experiencing various morning activities in the beach and fishermen delving into the deep sea.




At Golden Beach in Puri

After a lavish breakfast in the hotel, we headed for Konark, Odisha’s only world heritage monument and an epic in stone. Our guests were taken on a journey through its art corridors. It was magnificent glowing under the morning sun. After spending an hour we visited the recently built Konark Interpretation Centre and explored Konark’s history, legend, art, architecture and also about history and monuments associated with Sun worship of India. Watching a documentary film on Konark in a cosy theatre was an experience by itself.





At Konark

After relishing a delicious meal at the seaside Lotus Resort we returned to Puri for a brief nap. In the evening we again travelled to Konark to witness Odissi Dance at Konark Kala Mandap. Thanks to the gesture of Anita, Abhada, the mahaprasad of Lord Jagannath had been arranged in the hotel.


On Day 3 we explored the temples of Bhubaneswar in the morning. Our guests were narrated about the idea behind Hindu temples, their meaning and in particular about Kalinga temples, their architectural styles, legends, history and cultural significance. We saw Brahmeswar, Parasurameswar and Mukteswar temples.



In Bhubaneswar Temples

After visiting the temples we headed for Odisha Hotel in Lewis Road to relish a sumptuous Odia thali. It was grand with all ingredients of an Odia meal, badi chura, chenna tarkari, kakharu phula bhaja, tomato khata, patra poda machha, and rasagola. All our guests enjoyed the food very much.




After lunch, we went to visit the towering Lingaraj Temple, the highest achievement of Kalinga temples. The next surprise was a visit to the Odisha Craft Museum, one of the finest museums in the country showcasing the region’s finest art and craft heritage.  Our visitors were thrilled while taken through a journey of Odisha’s timeless craft culture.

After a coffee break in the museum, we travelled to Dhenkanal for the night stay.

Everyone was surprised when we entered through the ramp and the majestic gate of the royal palace. No one had ever thought that they would get a chance to stay in a royal palace. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for all our guests.






Next day was the longest journey to the Buddhist corridor. After breakfast, we headed for Udayagiri and then Ratnagiri, both excavated Buddhist sites having much artistic splendour of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. It was almost an emotional journey for all our guests specialising in Buddhism and its art.






At Udayagiri, Ratnagiri and Joranda

In the evening while returning back we spent an hour at Joranda’s Sunya Temple, the seat of Mahima Cult, a 19th-century religious movement which rejected the Hindu orthodox practises and emphasized on the nirakara (god without form) philosophy. Our guests got a chance to interact with resident monks who are known for their simplicity having matted hair and wearing the bark of trees.

Our last day of the trip was spent at Dhenkanal’s Dokra village and at Nuapatna textile cluster. The highlight of the day was having interaction with Sri Sarat Patra, Nuapatna’s most respectful and talented weaver. The trip ended with the shopping of stoles and saree at his shop.







At Dokra Village and Nuapatna with Sri Sarat Patra

In the words of Beverly Frankel

I want to tell you how much I appreciated your knowledge, guidance and friendship throughout our February trip in Odisha’s many architectural and cultural sites. As “Culture Vultures” from the National Museum Volunteers in Bangkok, we adored being able to experience the beautiful villages you showed us for the Patachitra paintings, Odisha dancers, batik and ikat weavers and bronze cast makers.  The religious contrast between the majestic temples of Konark and Bhubeneshwar’s Lingaraj, etc and the Aleka Mahini settlement was amazing to see the range of devotional activities.

Ashok’s conversion to Buddhism retold by murals, stone engravings, and the Buddhist sites of Udaigiri and Ratnagiri were unforgettable. Appreciated especially was our arrangement to spend the night in the old Palace in Dhenkanal.  It was magical –  dining in the garden and living in the spacial splendour of the old rooms. The seaside of Puri and life in the markets and streets of our journey were added delights.

Thank you for making it all possible and guiding us with your vast range of knowledge.


Khandapada – a Valley amidst Nine Mountains

Scientists call him a great naked-eye astronomer. When the west had the privilege of having the best of telescopes and other aids for astronomy, he took observations with indigenous and handy instruments, all fabricated by himself. He was Pathani Samanta Chandrasekhar (1835 – 1906) from Khandapada, an erstwhile princely state in Odisha’s Nayagarh district.


Pathani Samanta Chandrasekhar


The Ancestral House of Pathani Samanta

Pathani’s greatest contribution in the field of scientific literature is a systematic record of his lifelong research in astronomy. The treatise ‘Siddhanta Darpana’ has been written in Sanskrit and Odia in the lines of Hindu tradition initiated by Aryabhata, Varahamihira, Brahmagupta, Bhaskara, Satandu, Sripati and many more at different periods of history.

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Daspalla – a Journey through Odisha’s Untamed Frontiers

Chandrasekhar was born in the royal family of Khandapada. Nicknamed as Pathani by his parents (sources say that he was temporarily sold to a Muslim Faqir as a part of the local tradition), Chandrasekhar was initiated to identify stars by his father when he was a child. He received primary education from a Brahmin teacher. As he grew, he started mastering in subjects like lilavati, bijaganita, jyotisa, siddhanta, vyakarana and kavya using the resources available at the family library.




Then on Samanta Chandrasekhar became an ardent observer throughout his life. He spent many sleepless nights for making observations throughout his life.

Today Chandrasekhar’s childhood town Khandpada has probably been forgotten by many of us. However, a leisurely walk through this little town surrounded by nine hills, forest and interspersed valleys, wetlands and soulful Odia villages is like transporting to yet another world. You are driven through layers of history and myths of this offbeat Gadajat land.

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Badamba – Exploring the Middle Mahanadi Kingdom






Apart from the ancestral house of Pathani Samanta and the museum built to showcase his work, the star attraction of Khandpada is the palace. The 250-year-old palace, locally called Rajabati is a magnificent structure showcasing a fusion of Mughal and Odia architecture. The palace has two parts, the outer darbar hall overlooking a large courtyard and the inner Rani Mahal. While you can visit the Darbar Hall, entry to the inner chambers is restricted.

Travel Tips

Khandpada is located in Nayagarh District at a distance of 80 Km from Bhubaneswar via Baghamari. Both Khandpada and Kantilo can be covered in a day trip from Bhubaneswar. While at Khandpada also explore Sunamuhi wetland on the outskirt of the town towards Nayagarh. The Nila Madhav Temple gets closed for darshan by 1 PM. You can also have food at the temple by paying a certain amount.












Khandpada State was initially part of Nayagarh State, founded by a former ruler of Rewa State in present-day Madhya Pradesh. It became a separate kingdom in the 16th century when Jadunath Singh Mangaraj, the first ruler of Khandpada received the title Mangaraj from the Gajapati King of Puri.

The state was merged with the Democratic Republic of India in 1948. The present Raja is His Highness Sri Bibhuti Bhusan Singh Mardaraj, who lives in Bhubaneswar.

The Jagannath Temple built beside the Rajabati is an architectural landmark of the town. Situated within a spacious courtyard, the temple draws a huge crowd during Rath Jatra and other festivals associated with the Jagannath Cult.






A visit to Khandapada is incomplete without experiencing the darshan of Lord Nila Madhav located on a hilltop on the bank of River Mahanadi at Kantilo.

Lord Nila Madhav occupies a central position in Jagannath Cult.




At the time, Puri became an established place of Jagannath Cult, here Biswabasu, a chief of Sabara Tribe worshipped Kitung as the God was known in Sabara dialect.





