Badamba – Exploring the Middle Mahanadi Kingdom

In 14th Century CE, the Gajapati King of Puri had recruited hundreds of archers, wrestlers and military personals both from within Odisha and neighbouring regions for safeguarding Odisha from the invasion of Islamic rulers of North India. One of his favourite wrestlers was Shri Hattakeswar Raut who hailed from Singhbhum. Satisfied with his valour, Hattakeswar was offered to rule two villages on the bank of River Mahanadi, Sankha and Mahuri. Both these villages during that time were under the control of Kondhs, one of Odisha’s most aboriginal tribes. Hattakeswar defeated their chief and established a new kingdom and named it Badamba or Baramba after the goddess Biradamba, the other name of Bhattarika, and the presiding deity of the area.

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Over the centuries, the state of Badamba was extended from Sankh and Mahuri to a large area surrounded by states of Narsinghpur, Khandapada, Banki, Tigiria, Denkhanal, Hindol and Athagarh.

At the time of British Raj, the state of Badamba had expanded to an area of 142 square miles consisting of 181 villages.

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Ansupa – Wetland Wonderland

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The present palace of Badamba spread over an area of 3 acres on the foothill was built in the 1920s during the reign of Narayan Chandra Birabar Mangaraj Mohapatra. Closed to the palace is situated yet another building in an abandoned state that was used as the state guesthouse. Within the complex is built a sprawling Jagannath Temple.

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Daspalla – a Journey through Odisha’s Untamed Frontiers

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Before the state was merged with the Democratic Republic of India, Badamba had been known for excellent administration, jail system, court, high-quality education, promotion of art and culture and better health services including the establishment of an Ayurvedic Hospital.

During the rule of Birabara Mangaraj in the early 20th century, the weavers of Maniabandh had received royal patronage. This had led to the worldwide recognization of Maniabandhi Saree. He was also a great lover of nature and the environment. A large quantity of forest produces were exported to foreign shores from his kingdom.

Travel Tips

Badamba is located at a distance of 85 km from Bhubaneswar via Athagarh and 96 km via Ansupa. It takes about 2 and half hours to reach Badamba. It can be covered in a day trip.  From Badamba, Bhattarika is about 10 km and Champannath Temple is 22 km. Nuapatna and Maniabandh are situated on the highway before Badamba from Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. For food, there are a few dhabas found on the highway and for washroom and snacks, you can avail the facility at Wayside Amenity Centre near Ansupa and Maniabandh.

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Badamba is situated by picturesque hills of the Eastern Ghats on its right and Mahanadi on the left. Maa Bhattarika is the tutelary deity of Badamba State. Located on the bank of River Mahanadi in a pictorial setting, the temple of Maa Bhattarika was built on the foot of a low hill, Ratnagiri, beside the river, is a major attraction.

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According to a legend, Parasurama, facing certain defeat at the hands of Saharasjuna, prayed to Maa Durga who appeared on this spot to impart her divine power to his aid. Parasurama established the peeth and also carved the image of the goddess in the tip of his arrow.

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According to yet another legend, Rama, Lakshman and Sita on their way to Panchavati had offered prayer to Maa Bhattarika.

One more legend goes: during the visit to Bhattarika by Krishna and Satyabhama, Arjuna came to know and reached here to meet them. However, before he reached Bhattarika Satyabhama was abducted by a demon called Gosimha. Arjuna fought bravely and killed the demon. After she was relived, Krishna, Satyabhama and Arjuna prayed Goddess Bhattarika, the presiding deity of Badamba Royal Family.

The temple of Maa Bhattarika also has a strong Buddhist connection, especially Tantric or Mahayana Buddhism. Cooked fish is offered as prasadam to the goddess. She is also considered as the deity of navigation and the fishermen community.

Further west of Bhattarika, is the temple of Lord Champannath, a Shiva Temple built in the time of Somavamsi rule. The major attraction here is turtles reared in the temple pond. When they are fed the leftover temple prasadam they come out of the water and offer a great sight for tourists.

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For those seeking a little adventure and have a fun bath under a splashing waterfall, they will have to drive from Champannath Temple in the right direction through the mystic mountains and the forested corridor of Baramba Hills. The splashing water of Deojhar Fall is hidden deep inside a forest.

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A visit to Badamba is incomplete without experiencing the textile heritage of Nuapatna and Maniabandh. Over 5000 weavers of the area are engaged in ikat weaving, mostly sarees and dress material. A unique aspect of these weavers is that they are Buddhists, the only leftover traditional Buddhists from the historical time. They are vegetarians and also strong believers in Jagannath cult. You can meet them while they are at work, interact and learn the intricate methods of ikat weaving. You can also shop directly from the weavers.

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Buddhist Weavers of Maniabandha – A Confluence of Ideas

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Badamba is undoubtedly coastal Odisha’s one of the best-kept mysteries wrapped in riddles of time, culture and heritage, both tangible and intangible.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Daspalla – a Journey through Odisha’s Untamed Frontiers

Who does not like dosa, the signature south Indian breakfast! On 16th November 2014! History was made in Hyderabad with the making of world’s largest dosa measuring 54 feet 9 inches and weighing 13.69 kg at a restaurant called Daspalla.