The legend goes: once upon a time, Indradumyna was ruling as the king of Malwa. He was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu.

Once he had a dream…Vishnu had reincarnated as Nila Madhav in the distant land of Sri Kshetra. The king deputed one of his counsellors, Vidyapati to travel to Sri Kshetra and confirm the presence of his lord.

Vidyapati travelled far and wide but was disappointed. One day he met Lilita, a Sabara girl, who was the daughter of Biswabasu, the chief of the Sabara Tribe. Both fell in love and got married.

Vidyapati noticed that Biswabasu would go into the forest every afternoon. Vidayapati was curious but the Sabara Chief refused to tell him where he goes every afternoon. After much persuasion, Lalita admitted that her father went into the forest to worship Nila Madhav.

Hearing this from his spouse Vidyapati was over joyous. He nagged his father-in-law to take him to the shrine. Finally, Biswabasu agreed with a condition that he would take him a blindfold. Vidayapati had no choice. When he saw the heavenly beauty of Nila Madhav he was mesmerized. He hurriedly left for Malwa to give the good news to his master King Indradummyna.



Today, the locals still believe that Biswabasu lived in a nearby hill across the town and he would come every afternoon to the spot, where the present temple of Lord Nila Madhav stands.

Built-in the Kalinga School of Architecture, the Nila Madhav Temple resembles a miniature Jagannath Temple at Puri. From here one can have a sweeping view of the mighty Mahanadi River.

Truly Khandapada is a timeless journey shrouded in mysteries of time, culture and myths. It was a land which nurtured great souls like Pathani Samant. Here at every bit of its land, you will find the magical charm of rural Odisha.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Rani Gumpha in Bhubaneswar – a Journey through India’s First Jungle Book

Remember the Jungle Book story by Rudyard Kipling, about a baby boy who was found abandoned in the jungle of Central India by Bagheera, the panther.

Bagheera carried the baby to his friends, the wolves. They named him Mowgli and raised him with the utmost care. The growing Mowgli started developing skills of survival of his own but under the protection of Bagheera. Elephants of the jungle including their leader, Colonel Hati became Mowgli’s friends.

However, not everyone in the jungle was Mowgli’s friend. His most dangerous enemy was Sher Khan, the man-eating tiger. Sher Khan had determined to kill Mowgli before his turning into an adult.

The story goes on! A century after the fictional jungle plot visualized by Kipling was cinematized by Walt Disney and its release in 2016 brought a sensation among kids world over.

However, much before Kipling, even before the birth of the Christ, the storytellers of Odisha had visualized similar jungle stories and brought into life using the canvas of rock-cut panels in Rani Gumpha, the iconic heritage site of Udayagiri Hill in Bhubaneswar.






A local myth goes: when the army of Lord Rama had invaded Lanka, once while fighting with Indrajeet, Ravana’s fearsome son, Lakshman fell unconscious in the battlefield.

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Ranigumpha – Rock-cut Romance

Hanuman flew over to Gandhamardan Hills to bring the roots of Sanjivani tree for Lakshman’s healing. Hanuman tried his best of ability to spot the tree but was unsuccessful. As he did not find any solution, he uprooted the entire hill and flew it to Lanka. On his way, a few drops of rocks and trees fell and became Khandagiri and Udayagiri Hills.

Keeping the myth aside, the sandstone hills of Khandagiri and Udayagiri Hills (historically known as Kumara and Kumari Parvata) have been part of Chandka Forest range, a major elephant corridor of Odisha. The hills before their excavation in 1st century BCE had much natural cave formation, which had attracted the prehistoric people to use as shelters. Here we trace Bhubaneswar’s earliest art the painting of a man and woman in ochre red colour at Hatigumpha, a natural cave that also has Emperor Kharavela’s 13 lines inscriptions, a major primary source of Ancient Indian History.

Travel Tips

Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves are located in a western suburb of Bhubaneswar at a distance of 10 km from the city centre. The caves are well connected by public transport. Udayagiri cave is a ticketed monument. It remains open from sunrise to sunset. However, for a better appreciation of the monument, the best timing to visit is in the early morning hours when there is less crowd.


During my childhood in the 1980s, the surrounding of Khandagiri-Udayagiri Hills was a dense jungle. People would fear to venture its territory by the time late afternoon/early evening. I would hear scores of stories of elephants intruding the nearby settlements by the nightfall.

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Bhubaneswar – Romance in Stones

Today, it seems like a fairytale. In the last two decades, the entire area has been transformed into a progressive urban sprawl.


Depiction of wild elephants and forest dominant the art panels of Rani Gumpha Cave in Bhubaneswar.


As you climb the first floor the second panel draws your attention of an interesting episode, a disturbed herd of wild elephants as their favourite lotus pond in the forest was intruded upon by a group of 10 girls, actually a princess and her friends. One woman, who is most likely the princess shows great courage and stands resolutely in the front of wild elephants. She defends herself by throwing a ring-like object, perhaps a heavy ornament or anklet. The man who is escorting the group is also seen fighting here while the rest of the women are nervous and in a state of panic.







In the art tradition of this period, we see human figures and forms together with trees, creepers, animals, etc. The vegetal world too is intimately rendered in sculptures.


In yet another panel there is a depiction of a hunting scene. Wearing a bejewelled tiara, long necklace, large size earrings and heavy bracelets, Emperor Kharavela is shown in the forest along with his attendants. The forest is full of wild animals including snakes, hyenas, geese, monkeys, deer, rabbits and many more.

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Erotica Konark – Frozen in Stone








Kharavela shown as an archer is succeeded in his mission of hunting a deer. The wounded deer runs for life and finally falls near the tree where the brave princess has taken shelter.




The forest scene in the lower storey of Rani Gumpha is one of the earliest engravings of such landscape in Indian art. We find here an intricate pattern of a dense forest filled with trees, a wild elephant herd, a crocodile and a porcupine. The animals are treated with both artistic and natural grace, bringing out their inherent natural quality. The elephant, in particular, are shown in various settings as ferocious fighters.







The Rani Gumpha in Udayagiri Hill has the depiction of an abundance plant and animal kingdom revealing a jubilant world of hunting and chasing animals as well as fighting and frolicking. We don’t know in particular about their creators, but undoubtedly they visualized in artistic form one of India’s earliest jungle books.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Sitabinji – A Mystical Journey through Time and Space

Goddess Sita left the kingdom of Ajodhya in revolt when her husband Lord Rama asked her to prove her purity to the citizens of the kingdom to prove wrong the charge about her by a citizen of his kingdom.

Sita was pregnant by the time she left her husband. Wandering in the forest after forest, she finally took refuge in the ashram of Sage Valmiki. Finally, the goddess gave birth to twin sons, Lava and Kusha at the ashram. As they grew into young boys they were educated and trained in military skills under the guardianship of Sage Valmiki.

Unquestionably this is a story from Indian mythology, but historians have their own ideas for establishing the historical truth in the episode. According to them, it was on the banks of Tamsa River, a tributary of Ganga flowing through the borders of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, where the ashram of Valmiki flourished and Sita had sheltered after she left Ajodhya forever.

In contrary to scholarly speculations, the aboriginal tribes of Keonjhar in North Odisha have their version of the episode. Sitabinji located in the heart of this forested region according to local belief and folklore was the place where the ashram of Valmiki was located.


Sitabinji, a small tribal village is located beside river Sita amidst dense forest and hills. The entire region is shrouded in mysteries from time immemorial.


Sitabinji Village



Sita River

Consisting of huge granite monoliths and half-opened umbrella-shaped rock formations Sitabinji is the place where Mesolithic (Late Stone Age communities) tribes roamed more than 10,000 years ago in search of food and shelter. The land filled with forest and hills was the perfect refuge for hunting wild games and gathering wild fruits. Millennia after millennia passed. In the process, the Mesolithic tribe evolved into farming communities. Migration of communities happened between lands and eventually, the primitive tribes came under the influence of Hindu mythology and started weaving stories for each of the rock boulders and hills that dot the landscape.

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The Stunning Landscape of Sitabinji

Today, Sitabinji according to local belief is the land where the episode of Goddess Sita’s detachment happened from her consort Lord Rama in the mystical past. The rock boulders are named after various events and character of the episode, such as bhandara ghara (the granary), the school for Lava and Kusha, the ashram of Valmiki and the cave where Sita had delivered her twins.




Sitabinji continued to be inhabited by tribes and Shaiva upasakas (Shavite Monks) in the Early Historic Period. The finding of a Chaturmukha Lingam and sculpture of a moving elephant testify the presence of Shaivism in the early Gupta Era of Indian History (3rd Century CE).

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Ranigumpha – Rock-cut Romance



Among archaeological relics, the most prominent is the shelter of Ravanachhaya, an half-opened umbrella-shaped rock formation. On the ceiling of this shelter, there are remains of tempera paintings, dated from the 5th century CE, the only of its kind in the entire Eastern and North-eastern India.

Travel Tips

Sitabinji is located at a distance of 35 km from Keonjhar, the nearest city. To reach Sitabinji one has to make a detour for about 9 km from village Khatrabeda on Keonjhar – Ghatagaon and Panikoili Highway. There is no public transport available for Sitabinji. One has to arrange own vehicle or cab either from Keonjhar or Bhubaneswar (200 km). From Bhubaneswar, it takes about 4 hours to reach Sitabinji. Though it can be covered in a day, we recommend for a two days trip from Bhubaneswar. While at Keonjhar you can also explore its spectacular waterfalls and Ghatgaon Tarni Temple.






The paintings are mostly eroded. However, from its present state of preservation, it is presumed to be depictions of a royal procession. The key attraction is a royal figure sitting on an elephant. A band of footmen lead the procession followed by a horseman and a dancing woman. An inscription found below the character tells the name of the royal figure, Maharaja Shri Disabhanja.





Though the painting is contemporary of Ajanta murals, there are significant differences in colour schemes and compositions.

There is no other information on Disabhanja from any other sources. However, according to historians, he was one of the members of Bhanja rulers in Early Historic Odisha, who had their capital at Khiching, further north of Sitabinji.

Yet another attraction of Sitabinji is a shrine in a cave formed by two huge boulders. Legend has it that Maa Sita used this place as a shelter when she was deserted by her husband Lord Rama. It is believed that she gave birth to Lava and Kusha at this very place. The present shrine is made out of mud and bricks containing the carved stone idols of Sita and her twin sons. Besides the shrine, there are a large number of terracotta horses of varying sizes and colours piled by the devotees seeking the blessing of the Goddess for their good fortune.









At the entrance of Sitabinji archaeological complex, you are drawn to a huge boulder, which is believed to be the bhandaraghara (warehouse) and the hiding place of looted treasures by the famous dacoit ‘Ratnakara’ who later turned into Valmiki, and the writer of the epic Ramayana.


The archaeological treasures of Sitabinji uniquely blend with its rustic landscape. Its rock shelters and boulders appeared to be the miniature version of Australia’s aboriginal site Uluru, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



Millions of years old rock boulders of Sitabinji are also amongst earth’s earliest rock formations.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Udayagiri – On the Footstep of Vajrayana Buddhism

Once upon a time, King Indrabhuti of Odiyana had sat with his consorts and ministers on the terrace of his palace. He gazed up into the early morning sky and saw what appeared to be a great flock of scarlet cranes flying through the air.



Indrabhuti asked his ministers: “What are those birds? Where do they come from?”

“Your majesty, those are not birds at all, but Arhats in their red robes. They are the disciples of the Great Sage, the Buddha. By following the Buddha’s teachings, his followers find release from the bonds of clinging that tie others to this world. Thus they may fly north and south to spread his teachings.”

When Indrabhuti heard the name of the Buddha, his heart melted with longing. He sat unmoving wordlessly and silently.



Days later, the Arhats crossed the noon-day sky in a great migration that seemed like clouds at sunset. King Indrabhuti called out to them. He asked how they could be so unconstrained by the laws of nature; by near and far, by high and low. They circled above him but did not descend.

Later King Indrabhuti sat in his palace shrine hall. His mind was filled with longing. Calling out for the 500 Arhat attendants of the Buddha, he set out a vast array of offerings: pure water, flowers, incense, hundreds of lamps, perfume and food. He commanded his musicians to play and sing the most beautiful melodies known to them.

Soon, swirling downward through the sky, the Arhats descended there like an immense flock of red birds, and as they sat before him, the Great King asked them to show him the direct path to enlightenment.



The Arhats then replied:

“Turn your mind from this mirage which is nothing but a prison and a torture house gaily painted like a palace to the entrance and deceives. Renounce the world and find the path to the enlightenment which does not change.”

Indrabhuti considered this in silence for a long time. He shook his head and as if seeing his palace and all around him for the first time, sang this song.

“Monks, you are indeed heroes and noble sons.

But I am a king, not a renounce.

A great world surrounds me.

When the sun rises, I wake to see it.

When the moon rises and the stars shine,

I feel the tenderness of their cool breath.

When my people sing, a child cries, or my consort calls out in the night,

I hear them and my heart moves to them.

When I smell the lotus blooming on the lake

Or the smell of the smoke from the charnel ground, my mind is still.

When I am caressed, I am joyful,

And when I drink wine, I am filled with delight.



The Arhats were speechless. Again King Indrabhuti sat on his throne without moving for a long time. He surveyed the world of form as it arose from the mandala of the five lights. His senses expanded effortlessly. Opening through infinite space, free from the limits of emotional bias or conceptual structures, King Indrabhuti saw the limitless ocean of galaxies of realms.

King Indrabhuti sat before the Arhats on his throne, eating and drinking and smiling at his consorts, ministers, and generals, as at the same time he gazed on the infinity of realms and beings. Again the Great King asked the Arhats for the path to enlightenment which does not deny the realms of form. And again the Arhats answered:

“Oh Greatest of Kings, you must abandon all desire and craving. Cultivate morality, meditation and wisdom. Develop the Paramitas of generosity, discipline, patience, exertion, meditation and prajna.”



The King replied: “I wish to see the direct path of complete wakefulness which does not abandon the delights of the five senses and the bliss I share with my consorts.”

Then, King Indrabhuti reached out and took the hand of his consort. As the rays of the sun fill all the sky and illuminate all the earth, it seemed that King Indrabhuti embraced the entire world completely.

At that moment, some of King Indrabhuti’s attendants and ministers saw him as he sat before them as nothing other than a great cloud filled with light; others saw him in the form of Vajradhara.

Then, as he sat before all his court, King Indrabhuti clasped his consort tightly to him. His consorts, ministers, generals and all his courtiers saw him enter into the vast and pulsing flow of time. He appeared to them riding on the back of a golden garuda flying through the sky after sky, appearing in age after age, place after place, and form after form. He flashed through the swirling flow of cyclical illusions, sometimes entirely visible, sometimes in part, sometimes hidden and sometimes only glimpsed as a flicker, like a fish dancing in a golden stream.