Today Daspalla Hotels and Restaurants have created a big brand in Undivided Andhra Pradesh for their unique food innovations and hospitality, however, very little is known about the brand itself Daspalla, a tiny town in the frontiers of Odisha’s Nayagarh district surrounded by dense forest and hills of Mahanadi Division of Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary.

Nestled amidst the pristine beauty of nature, this sleepy little town has a rich legacy of past though its present maharaja, his highness Digvijay Deo Bhanja and the chairman of Daspalla Hotels Limited have settled in the port city of Vizag from the time of his late father Sri Purna Chandra Deo Bhanja’s move after his marriage to a Telugu Princes in 1949.

Silence in Kuanria Wetland

The princely state of Daspalla was founded in 1498 CE by Naran Bhanja, a younger son of Raja Narayan Bhanj Deo of Boudh during the reign of Siddya Bhanja. At that time the present Daspalla was a part of the Baudh Kingdom inhabited mainly by Kondh tribes in the inaccessible jungles of this frontier region. During the rule of Bira Bhanja, there was a rift for power between him and his younger cousin Sal Bhanja. The dissident Sal Bhanja left Baudh for Puri to meet the Gajapati King for assistance. While resting with his followers at a place called Padmatola Ghat on his way to Puri through Jagannath Sadak, the king of Nayagarh came to know about the troop and arrived here to help. Both made alliance and the King of Nayagarh declared him as the king of the area, the present Daspalla region. In no time the news of this development reached Baudh. Bira Bhanja got annoyed and declared a war against Sal Bhanja. But the troop of Bira Bhanja got defeated thanks to the alliance between Sal Bhanja and the king of Nayagarh.

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River Mahanadi near Daspalla

As Sal Bhanja got yasa (fame) after defeating the king of Baudh he named his kingdom Yaspalla which later came to be known as Daspalla. It is also believed that Daspalla got its name from 10 villages that were combined to form the gadajat.

Travel Tips

Daspalla is located on the highway that connects Bhubaneswar with Bolangir via Nayagarh and Baudh. The distance between Bhubaneswar and Daspalla is 125 KM and it takes about 3 hours. Keep a day for exploration in and around Daspalla. If you wish to stay overnight either you can stay at Barmul Nature camp on Satkosia Gorge (50 km) or at Nayagarh, the district headquarters. One can also travel by train up to Nayagarh from Bhubaneswar and then take a bus or public transport. But the vehicle of your own is advisable. While at Daspalla don’t forget to relish Odisha’s signature sweet chennapoda (it was originated here).

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Picture Credit – Satyabrata Dash

The earliest capital was at Badmul on the bank of Mahanadi. However, at the time of Padmanav Bhanja, the 9th king of Daspalla, the capital was shifted to the present location. A legend goes: during a hunting expedition the king was impressed with a heroic action at this place, a wild dove chasing a chhanchan (bird of prey) and decided to build his new capital here.

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Splendours of Sonepur – In the land of Ramayana’s Lanka

After independence when Daspalla was merged with the Democratic Republic of India, the former Raja of Daspalla Sri Purna Chandra Deo Bhanja, the 18th on the line shifted to Visakhapatnam and since then the Rajabati (the palace) has become obsolete.

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Picture Credit – Satyabrata Dash

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Daspalla Palace

Built-in the colonial style of architecture, in the days of the British Raj, small banquettes were regularly thrown here by the royal family for the benefits of the Governors of Odisha and these banquettes used to be catered by the Grand Hotels in Kolkata.  Purna Chandra Deo Bhanja Ji had widely travelled during his young days and he was a great philanthropist having specific interest in the spread of Jagannath Cult. Of late, the abandoned palace is getting a new breath of life as it is being made a heritage hotel.

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Barbara Forest – A Blend of Nature, Indigenous Culture and Archaeology

Travelling around Daspalla is like back in time. Laidback villages, farmlands, warm-hearted people, scenic wetlands, relishing mouth-watering chennapoda, fish and prawns from Mahanadi and trekking through its enchanting hills and forests make Daspalla a perfect weekend retreat.

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There are two ways to reach Daspalla from Bhubaneswar, one via Nayagarh, the shorter route, but with less interesting characters and the other via Kontilo on the bank of Mahanadi, the original abode of Lord Jagannath and then Gania, famous as the gateway to the Mahanadi Gorge Sanctuary.  We took the second route.

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Ansupa – Wetland Wonderland

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At Gania, you relish the most authentic version of chennapoda and if you are on time, in the early morning hour you can experience its method of preparation. Try out the sweet at Jagannath Sweet Stall, where you get the best of the sweet anywhere in Odisha made out of freshly backed chenna, the country cheese.

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From Gania take the winding highway through countless farmlands, forested mountains on both your sides. The landscape is untouched by time. On your way, you meet warm-hearted Odia souls at villages surrounding the highway.

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At a distance of 7 km from Daspalla, there lies yet another hidden secret, the Kuanria Wetland, an irrigation dam project developed also to help local fishermen. Treks and resting places have been created surrounding the wetland by the forest department. A large number of migratory birds also flock to this reservoir during winters.

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You can sit here in silence for hours watching fishermen in actions. Even you can buy from the fresh catch and take home or arrange a barbeque meal onsite.

Daspalla is also a culture hub of Odisha. Thanks to the patronage and initiatives taken by its erstwhile rajas, here Ramnavmi is a big draw with carnivals telling the stories of the Ramayana through street theatres, lights and actions.

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Undoubtedly Daspalla is a great weekend retreat from the hustle and bustle of Bhubaneswar. Come and discover the magical charm of this frontier land wrapped in mysteries of history, culture and nature.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Gopalpur – Tranquillity on the Sea

During the days of the French Revolution! There lived a man called Loraine in France, who always stood for a cause to help the distressed.

The French Monarch did not appreciate his cause and he became a soft target of the authoritarian government. As the French authorities launched a massive manhunt for him, Loraine went into hiding. With the help of one of his close friends, G.G.F Edwardo, a captain in the East India Shipping Company, he arrived at Gopalpur on the coast of South Odisha.

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However, for the entrepreneur Loraine, Gopalpur turned out to be a base to seek opportunities for lucrative overseas trade with Burma. He established a port and built the present lighthouse, the star attraction of Gopalpur. Loraine joined his hands with the East India Company and got involved in exporting cheap Bengali labourers, local spices and bidis (country cigars). Within no time he established his own shipping company Bengal India Steam Navigation. Fortune favours the brave. Loraine succeeded in his business building several properties, resorts and hotels at Gopalpur on Sea.

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Sahana Beach and Devi Mouth – Odisha’s Best Kept Secret

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Imagine the early 20th century! When Europe was passing through a tough time fighting two world wars, Gopalpur on Sea was celebrating its glorious days.

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Named after the 18th-century temple of Lord Gopala, the laidback seaside town had its heydays during the period between two world wars. Allured by its strategic location, the British and Loraine’s successors had built massive warehouses and grand villas on the beachfront.

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The prosperity of Gopalpur had brought an Italian merchant from Sicily Signor Maglioni, who had built Palm Beach, India’s first beach resort in 1914. During the glory days of Gopalpur, a large number of rich Bengali families, British traders and soldiers frequented Maglioni’s Hotel. Gopalpur’s character changed over the years from a sleepy fishing village to a prosperous holiday gateway from Calcutta, the cultural heartland of the British Raj, though the capital had moved to imperial Delhi around this time.

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South Chilika Coast – Back in Time

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Built-in the Mediterranean architectural style, the Palm Beach Resort, the first of its kind on Indian Shore was a massive hit amused with exotic dines and elegant ball dances. There was gaslight, wooden dance floor and parties that would continue till the early hours.

Travel Tips

Gopalpur on Sea is a small town in Ganjam District of South Odisha. Gopalpur is located at a distance of 16 km from Berhampur, South Odisha’s largest city and a major railway station and 170 km from Bhubaneswar. It takes about 2 and a half hour to reach Gopalpur by road from Bhubaneswar Airport. The other major airport near Gopalpur is Visakhapatnam (4 hours). There are several stay options in Gopalpur to suit all kinds of travellers. However, for a unique experience, we recommend Mayfair Beach Resort and Swosti Palm Beach Resort.  Both are located on the beachfront. Besides Odisha Tourism also has a Panthanivas near the beach. One can easily spend 3 to 4 days at Gopalpur languishing on its beach. From here you can leisurely travel to Ganjam’s other destinations in day trips, such as Taptapani Hotspring, Vetnoi Blackbuck Sanctuary, Chandragiri Tibetan Monasteries, Taratarni Temple and Potagada Fort.

 

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Many Christian missionaries set up training schools and seminaries, some of them still exist today.

Gopalpur’s prosperity started declining after the end of World War II. After India became independent, most of its wealth dwindled to tickle as the British left the Indian shore. The busy waft crashed down and the sprawling warehouses crumbled.

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Rai Bahadur M.S, Oberoi, one of India’s first generation luxury hoteliers purchased Palm Beach from Maglioni in 1947 at a throwaway price. The hotel got a new identity ‘The Oberoi Palm Beach’. In 2013, the hotel was further bought by the Mayfair Group and now has evolved as the best luxury hotel in this sleepy fishing town.

Today, Gopalpur on Sea has again evolved a perfect gateway for laidback holiday seekers. Its long stretch of languorous beach with coconut groves, casuarinas and gentle sand dunes is deserted for miles. For hours after hours, Gopalpur is the place where you can stroll on the sand and relish on mouth-watering seafood. Watching the life of Nolia fisherman is also exciting.

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A little away from Gopalpur is the enchanting countryside of Ganjam. Cycling around here will simply drag your soul into an experience of a lifetime. You are drawn to the age-old practices of fishing and farming and the fishermen navigating the narrow channels of creeks.

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Barely 16 km away from Berhampur, South Odisha’s commercial hub, Gopalpur is truly a tranquillity by the sea.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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 http://levekunst.com/the-life-of-king-indrabhuti/

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 jitumisra@gmail.com

Ansupa – Wetland Wonderland

Wetlands, small and huge, well-known and lesser-known are some of my favourite destinations for seeking bliss. What I enjoy in wetlands that I visit are the floating vegetation in tranquil water, watching fishermen for hours in actions and musical chirping of birds, both local and migratory. In addition to these, if there are archaeological treasures and intense local stories associated with lakes, they form icing on cakes.