In the time when he was first spoken of, Indrabhuti gathered all the tantras together in book form and instructed all the people of Uddiyana.

So it is said that at that time, King Indrabhuti together with all his consorts, all his attendants, every single one of his subjects including ghosts, animals, insects, fish and birds, attained the siddhi of a rainbow body.

Extracted from



Thus was born Vajrayana Buddhism at Uddiyana. Scholars have tried to find out the modern location of Uddiyana at Swat Valley to the west of Kashmir. However, the recent excavations at Udayagiri in Odisha have led to confirm that the region was a major centre of Vajrayana Buddhism and perhaps had flourished at the heart of Indrabhuti’s Uddiyana Kshetra.

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Langudi – Odisha’s Miraculous Buddhist Hill



Guru Padmasambhava, the son of Indrabhuti had established Vajrayana Buddhism from Udayagiri at Tibet in the 8th century CE.

Situated on the foothills of a horse-shoe shaped hill of the Assia Range overlooking the vast Birupa Valley in coastal Odisha, Udayagiri is the largest Buddhist complex in Odisha.

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Ajanta – India’s First Renaissance



As you enter straight through the entrance of the monastic complex, after walking for nearly 300 m you reach to an excavated Vajrayana Stupa standing on a high platform. The 7 m high stupa is square in plan with four projected niches in four cardinal points, each enshrining a Dhayni Buddha of Vajrayana order.





On its back, the foothill forming the backdrop is the remains of Udayagirir’s largest monastery. The major attraction of the monastery is its splendid gateway made out of sandstone. The gateway is richly carved with a number of images of the Buddha and other Vajrayana deities.

Travel Tips

Udayagiri Buddhist site is part of Odisha’s Diamond Triangle along with Ratnagiri and Lalitgiri. The site is located in Jajpur District at a distance of 90 km from the centre of Bhubaneswar. Surrounded by hills and rivers Udayagiri and the other two Buddhist sites can be covered in a day trip from Bhubaneswar. However, if someone has wished to stay can be also arranged at Ecotourism complex at Olasuni near Lalitgiri or at Tosali Resort at Ratnagiri.

You can also visit Langudi Hill and Mahavinayak Temple at Chandikhol.










At any given point of time, you are simply drawn into its pristine artistic treasures amidst the tranquillity of peace. You may not find yet another soul for hours. You will be simply charged to sit for meditation without being distracted by any form of disturbances.

After an engrossing experience you walk down the southern cluster which has maximum concentration of excavated ruins, including brick and stone made circular stupas, yet another large monastery with a life-size image of the Buddha sitting inside the shrine and numerous images of Buddhist pantheons, such as the Buddha, Tara, Manjushri, Avalokiteswara and Jatamukuta Lokeswara. Excavations have also brought into light the remains of large apsidal chaitagriha.














Another major attraction of Udayagiri is its rainwater harvesting system. A large drain was built from the monastery two located in a higher elevation and oriented on the slope connecting to a large rock-cut well on the plain. This drain tapped the rainwater flowing from the hills and stored for its use during summer.



The Udayagiri Buddhist monastic site is an archaeological wonder of 8th-10th century CE. Today there may not be any traces of King Indrabhuti’s legacy, but what remains in its air and surrounding land are sufficient to transport an onlooker’s mind to the heydays of Vajrayana Buddhism in Medieval Odisha.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Langudi – Odisha’s Miraculous Buddhist Hill

Year 1995! I had just registered my PhD programme on Buddhist Archaeology at Pune’s Deccan College. I had come to Odisha for my initial fieldwork. On a fine late afternoon, I had stumbled upon Langudi Hill with my other companions Dr Pradip Mohanty and Dr Harish Prusty, both experts in Buddhist Archaeology.



Remains of Rock-Cut Stupa Ruins

The hill was not far from busy Kolkata – Chennai Highway, but at the same time it was far from the maddening crowd of the hustle bustle of city life and surrounded by vast rice fields and small and large villages. It was awe inspiring. The site had not gone through excavations. But the exposure in a horseshoe-shaped rock-cut panel had confirmed its potential.

Also, Read Here:

Ajanta – India’s First Renaissance


A couple of years later Langudi was excavated by Odisha State Institute of Maritime and Southeast Asian Studies based in Bhubaneswar. A fresh journey began with a new perspective after its excavations.

Travel Tips

Langudi Hill is located in Dharmasala Block near Jaraka Town in Odisha’s Jajpur District at a distance of 90 km from Bhubaneswar. The site is well connected by road and rail networks. When you are visiting Langudi also visit the nearby Kaima and Tarapur Hills for other Buddhist remains. You can also plan for a larger Buddhist trail around Langudi including Ratnagiri, Udayagiri and Lalitgiri and the Shakti Peeth Viraja at Jajpur.
There are no accommodations at Langudi, however, Ratnagiri has a decent resort for the night stay. Alternatively, you can stay at Bhubaneswar and visit the Buddhist clusters during a day trip.

Also, Read Here:

Finding Shravasti (Sāvatthī)

Today standing atop Langudi Hill among its splendid archaeological ruins I became a time flyer and reminded of Huen Tsang, the Chinese monk who had visited Langudi in the middle of 1st millennium CE.

Looking at the plains of Brahmani Delta, I recall Huen Tsang’s statement: ‘In the southwest of the country was the Pu-Sie-P’o-K’i-Li (Puspagiri) monastery in a mountain; the stone tope of the monastery exhibited supernatural lights and other miracles, sunshades placed by worshippers on it between the dome and amalaka remained their like needles held by a magnet. To the northeast of this tope in a hill monastery was another tope like the preceding in marvels. The miraculous power of these topes was due to the topes having been erected by supernatural beings’.

Several attempts had been made prior to Langudi’s excavation to identify Puspagiri University. But most of them had failed.

An inscription found at Langudi reveals its identification as Puspa Sabhara Mahagiriya (Puspagiri). Archaeological excavations have also brought to light a large number of Buddhist caves, dilapidated rock-cut stupas and ruined monasteries in and around Langudi Hill. The area was a prominent Buddhist seat of learning from the time of Ashoka until 11th Century CE. All the three branches of Buddhism, Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana flourished here at different periods of its history.






As you enter the hill what draws your immediate attention is the remains of a large square stupa of burnt bricks and laterite stone built during the rule of Emperor Ashoka in remote 3rd Century BCE. Supposed to be the earliest in Odisha, the stupa testifies the presence of Buddhism in Odisha in the Mauryan Era. An inscription found here also carries Ashoka’s name.

Also, Read Here:

Buddhist Weavers of Maniabandha – A Confluence of Ideas





Mauryan Period Buddhist Stupa – Earliest in Odisha

A passage in the rock edict XIII of Ashoka at Dhauli suggests that there were sramanas along with adherents of other sects in Kalinga at this time. It was during the rule of Ashoka thorough and systematic propaganda was carried out by protagonists of different schools, and Buddhism made considerable headway in Odisha. Ashoka’s brother Tissa had selected Kalinga for the place of retirement. Ashoka had constructed for him a monastery known as Bhojakagiri Vihara, which became the centre of activities of the Thera School. Dharmarahita, Tissa’s preceptor had come to Kalinga to spend his last days with Tissa and other monks in the monastery. Ashoka had also built 10 stupas in Odisha, the Langudi Stupa being one of them. During the time of his grandson, a wealthy Brahmin named Raghav from Odra had become a follower of Buddhism. Raghav had made arrangement of an assembly of eight thousand arahats in his house where they were entertained for three years.