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In Odisha, Chilika Lake often comes to our mind when we talk of wetlands. However, Ansupa, which I find more splendid and euphoric, is almost unknown to travellers except those living in Bhubaneswar or Cuttack.

Travel Tips

Ansupa Lake is located in Cuttack district at a distance 55 km from Bhubaneswar. It takes about 2 hours to reach Ansupa on scenic Banki Highway on the corridor of Mahanadi. While at Ansupa you can also visit Nuapatna and Maniabandh Textile cluster and Bhattarika Temple on the bank of Mahanadi. For accommodation, there are few bamboo cottages built on the hilltop. You can book through https://www.ansupalake.in/  

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Situated near the bank of River Mahanadi and surrounded by hills of the Eastern Ghats, namely Saranda Hill on the western side and Bishnupur Hill on the eastern side, Ansupa is a horse-shoe shaped water body and is the largest natural freshwater lake in Odisha. The lake was created by River Mahanadi and spread over an area of 140 hectors.

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Sahana Beach and Devi Mouth – Odisha’s Best Kept Secret

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After a drive of less than two hours from the heart of Bhubaneswar along the scenic Banki Highway what attracts you at Ansupa is its immense biodiversity. The wetland is home to 9 species of submerged plants, and 26 species of floating and emergent aquatic plants. It is also home to 33 species of fish, 3 species of prawns, 10 species of reptiles and 50 species of resident and migratory birds.

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Barbara Forest – A Blend of Nature, Indigenous Culture and Archaeology

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Ansupa is linked directly with river Mahanadi by a natural channel Kabula Nala, which acts both as inlet and outlet, through which flood water enters the lake and excess water goes out after the flood.

Ansupa looks heavenly in monsoon when the Saranda and Bishnupur Hills and the surrounding marshes and paddy fields erupt into various shades of green.

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Buddhist Weavers of Maniabandha – A Confluence of Ideas

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Saranda Hill also has a rich archaeological treasure. According to folklore, the area was ruled by kings and zamindars who had established their fort at the hilltop. A legend goes: during the rule of the Eastern Gangas, King Subranakeshari after being allured by the natural beauty of Ansupa had established a fort and village on the foothill of Saranda. Named after him is the present village of Subranapur. The legend further says: one of the brothers of Dhala Dynasty of Banki had established his kingdom on the top of Saranda Hill as Saranda Gada. The king of Saranda had married to one of the daughters of  king of Tigiria, which is located at a distance of 15 km from Ansupa. The armoury of the kingdom is located on the hilltop, which was built to store arms and ammunition and was known as Baruda Ghara.  At the foothill, the king had built a fort gateway made of bronze, which would make a loud cracking sound when it was opened and closed. According to local legends, the sound used to be heard for nearly 20 km.

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Besides the Baruda Ghara, there are remains of two stone wells, locally known as Bhai Bohu Kuan. There is existence of one more well, which is believed to be the remains of the king’s treasury.

The hills surrounding Ansupa on Banki Highway are also treasure houses for archaeologists and cave explorers. There are several natural and human-made caves found on the hills that surround the Chandaka Forest. Many of these natural caves were inhabited by Prehistoric communities, who have left their marks in the form of graffiti though most of these have disappeared now. The caves that were excavated during the historical era resemble single-chambered caved at Khandagiri and Udayagiri Hills. Though it is difficult to date them, it seems these were inhabited by Hindu monks for tantra Sadhana and mediation as late as 18th/19th centuries CE. In Pandava Bakahra caves, which can be accessed through steep climbing have remains of several red ochre paintings of Hindu Gods and Goddess including of Lord Jagannath. There are also tantric narratives in Odia script.

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Travelling to Ansupa can be made in a day trip, but it is highly recommended for the night stay in Ecotourism camp, built by the forest department on the hilltop and Saranda Gada for a memorable experience under the lap of nature.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Deomali – Offbeat Wonderland

If you are touring Puri or Gopalpur-on-Sea, perhaps you are not told about the other side of Odisha, which is higher in elevation than Panchamarhi in Madhya Pradesh or Mt Abu in Rajasthan. Deomali or the God of the Mali tribe on Odisha-Andhra border is Odisha’s highest point at 1672 m. A solid rock mass, the peak is a vast tableland overlooking the beautiful countryside of Koraput, a utopia far from the maddening crowd.

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Deomali during an overcast morning

Rich in animals and high altitude plants including a variety of orchids, Deomali until recently was practically unknown. However, the plateau at its base has been a cradle of indigenous culture and farming heritage of local tribes, such as Mali, Gadaba, Paroja, Kondh and many more.

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Agricultural Communities around Deomali

Deomali is a land of captivating beauty. However, tribal communities that inhabit en route Deomali make the journey more engaging and educative. These communities are considered the original inhabitants of India. They have been carrying forward a legacy of rich and distinct cultural traits for many generations. One of their essential assets is their rich agricultural biodiversity treated of global importance.