To the further north of the Mauryan Period stupa, there are remains of 34 rock-cut stupas dated to 2nd-3rd centuries CE.











The central stupa or the maha stupa in the series is shown with lotus medallion and flying vidyadharas.



On its base are depictions of musicians and dancers, one of the earliest in Odisha showcasing ancient Odisha’s cultural life.


In the southern part of the hill, excavations have revealed rock-cut images of various female deities such as Tara with her two arms and Prajnaparamita, both Mahayana deities and sculptures of Dhani Buddhas testifying the presence of Vajrayana Cult in the hill towards the end (9th – 11th centuries CE).









The early Buddhism in Odisha or elsewhere in India was urban-based. The monasteries which were exclusively used as varsa vasa or rainy retreats were located in isolated hills for meditative pursuits, yet not far from their respective urban centres, which were the support base. Trade, both domestic and international thrived in this era.

Langudi Hill was not an exception. Close to the hill in its north is located Radhanagar, the ruins of an ancient city, which was part of my PhD topic in the 1990s. Excavations at Radhanagar have brought to light a large number of objects associated with aristocratic life and markers of domestic and international trade.







The site of Radhangar and Archaeological Finds

Close to Radhanagar is yet another hill, Kaima on the bank of Kelua River. On its foothills is found a rock-cut elephant, the second after Dhauli, symbolically representing Lord Buddha. There are also caves in all nearby areas including Tarapur, where excavations have brought out yet another circular stupa of Mauryan era.




Langudi and its surrounding hills are major Buddhist cluster yet to be explored by tourists. The views from these hills are breathtaking. You are simply taken back to the time of Ashoka and ponder to visualize how the bhiksus of Langudi had been responsible for the conversation of Chanda Ashoka to Dharma Ashoka or from Digvijaya to Dharmavijaya.


Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Kanchipuram Murals – An Artistic Sojourn

Every year millions of tourists, art connoisseurs and heritage enthusiasts visit Ajanta, the mural capital of India located in Sahyadri Hills of Maharashtra. The mural heritage of Ajanta was however short-lived, thanks to the fall of Vakatakas and their patronage.

The features that were laid in Ajanta was however found in full bloom in the Pallava Court at Kanchipuram, 1000 km away from the Vakataka capital. Unfortunately very little of Pallava murals have survived today. Following the Pallavas, it was the Vijayanagar and then Nayaka rulers who also made Kanchi as a canvas for their mural sojourn.


Pallava – Image Courtesy: Vijay Sundararaman Iyer


Vijayanagar – Image Courtesy: Vijay Sundararaman Iyer



Pallavas who made Kanchipuram as their capital were great patrons of art. Mahendra Verman I, the founder of the dynasty was credited for the introduction of rock-cut architecture in Tamil Nadu in 7th Century CE. Because of his artistic talent, he was titled variously as Vichitra Chitta, Mattavilasa, Chaitrahari or Chitrakarapuli. However, none of Mahendra’s murals has survived at Kanchi today. What has remained are from the period of Rajasimha, who ruled towards the end of the 7th century CE.

Also, Read here:

Ajanta – India’s First Renaissance


Mahendra Verman I at Mahabalipuram

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Kailashnath Temple Kanchipuram

Rajasimha’s murals have also mostly gone; however, a close observation helps us to find traces of lines and colours on small cells in the pradakshina path.

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In cell 9 there are remains of fragments of upper and lower arms of Shiva and in cell 11, one finds the beautiful face of Shiva depicted in Pallava style with only a part of the nose, cheek, kandala and yognopavita. In cell 23, there are remnants of a painting of Shiva and cell no 34 there remain traces of a mahapurusha (kirata, shoulder and thigh are left). However, the most striking remains are that of a Samakanda mural in red on the back wall of cell 41. The colours are gone, but the line of composition of the seated Shiva and Parvati and a lovely attendant of Parvati are an indication of the excellence of the artist’s ability. Depicting Samakanda was a favourite Pallava theme for murals as well as sculptures. The curve of the arms and legs, the excellent proportion of the limbs, details such as tussle, the folds of the garments and the ornamentation are surpassed only by the very adorable baby Skanda. Parvati’s figure is full of feminine grace.

Kanchipuram is located at a distance of 72 km from Chennai off Bangalore Highway. The city is also well connected by rail. Located on the banks of Vegavathi River, Kanchipuram has a rich history and heritage. It was the administrative capital of Pallavas in the 7th century. It was later ruled by Cholas and Vijayanagar rulers. Kanchipuram was a great centre of education in historical time. Of the 108 holy temples, the best -known are  Varadharaja Perumal Temple, Ekambareswarar Temple, Kamakshi Amman Temple, and Kumarakottam Temple. The city is well-known for its hand-woven saree industry known as Kanchipuram Silk. While at Ekambaeswarar Temple relish Kanchipuram Idli which is offered to temple as prasadam every morning. 






Images Courtesy: Vijay Sundararaman Iyer

One other painting which is in a fair state of preservation is that of Kinnara and Kinnari, a half human and a half bird couple who are celestial musicians.

The tradition of Pallava murals had carried forward the Ajanta tradition. They display the same grace of line and movement. The artists were masters of brushwork and figure drawings. The paintings were executed on a smoothly prepared surface in the fresco style. The colours used are black, red, white, yell, blue and green.

The Pallava murals of Kanchipuram are known for their fully open and wide eyes in accordance with South Indian ideals which demands wide, beautiful eyes as they are most striking features in the face. Faces are round and fuller.

The Pallava tradition of murals was revived much later in the 16th century during the Vijayanagar Period at the time of Achyutadevaraya who had commissioned murals on the walls and ceilings of Vardarajaperumal temple at Kanchipuram.


Vardarajaperumal Temple

In Andal Unjal Mandapa, the ceiling is carved with stories of Krishna from the Bhagavata Purana and Harivamsa, stories of Kaliyamardana, Vishnu with his consorts and so on.




Other common themes include the Vijayanagar crest of the boar and dagger, vidyadhara ridden of palanquins composed of feminine figures of Rati and Manmatha.






Vijayanagar Murals – Images Courtesy: Vijay Sundararaman Iyer

Sadly the Vijayanagar murals are also badly survived. The only prominent colours left are red, yellow, green and black. Yet the leftover outlines depicts prominent figures, strong undulated lines and animated movement.

Vijayanagar rulers were succeeded by Nayakas in the 17th century, who had commissioned Jain themes of various bala lilas of Rishabadeva, the first Tirthankara, of Vardaman, of Krishna, of Neminatha and so on. These paintings are illustrated as long elaborate panels in the ceiling of the Jain Temple at Kanchi. The panels are supplemented with the depiction of purnakumbha, flowers along with dancers and musicians.












The mural heritage of Kanchi may not be the richest in India but what makes it interesting is the evolution of styles and multiplicity of forms and themes that developed at different periods of history under the patronage of different dynasties. But sadly most of it gone with ravage of time.

Author – Jitu Mishra. He is grateful to archaeologists Vijay Sundararaman Iyer and Aarti Iyer for their knowledge sharing and accompanies at Kanchi in February 2018. Jitu can be contacted at

The Meluha

It was mesmerizing. The beige white ground spread in front of our eyes, small mounds rising on the horizon and millions of brick red pottery shards strewn across till horizon ! The shards were more than precious. Priceless actually because this was the earthen connection to our past, of not a few centuries but a millennia back.

The pot shards found at Rakhigarhi. Picture courtesy – Madhavi Bodhe

Just try to turn the wheels of time to 2500 BCE, and you will find yourself standing in a bustling metropolis abuzz with activity and not the present day Rakhigarhi, a sleepy town in Haryana.

Indus Valley or Harappan culture refers to archaeological finds pertaining to time period of 2500-1900 BCE having specific similarities. The importance of these ruins is their timeframe. The distinguishing characteristic of this culture is the presence of town planning evident in spacious perpendicular roads, sewerage system, fortified townships and large houses with courtyard and brick walls. Findings of seals, weights, beads, gold ornaments indicate flourishing trade. The pottery is again painted finely with geometric designs and baked to perfection. In all, it was a culture of urban people who enjoyed a good life.

More Harappan Pottery
Harappan pottery at National Museum in Delhi. Picture courtesy – Madhavi Bodhe
Harappan Pottery at National Museum. Picture courtesy – Madhavi Bodhe

Certain sites show the initial phase of this culture known as early Harappan pegged at 3200-2600 BCE. Mature Harappan is found between 2600-2000 BC. The declining phase termed as late Harappan is dated at 1900-1300 BCE.

Timeline done by author

This urban civilization, almost 5000 years old, found in Indian subcontinent  changed the landscape of Indian history entirely. The earliest monuments found in Indian subcontinent date back to third century BCE, which are the Buddhist stupas or  rock carved caves at Barabar in Bihar or later at Bhaje in Maharashtra.  Before that archaeologist have found human dwellings which can be categorized as chalcolithic cultures. Chalcolithic Era implies use of metal and stone as per the evidences gathered from various  archaeological excavations. India also has several Neolithic dwellings discovered.  The urban settlements found in the subcontinent almost all date back to Mauryan Era.  So, till third century BCE, there was no evidence of planned townships existing on this land from archaeological perspective.

On a global timeline, Egyptian civilization is pegged at 4000-3000 BCE, the Sumerian, present day Iraq also boasts of a civilization as old as to 3000 BCE. The classical Greeks reigned in by 1000 BCE while the Romans tried to conquer the world in Christian Era.

Till recently India did not have enough evidence to establish its antiquity. This all changed in 1922 when a well-planned city was excavated literally from the mound of dead people, that is Mohenjo-Daro.

Sindhu-Saeaswati Sites
Sites of Indus Valley Civilization. Picture courtesy – Internet


In the vast dry land of Sindh now in Pakistan, on the banks of Sindhu river stood a mound. There was a Kushan era stupa excavated earlier here dating back to third century BCE. What they found now was totally different. Layout of a city with roads crossing at right angles wide enough to accommodate 2 bullock carts side by side, plinths of houses lining the roads and their openings in adjacent lanes.  The most important discovery was of a functional waste water management or sewerage system through properly built brick channels. The level of sophistication discovered put the site right up there with some of the earliest civilizations of the world.

Mohenjo-Daro has a large rectangular tank, Was it a ritualistic bath or a something like a modern day swimming pool! They have found a granary in Mohenjo-Daro implying that surrounding arid lands were green and giving at that point in time. Kalibangan in Haryana on the banks of Ghaggar, presents a ploughed field near the settlement. Kalibangan also has fire altars built with baked bricks. Kuntasi is a factory site producing millions of steatite beads. They had a flourishing trade outside India, there is even a seal with a ship drawn on it! Lothal excavation in Gujarat resulted in discovery of dock to safely harbour large ships. Dholavira, in Rann of Kachh is a prominent site with fortification and 4 entrances to the city in 4 directions. Archaeologist found a signboard scripted with incomprehensible Indus signs dating back 5000 years. Dholavira citadel has large spacious halls with their pillar bases intact.

The earthen seals found in abundance have several things carved on it, right from the typical Indian bull with massive hump to sitting yogi posture.  From elephants to cats to one horned animal, there are even depictions of fire altars on some seals. The peacock was important , carved on several pots as we find now.

They sure were great traders, as we find Indus valley seals in far off regions like Iraq and Turkey. The Acadian people of Iraq, contemporary to this civilization called them merchants of Meluha and imported several things including beads of garnet and shells!


Let us now move north to Harappa. On the banks of the river Ravi, this town is home to a settlement that lay buried for 5000 years.  Harappa is particularly unfortunate as the priceless standardized baked bricks that were used to build houses of Harappan metropolis in 3200 BCE were stolen in large quantities to build the Karachi-Lahore Railroad in 19’th century, by the contractors in their ignorant bliss. Still the unearthed huge granary and citadel has given us a fair idea of a thriving economy and polity.

This IVC or Sindhu Saraswati culture can be found in a large region covering Sindh, Punjab and part of Baluchistan in Pakistan. In India, several sites have been discovered in Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat. Some sites can be found as far as Rangpur in Uttar Pradesh and Daimabad in Maharashtra.

Metal Charriot- Dayamabad
A metal chariot excavated from Daimabad in Maharashtra at National Museum in Delhi. Picture courtesy – Madhavi Bodhe


Coming back to Rakhigarhi which is the largest IVC site in independent India.

The road to Rakhigarhi leads us through the famous ‘Sarason ke khet’ all around us, lovely bright yellow flowers spread across acres, green fields of wheat giving an equally beautiful alternative to the eyes. The flattest land with not a hill in site, the air fresh and morning mist reluctant to go away with the dawn of every day being a sight to behold. There were lakes and happy buffaloes relaxing in it, dew drops still waiting on the leaves and sun rays trying hard to make inroads to reach us. One such charming day found us in Rakhigarhi.

The site is spread on 7 mounds that generally depict a place where people had lived for centuries and now moved away. The prominent feature of Rakhigarhi is the fortification wall. Unfortunately it is so neglected and encroached by the present village that for an onlooker it looks like a heap of mud with pigeon nests in between. But a closer look will reveal the famous fine baked Harappan bricks standing solidly for last 4500 years.

The Harappan bricks at Rakhigarhi. Picture courtesy – Madhavi Bodhe


Remains of fortification at Rakhigarhi. Picture courtesy – Madhavi Bodhe

Rakhigarhi shows continuous settlement from early to late Harappan phases. Several copper , gold and silver artefacts have been found along with the ceramics of Indus brand. One of the interesting finds at Rakhigarhi is graffiti like wall decorations, which could very well be signs of an early Indus script.

After Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, archaeologist discovered several sites along the course of Indus in present day Pakistan. The name Indus valley culture was given primarily because most of the sites of this culture were found in Indus valley after the first excavation in 1922. Post independence, since both Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa became part of Pakistan, Indian archaeologists were keen to find similar site on Indian soil and they were not disappointed. We now have almost 1000+ Indus valley sites in India belonging to early, mature and late cultures. Most of them are in the so called Saraswati river valley hence, many insist on calling this culture as Sindhu-Saraswati culture.

Now where is this Saraswati river? All Indians believe in their hearts that Saraswati river once flowed on this land and there is ample literary evidence in the scriptures to prove it. Rig Ved mentions Saraswati in glorious terms, a river more prominent than Sindhu or Ganga. Mahabharata records Balram having done Saraswati Parikrama and vanishing of river Saraswati in the desert, in a place called Vinashan Tirtha. It is assumed that Ghaggar River in India and Hakra-Nara channel in Pakistan must be the old river bed of Saraswati. Ghaggar is not a perennial river as it originates in Shivalik mountains and is fed by glacial waters. Hence it is much likely that Sutlej from west and Yamuna from east were the major tributaries of Saraswati thus giving her substantial water load.