Travel Tips

Deomali Peak is located on Odisha – Andhra border near Semilguda Town, which has decent staying facilities. You need a personal vehicle to travel the peak and the surrounding villages including Nandapur. Start early in the morning and return before the evening falls in. There is no food facility at the peak. Plan accordingly. You can alternatively stay at Chandoori Sai or Desia, both award-winning resorts influenced tribal architecture.  They will also arrange your trip to Deomali with prior information.

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It is one of the areas where rice was originated. Even today, the region is celebrated for the genetic diversity of Asian cultivated rice. The traditional varieties grown here are thought to be harbouring dominant genes for biotic and abiotic stresses, aroma and palatability. The tribal communities around Deomali may not be aware of their merits, but their understanding that has evolved naturally with the changing environment and agricultural practices are recognised by FAO as a GIAHS site (Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Site), India’s first.

Also, Read Here:

Breathtaking Duduma Falls in South Koraput – A Cultural Sojourn

We started our journey to Deomali on a fine morning of early June from Semiliguda, a small industrial town, 30 km from the peak.

The morning was overcast and delightful. Our first stop was at Kunduli from where we had to leave the highway and take the mountain road to Deomali. Kunduli is also known for the haat (weekly market), where you get the first glimpse of Koraput’s agricultural diversity, organically grown vegetables and fruits sold by the Mali women clad in their colourful saris and elaborate jewellery. They are the most beautiful among all the tribal women in the region. The nose is straight and sharp, the lips are thin. They tie long saris that are given a knot at right shoulder and hangs 2 to 4 inches down the knee. You will be simply drawn to them for a chat and tempted to buy a dozen of banana or raw cashew for your day’s consumption. The bananas are the best you would have ever eaten.

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Mali Women ay Kunduli Haat

Mali people were originally gardeners and residents of Kashi. They had been brought here by the Rajas of Jeypur to serve the erstwhile kingdom.

From Kunduli, the peak is about 20 km and you are already at a height of 1000 M from sea level. After driving about 5 km we stopped near a mountain slope field where a group of men and women were seen engaged in farming ginger spices on red soil. Perhaps once it was a forest now cleared for agriculture.

Also, Read Here:

Barbara Forest – A Blend of Nature, Indigenous Culture and Archaeology

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All of a sudden it started raining and it was a different adventure driving through the mountain though it was risky. Before we entered to the curving ghats we stopped. For a moment the rain subsided and then we started driving again to the hilltops.

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However, once we were at Odisha’s roof, it started pouring with thunderstorms. The temperature was dropped down to 16 degree Celsius, at a time when North India was suffering through a heat wave close to 50 degree Celsius. However, the wind speed was very high and frightening. There was not a single soul near the peak. The rain lasted for two hours and we were held doing nothing. Once the rain receded we started exploring the peak and then started descending.

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The descent from the peak was an experience of a lifetime. At every turning, there was a surprise waiting for us to be unfolded.

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One of the major attractions for me was the land use, how the local communities tap the mountain streams to irrigate their terraced fields where you see different crops growing simultaneously, rice, millet and corn being the principal crops. While rice and millet are traditionally grown for thousands of years, corn has been introduced recently. On the edge of each farming plot, you see rows of banana trees and occasionally trees of jackfruits. In some parts, rice had already been sown offering a dazzling mosaic of green and golden hues to your eyes.

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We never realized when we had hit the highway again. Our next stop for the day was nearby Nandapur, the former capital of Jeypur Kingdom and an important centre for Jainism in the Medieval Period.

Nandpur was an influential centre of Jainism in the past. The nearby village of Subaie has a cluster of 10 Jain Temples from the 8th century CE. The Tirtha was dedicated to Jain Tirthankar Rsabhanath. Part of Bastar – Koraput Jain civilization at Subaie you find a number of sculptures of Rsabhanath and Mahavir having influence from South India.

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It is known from the Jain scriptures that much before the Christian Era Jain preachers had explored the dense forest tracts of Bastar – Koraput to spread their religion among hill tribes.

The Mali tribe of Deomali – Nandpur has a deep influence of Jainism. For instance, they are traditionally vegetarian. Even today Malis worship many of the Jain idols as their Gram Devtas.

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Nandpur is also well-known for its Batish Singhasan (32 steps throne). According to folklore, Nandapur was once inhabited by pastoral tribe, Gaudas. One day a Gouda boy while taking care of his cattle came across the plateau where present-day Batish Singhasan stands. He would sit there playfully and deliver judgments like a scholar or a great king. However, once out of this place, his behaviour would change to that of a common man. One day the king of Nandapur discovered him delivering sound judgements. He decided to build his palace here in the line of Batish Singhasan of famous Vikramaditya.

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Nandpur is also endowed by nature. A short drive took us to Rani Duduma waterfall hidden in the dense forest and hills. Cloaked in mysteries, the tribes worship her as Mother Goddess; however, don’t take risk bathing here as the force of cascading water can drown you at any moment.

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Deomali is unquestionably one of Odisha’s best kept offbeat wonderlands where culture unites nature set against a timeless romance.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Breathtaking Duduma Falls in South Koraput – A Cultural Sojourn

Once upon a time! A Gadaba girl was bathing in the river. In the meantime, her younger brother was passing nearby. When he noticed his sister taking bath he threw an arrow to inform about his presence. The girl could not understand why the arrow was thrown at her. She did not care for it and continued to bath.

The brother felt insulted as his sister did not respond to his arrow. Shouting loudly he proceeded further. Looking at her brother approaching towards her the girl in her nude state jumped into the river out of shame. But to save his sister, the boy caught the hair portion of the girl as a result of which the hair portion remained in his hand and the body flown into the river.

On the other side of the river, the girl propagated her progeny who was named as Bonda.

Even today the Bonda women remain skin headed and consider Gadabas as their younger brothers and sisters.

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A Bonda Woman on the left and Gadaba Woman on the right

The river where the event happened according to local belief is today’s Machkund, a tributary of Godavari. The river separates Odisha from Andhra Pradesh in the highland plateau of South Koraput. One of the most scenic, the river today is tamed for hydroelectric projects, but what makes an out of world experience is its Duduma Falls, one of the deepest and ferocious landscapes in the whole of Peninsular India.

Travel Tips

Duduma Falls and Lamtaput are located in the southern part of Koraput Distance on the border of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. Surrounded hills and forest, the area is a traveller’s paradise. The nearest towns are Jeypur (60 km) and Similguda (80 km). Both have decent staying options. However, we recommend Desia Koraput, an award-winning ethnic resort (http://www.desiakoraput.com) located near Lamtaput. It is designed in traditional architecture.  The nearest airport is Visakhapatnam (180 km). Bhubaneswar, the state capital is 570 Km.

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Machkund River and Duduma Falls

Our journey starts from Semiliguda an industrial township on the foothills of Deomali at a 1000 feet plateau to Duduma through an enchanting landscape of hills, mountains, valleys, waterfalls, farmlands, valleys and numerous tribal villages. It was a rainy day with floating clouds kissing the mountain peaks. As we moved further the land became more isolated and the population became sparse. Once the area used to be a part of the Red Corridor. But now the Maoists have almost lost their grip as there is no local support and also because of the continued intervention of state forces.

Also, Read Here:

Lanjia Saura Hill Tribe of Odisha – A Travel Shot (Part 1)

Lanjia Saura Hill Tribe of Odisha – A Travel Shot (Part 2)

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After a sumptuous lunch in a roadside eatery run by two tribal women, we reached Jalaput Reservoir on Machkund River. Surrounded by hills and picturesque valleys, Jalaput wetland derives its name from Jala or Jal means water and Put means residence in Desia language. The bridge on the reservoir forms the border between Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. We crossed the bridge and entered Andhra Pradesh. The 20 km road in Andhra was a nightmare.

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Jalaput Reservoir on Odisha – Andhra Border

We reached Duduma around 4.30 PM and the view from the watch tower was spectacular. I was simply lost in its breathtaking views. Duduma is one of the highest waterfalls in India surrounded by towering mountains of the Eastern Ghats. To its west are Bonda Hills, the habitat of one of the most primitive tribes of the world, the Bondas and to its north and east are the villages of Gadaba tribe. The 175 m high fall tears through the rugged rocks of the Eastern Ghats and the evergreen-deciduous forest. From Duduma we headed east along Odisha – Andhra border to Lamtaput, the heartland of Gadaba Tribe following the scenic Machkund River. It seemed the wheel of time had stopped. Watching the people ferrying the river in country boats between two states was almost magical.

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Gadabas have no written records of their history. However, according to their local mythology, their ancestors had migrated from the banks of river Godavari in the remote past. They first settled in Nandpur, the former capital of Jeypur Rajas.

Also, Read Here:

A Journey through Kondh Territory, a Tribe that Once Sacrificed Humans

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Two Old Gadaba Women

A major attraction of Gadaba people is their two pieces saree made out of the fibre of Kerenga Tree. Though now hardly anyone wearing kerenga, but when there are festivals and dance performance, the first preference of girls is kerenga. Earlier there used to be cottage looms in every Gadaba village, where the women would be seen engaged in weaving kerengas. Nowadays, the traditional knowledge of weaving is almost lost.

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Revival of Kerenga

According to a legend, when Lord Rama during his exile was wandering in Dandakaranya Forest with his wife Sita, they met some Gadaba women who laughed at her as her dress was made of fibre. Whereupon, she cursed them and condemned them to wear no other dress but clothes made of fibre.

On the next day, we visited Kangrapada Village near Lamtaput to experience Gadaba life. Here we met Deepa Sisa, a young graduate in Odia from Jeypur’s Vikramdev College. A Gadaba, Deepa is very passionate to showcase her culture. She took us around the village and arranged Dhemsa Dance performance at a short notice.

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Deepa Sisa, a Young Dynamic Gadaba Girl

Dheemsa Dance is the traditional dance of Gadabas. The women perform wearing the Karenga saree. They dance in a semi-circle with steps three and four. The body is often bent forward showing skilful moves on the heels. The men only play the musical instrument like dhol, baja, madal, flute, tumak and mahuri.