Saraswati dried up because of tectonic movements and its major tributaries changing their course. This must have happened around 1900 BCE approximately. It had a great impact on environment as the fertile land turned arid. Decline of Indus culture is also attributed to this sudden change in the climate. Late Harappan culture shows marked down gradation in the quality of pottery, town and artefacts. It is assumed that the trade declined, people left their cities and spread outside the region in search for greener pastures. A probable reason why camel bones are not found in mature Harappan sites excavation.


Close to Rakhigarhi is another IVC site of Farmana. On the banks of river Chautang which was Dwishdwati of the past, is this tiny town holding evidences of a legacy in an idyllic setting. Shades of green and yellow smile at you from all corners of horizon. With a backdrop of clear blue sky and buff alluvial soil, it was a riot of colours, unexpectedly from the most simple, rustic surroundings. The brickwork of a forgotten era, the pottery scattered around and serene calm; as if it was a different world, in a different time with only the landscape remaining as a sole witness.

The IVC site of Farmana. Picture courtesy – Madhavi Bodhe

An excavation was done in the middle of a field here. Archaeologists found roads crossing at right angles, a big house with hearth, storage pits and a main door opening in a side lane.


The excavated sites of this culture have shown that people of those era had opportunity to live in fortified cities, walk on planned good roads, live in big houses with courtyard and adjoining rooms, wear gold ornaments and bead bangles. They had the finest pottery to drink and to eat from. The children played with beautifully made earthen toys and people probably worshipped earthen idols. There were seals with images and scripts, most likely used for trade and weights used for measurements. Sometimes there were citadels, huge halls and granaries,  but everywhere a standard sized brick was used.

Beads found at Rakhigarhi. Picture courtesy – Madhavi Bodhe

They had ‘Tandoor’ ovens in their courtyard just like their present day predecessors. And they entered their houses from doors opening in the adjoining lanes, just like todays inhabitants, to avoid the blast of sand storms in summer. They ate wheat, barley ,peas spiced with mustard. They used sesame oil and had jowar. They wore clothes made from cotton washed with indigo and women used henna to beautify their hands. They had many cows, bulls and chickens strutting in their backyard and also loved cats and dogs and had them as pets.

The men and women wore ornaments made from gold and use of tusk was common. The beautiful stylish pottery would take us by surprise. Big jars with perforated walls, dish on a stand,  huge round barrels for storing grains and delicate stemmed pots to drink from ! The quality of pottery found in Harappan sites is superb with a fine finish.

Harappan Pottery. Picture courtesy – Madhavi Bodhe


The earliest scripture in Indian history, the oldest surviving texts through oral tradition is Vedic literature. And Rig Ved is the oldest set of poetic hymns available to us. But there is not a strong archaeological support to this oldest text, so dating Rigveda is a daunting task. Whereas in Sindhu Saraswati culture there are countless artefacts and ancient ruins to look at and study but since we don’t know the script, there are limitations to our understanding about the people who built this. This is biggest riddle in Indian history and historians are trying to solve it for years now.


Author – Manisha Chitale

She can be contacted at



Kala Bhoomi – The Soul of Utkala

Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, Maratha

Dravida, Utkala, Banga’

When Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore composed India’s national anthem he preferred the name Utkala, instead of Orissa, the anglicized name of Odisha or Kalinga, an ancient kingdom from the times of Ashoka. An art connoisseur and an artist himself, Tagore’s choice indicates his appreciation for Odisha’s unique art and crafts for Utkala means ‘Utkrustha Kala’ or the ‘land of finest art and craft’.

Odisha’s landscape is blessed with a diverse topography. While the Eastern Ghats dominates its interiors with its rolling hills along with the Chotanagpur Plateau, the east is a long stretch of coastal plain formed by the deposits of alluvial silt carried by the rivers from the mountains during flood. From east to west and north to south, each of the 30 districts of Odisha are a treasure house of art and craft, like the intricate silver filigree work of tarakashi art, the 5,000 years old Dhokra art of metal casting, terracotta wonders and delicate ikat weaving.

25% of Odisha’s population, which is more than 10 million people are indigenous hill and forest tribes who live close to nature and have in part sustained 5000 years of Neolithic culture.   In contrast, the coastal delta and river valleys have been a strong hold of Hinduism, the cult of Jagannath being the essence of Odia life. Prior to Jagannath Cult, the coastal plain was a major center of Buddhism and Shaivism. Jainism too had its presence under the patronage of Emperor Kharavela in 1st century BCE.

Throughout history, Odisha has maintained a close cultural contact with Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia through trade. However, unlike Mughal India and Deccan, Islamic influence was limited and confined to Cuttack and its surrounding districts without political patronage.

Being far away from India’s power centers, the art and craft practices of the region have retained much of its originality. With a vast repertoire of cultural resources and art and craft practices with many on the verge of extinction due to modernization and pressure from the market economy, it was important for the state to have a central place, aesthetically built to showcase what can be aptly called as Odisha’s soul. This is how Kala Bhoomi, a sprawling museum of 13 acres, with built-in space of 8 galleries, a cafeteria, library, resource room, audio-visual auditorium, workshop areas and an impressive open air amphitheater was conceived and built.

Travel Tips

Bhubaneswar is the capital of Odisha and a vibrant metropolis. Also known as ‘The Temple City of India’ Bhubaneswar hosts the largest concentration of Hindu Temples built in Kalinga School of Architecture between 7th and 16th centuries CE. The city also has been known for its incredible Jain (the caves of Khandagiri and Udayagiri) and Buddhist heritage (Dhauli Hill). Detour Odisha, a Bhubaneswar based culture and travel company in collaboration with Odisha Tourism and local civic bodies organize various heritage walks on weekends (see The Museum Walks at Kala Bhoomi is the latest addition which is held on every Sunday afternoon. The museum also organizes a number of thematic walks both in Odia and in English on daily basis, besides workshops and cultural programmes. The museum is closed on Mondays. 

Bhubaneswar is well connected by air, rail and road with all important cities and other state capitals of India. The city has a plenty of choices for accommodation of various categories, from budget to high-end. The city is best known for its seafood delights, Pahala Rasagola and a variety of snacks and street foods. 

A brainchild of Shri Naveen Patnaik, honourable Chief Minister of Odisha, himself an art connoisseur, Kala Bhoomi is a world-class facility built to showcase the craft diversity of the state. The museum was inaugurated recently.  From 1st June onward, photography has been allowed (for personal use) with a fee of INR 50. So, here is a visual journey of the crafts museum.Later, I shall write posts on each gallery elaborating on the specifics.

For more on Kala Bhoomi do visit the museum’s website

Kala Bhoomi – The Main Building
Inside the Main Building




Audio-Visual Unit
Open Air Amphitheater


Terracotta Unit

A Potter’s Journey – Tulasi Vrindavati

Votive Offerings and Storage Jars

The Gallery of Textile Weaving Process

Finished Fabrics – Ikat and Silk Saris of Odisha








Tribal Weaves

Tribal Jewelry

Tribal Material Culture

Folk Odia Crafts

Odia Murals


Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Hire Benekal – India’s Megalithic Metropolis

1975…a small village of Lanjia Saoras in highlands of South Odisha! Ononti, a young woman Shaman starts to sing in parallel couplet in archaic Saora language, repeating each line but changing one word at a time to enrich the meaning!!

Argalgalsi yuyunji                      bolongsi goden

Argalgalsi yuyunji                      banardub goden….

She is calling the female shamans who had lived before her for help as her soul starts to chamber ‘like a monkey’ down the principle that lead to the underworld. Her husky voice is momentarily overwhelmed by dancers as they surge past, raising a brief cloud of grit. Drums pounding, oboes blasting and women flexing alternate knees while hardly lifting their feet off the ground. A sudden change of direction makes the densely packed body of dancers seem like one creature as they spill over a dike, fanning out, stamping and spinning into a dry out of-season paddy field.

The drums never stop, but now are drifting far away. Nearby with soft thumps, a dozen buffalo are being bashed on the skull to send their souls down to the dead man in the underworld. After a long invocation, Onanti’s voice peters out and her head flops down onto her breast. Her soul had reached there, leaving her body available to convey the voices of the dead as they came up one by one. In this deep trance her limb has gone rigid, and bystanders rush forward to unclench them. It takes several people to flex her knees with a jolt and lay her legs straight again along the ground, and to unclench the fingers and bend her elbows before returning her hands to rest, along her outstretched thighs.

Onanti sits motionless, with a sharp intake of breath her body twitches, and the first in a long line of sonums announces its name. The first is a special helper, her sonum husband from the underworld, others are her shaman predecessors and teachers, but most are the dead relatives of the man for whom they are planting a stone today, adding to the patrilineage’s cluster of memorial standing stones. Sometimes the women weep, sometime they engage him in heated arguments that draw in other men too, and occasionally there is whoop laughter.

Extract: Living without the Dead – Loss and Redemption in a Jungle Cosmos by Piers Vitebsky, HarperCollins Publishers India, 2018

Also, Read Here:

The Ancient Hill Tribe of Lanjia Saoras – Journey with a Shaman

October 2017…on the auspicious day of Deepawali…I was at Hire Benekal in Karnataka, some 1000 km away from Saora Highlands, amidst prehistoric mortuary ruins across a large span of a granite hilltop.

Hire Benekal Hills and the Village Outskirt

There was neither Onanti nor any medium for a dialogue between the living and the dead here. Instead, here are some 400 odd dolmens, rock art depicting mortuary related activities, an artificial pond, perennial streams against the majestic backdrop of granite hills in the Tungabhadra Valley of Koppal District in North-Central Karnataka. In an hour-long trail, crisscrossing the granite boulders and the forest path, I and my two archaeologist companions hardly came across any other human. Not very surprising as the hills abound in bears and after sunset, you are out at your own risk as the nearest human settlement is nearly 4 km away.

Travel Tips

Hire Benekal is located in Kopal District near the town of Gangavathi, which is well connected by buses of Karnataka State Transport Service. The nearest railway station is, however, Hospet, 33 km away. The World Heritage Site of Hampi is only 26 km. Travellers lodging at Hampi can reserve a day for Hire Benekal. But don’t forget to take a guide or knowledgeable local persons. Once you are at Hire Benekal you are at your solitary space with no souls around for miles. Be prepared for one and half hour trek (one way) and carry plenty of water and food. The hills are infested with sloth bears. So don’t dare to be there after sunset. 

Gangavathi has limited options for stay and food, however, in both Hospet and Hampi there are more options. While at Hampi, you can also explore Anegundi along with Hire Benekal. 

Hire Benekal Village
The Trail
Large Granite Boulders on the Trail
Perennial Water Sources
The Trail
Hire Benekal Landscape

The archaeological ruins dated somewhere around 500 BCE were the epicentre of intense mortuary activities before South India’s earliest recorded history, with shamanic practices, something one can experience and draw an analogy from by studying modern tribal practices in Eastern India, such as the Lanjia Saoras.

Hire Benekal is a large megalithic site. Local villagers call it Moriyara Mane, which translates to ‘the houses of dwarfs’ built long ago by the Moriyars, a dwarfish race endowed with superhuman strength allowing them to heft the heavy slabs with ease.

When we approached the hill, an ASI board and information panels welcomed us describing what is megalithic in the context of South India in general and Hire Benekal in particular.

The information panel says: ‘The dolmens here were built along the contour of a hill. Locals believe they were dwellings of strong dwarf-like people, who lived here thousands of years ago. Although these rows of port-holed dolmens do resemble houses with windows, they were actually constructed as burials and memorials for dead people…Archaeologists conducting trial excavations here in 2001 found charred animal bones and various types of pottery’.

From here the trail starts ascending and descending through small and large boulders in zigzag tracks. After 500 m of walking, we came across a painted rock shelter with hunting scenes as a recurring theme. Many paintings show people carrying spears, axes, bows or lances while hunting deer, tiger and antelope. Dancing is yet another important theme, which probably had some relationship with elaborate mortuary practices and shamanism as we see in Saora paintings. Archaeologists believe that the ones showing horses are from the Megalithic Period and those showing only cattle may belong to the Neolithic Period.







A few hundred meters further up the hill we encountered a large semi-spherical boulder, resembling a half cut orange or lemon. Called Nagara Gund, the locals still beat this stone kettledrum during one of their annual festivals. Archaeologists believe that in the past, its function was similar, a rock gong that was a part of Hire Benekal’s megalithic ritual paraphernalia. When beaten, the sound could allegedly be heard for many kilometres.




Further uphill, maybe another 500 m, we encountered stone houses of small size, packed all along with stone blocks leaving only a small opening. Their small size and isolated distribution may indicate the social hierarchy at the site and perhaps they belong to the people of lower strata. As we moved further east, the landscape unfolded with a spectacular sight of scattered large dolmens erected in a wide clearing. From the distance what looked like card houses were actually granite slabs, within which a grown up man could stand erect.

Quarry Area
Quarry Area distributed with small Dolmens
A Granite Boulder Resembling a Kidney Bean
A Disturbed Area Showing exposed to Vandalism
Beginning of the Core Area
Core Area

Hire Benekal was largely unknown after the Megalithic Culture declined from the region. Despite its close proximity to Hampi, Vijayanagara’s sprawling capital, there was no sign of human activity here. A renewed interest in megalithic culture in the early part of the 19th century led to many excavations across South India. It was around this time that Philip Meadow Taylor, an early expert on Indian heritage, discovered and wrote about megalithic culture in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1835.

Hire Benekal was however excavated for the first time in 1975 by archaeologist A Sundara. He recorded around 300 megaliths of great variety such as dolmens, stone circles, menhirs, cist burials and boulder enclosures.











Another interesting feature of Hire Benekal is that most of the large monuments are near a central water reservoir at the top of the hill. Though this is a quarrying site, the reservoir looked like it was hewned specifically as a tank rather than for mining. According to Andrew Bauer, an archaeologist from the University of Illinois, in the semi-arid landscape water harvesting was essential to survival for both people and their animal herds during the Iron Age. Building commemorative monuments near the water source was probably a way of establishing a connection with these important places. Another likely reason could be the requirement of water for performing burial rituals.



The megalithic dolmens at Hire Benekal are spectacular and mysterious being the oldest known funerary monuments of South India. However, these are exposed to vandalism. Locals believe that most of the relics contain considerable treasure and therefore are being dug illegally on a regular basis. Hire Benekal along with giving us insights into a society of long ago also in its present state gives us a glimpse of the society that there is. How long will the monuments be able to withstand the greed of man or will this incredible heritage be preserved are some of the questions that plague my mind as I leave Hire Benekal.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at