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Dheemsa Dance Performance

Gadabas are agriculturalists and depend upon shifting cultivation. They also rear cattle, sheep and goats, pigs and chickens. They are also horticultural farmers growing banana, jackfruits, mangoes and tamarinds. Millets and rice are their staple food. Millet gruel is considered to be highly nutritious and helps in the production of more blood.   According to their belief, someone who is pale has too little blood and should consume more millet gruel.

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Millet Gruel

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For Gadaba food is not only a product of the efforts of particular individual or houses but also a consequence of the successful influencing of social relationships in ritual. The growth of grain (staple food) is based on the exchange and circulation of life and food among human beings, gods, demons and the dead. Once harvested both millet and rice make their ways from fields to the house and back through the house again before they pass through the body. From the big room of the house, they move to the inner house (gondi dien) and from here to the loft where the grain is stored. It could have been simpler to get the harvest directly into the loft by way of an opening from the big room, through which one enters the house. But the route that passes the house deity, located in the inner room, is obligatory and the loft itself is an extension of the inner area.

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Sacred Chamber and Kitchen

Today cashew nut plantation has become alternative cash crops. You find women in every household engaged in the processing of cashew nuts. Mango and jackfruits are also processed traditionally and preserved for the offseason.

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A fascinating aspect of Gadabas is their house plans and colour pallets used in the interiors. Their houses are triangular in shape in the roof. However, the ground is rectangular in plan. The rooms are not provided with windows. For ventilation, there is a gap placed between the roof and the sidewall. On the left or right side, the house is provided for the kitchen and the shrine of their household deity.

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My journey to Gadaba culture has just started. And I will continue to explore more in the near future.

Herewith I bring out an end to my story with the quote by Lao Tzu.

‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step’.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Erotica Konark – Frozen in Stone

At Konark

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Majestic Sun Temple at Konark

You are a curious onlooker to countless sensuous carvings in close embrace and interlocked in lovemaking. You are puzzled, keen to unravel their stories shrouded in mysteries. Then you seek the help of a trained guide, who narrates you – “the erotic sculptures were made after the brutal Kalinga War in remote 3rd century BCE. The battle had been fought between Emperor Ashoka of Magadha and the army of Kalinga. 1,50,000 soldiers had died leading to a severe scarcity of warriors in Kalinga. The population declined sharply. The erotic sculptures you see here were made as a medium to attract sexual indulgence. Since women visited in large numbers on a daily basis, the erotic figures motivated them to indulge in more sex with their spouses. This led to more childbirth and in the processes created more warriors for Kalinga”.

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Female Musicians and Dancers

Not satisfied, you seek an explanation from yet another guide. He narrates:

“None of these things — none of those acts, ever happened anywhere. They were made up by the sculptors because they were away from home for a long time and were missing their wives.”

What Rubbish! The timelines between two events were 1600 years apart in history. The logic for the second narration is neither acceptable by any serious traveller to the world heritage site of Konark, an architectural wonder, now frozen in stone.

Travel Tips

Konark is seaside town to the north of Puri and northeast of Bhubaneswar. Together with Bhubaneswar and Puri, Konark forms the golden triangle of Odisha. While the Sun Temple is the main attraction here, a traveller can also visit the nearby archaeological sites such as Kuruma and Gangeswari Temple in Gop. The other major attractions are Chandrabhaga and Ramchandi Beach and the marine drive that connects Puri with Konark, which is also part of Balukhand Sanctuary. Within Konark, the other major attractions are light-and-sound shown in the evening, interpretation centre and the ASI museum. While most travellers prefer Puri to stay, we recommend Konark as a better alternative as it is less crowded and more serene. Konark is a heaven for seafood lovers.

Konark, among all Hindu temples of India, has the highest concentration of erotic sculptures, ranging from oral to group sex, perhaps depicting all 64 types of ratikrida that find mentioned in Vatsayana’s Kama Sutra. The concentration is so high that Lowell Thomas, an American traveller and broadcaster described Konark as the most beautiful and at the same time the most obscene building in the world.

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Erotica on the walls of Konark Sun Temple generates curiosity and even puzzles the mind of every visitor. The brazenness and ethereal beauty of these sculptures are not only sensuous but also artistically rich and vibrant. They are mostly concentrated on the outer walls of the temple.

Also, Read Here:

Bhubaneswar – Romance in Stones

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In Indian culture for all ages our ancestors had emphasized on wholesome living, kama or sex is an essential part of living. According to Stella Kramrish, an international authority in Hindu Temple art:

‘This state which is “like a man and women in close embrace” is a symbol of moksha, final release of the reunion of two principles, the essence (purusha) and nature (prakriti)’.

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Love making in Odisha had been more explicit compared to rest of India. This may be due to remaining of Odisha in isolation for a very long time from the influence of Islamic civilization as one sees in Deccan, Gujarat, Central and North India.

In the 12th century CE, Jayadeva, Odisha’s classical poet wrote Gitagovinda, lyrical poems celebrating the romance of the divine cowherd Krishna and his beloved Radha.

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Pashupata Cult and the Ancient Temples of Bhubaneshwar

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Erotica depicted in Palm leaves or Pothi Chitra

Exhibit in Odisha State Museum, Bhubaneswar (18th Century)

Some Examples from Gitagovinda

Abhinava jaladhara sundara” — beautifully dark-hued like a fresh rain-bearing cloud (shritha Kamala kucha)

Shrimukha chandra chakora:” — longing for Goddess Lakshmi’s face as a chakora bird longs for the moon (shritha Kamala kucha)

Shri Radhapathi paada padma bhajanaanandaabdhi magno anisham tham vande Jayadeva sathguruvaram Padmavati vallabham” — I bow down to that foremost preceptor Jayadeva, who is always immersed in the ocean of bliss in worshipping the lotus feet of the consort of Radha and who is the spouse of Padmavati (Dhyana slokam – Shri Gopalavilasini )

Source: The Hindu https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/poetic-richness-of-gita-govinda/article25389131.ece

Jayadeva was born in Kenduli village on the bank of Prachi River, not far from Konark Temple in Coastal Odisha. It was the time when the cult of Jagannath and Vaishnavism had established strong footings around Prachi River. Several temples built on Prachi Valley during this period show an array of erotic and amorous sculptures on their walls against the spread of bhakti-rasa in the background. Bhakti is about shared joy, about sharing Krishna, it is about yearning for Krishna and wanting that union on an individual level — ‘I want him. He wants me.’

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Erotica Depicted in Soveswara Temple near Niali on Prachi Valley

It is most probably the spread of these ideas from Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda that had deeply influenced the master builders of Konark and their patron to conceptualize and execute erotica in a grand way.

Erotica in Konark was however not new. Odisha had a long tradition of depicting and celebrating love and passion from time immemorial. Like Vrindavan, in Ekamra (Bhubaneswar) during the period of their sojourn, Parvati once expressed a desire to indulge in ratikrida (sporting dalliance) with Shiva. Shiva agreed to the proposal and emanated himself in eight different forms. To play the game of dalliance, Parvati also emanated herself into 8 different forms. The Chaitra Purnima (April-May) was selected as the most auspicious time for the purpose.  The sport continued for the whole night and when the curtain was drawn Shiva installed eight Sambhus and eight Gauris around the banks of Bindusagar Tank.

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The dalliance between Shiva and Parvati in Parasuramaeswara Temple in Bhubaneswar

In describing Ekamra (Bhubaneswar), the holy city of Shiva which yields worldly pleasure and salvation on this very earth itself, Brahma once had said: ‘In Ekamra dwell the most beautiful women on earth. With their slender waists, plump breasts, ample and beautiful buttocks, lotus eyes, sweet languor due to intoxication they represent the celestial ladies of heaven. They remain gay and jolly days and nights. They speak pleasing words. They are clever and skilled in arts and crafts. They are expert in dancing and singing. They are proud of their feminine virtues. These beautiful women pleasing to behold are expert in flirting with men. Young men are fascinated the moment their slight glances fall on them’.

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In temples, right from the beginning, we find depictions of amorous couples. For example, at the 6th century ruined Shiva Temple of Bankadagada near Banapur (140 km from Konark in the southwest), we find a large number of amorous couples associated with Tantric rituals depicted on its walls.

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Amorous Couples in Bankadagada (6th Century CE)

The early temples of Bhubaneswar including Parasurameswar and Vaital also exhibit numerous erotic and amorous couples on their walls. But unlike Konark here they were part of Tantric rituals associated with Kapalika sect of Shaivism.

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Amorous Couples in the earliest Bhubaneswar Temple, Parasurameswara

Though difficult to accept but true – the Buddhist monasteries of Ratnagiri too had adopted sex a part of Mahayana Tantric rituals.

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Erotica in Ratnagiri Buddhist Monastery

In the later phase (10th -12th centuries CE), the decorative programme in temples was dominated by the images of women who may appear alone or as partners in mithuna images, carved in high reliefs on temple walls.

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According to Puranas, ‘in the marriage procession of Shiva, the physical beauty of God is such that the women of the city leave all household duties to catch a glimpse of him. One in her haste runs out half-dressed holding her cloth and girdle in her hands. Another, in the midst of her bath and toilet, come out with the shampoo powder still held in her hand’s whiles still, another come out with her garments worn inside out’.

According to scholars, the amorous activities of gods and celestial as found mentioned in the Puranas actually showcased as models of behaviour and conduct for the luxury living aristocratic society by the 12th century. The constant interplay between human conduct and celestial behaviour, the changing moral ethics, behaviours and aesthetic tastes of the aristocracy and the priesthood were being constantly incorporated into the religious texts and temple iconography.

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Amorous Couples in Brahmeswra Temple in Bhubaneswar (11th Century)

This was the time when Konark was conceptualized as an epitome of Odia architecture and art. After so much experimentation with amorous art in Odisha here, the builders had mastered perfection to showcase erotica as a symbol to the union of the individual soul with the universal spirit. The outside of the temple represents various activities that belong to the ‘samsara’; beyond that and within the temple is the image of God. The worshipper must overcome the world of pleasure to find this god.

The erotica depicted in Konark offers not only windows to explore Odisha’s past, but also to present, how life needs to be celebrated to attain mokshya through kama, two essential pillars of Indian wisdom. Unfortunately, today discussing sex in open forums is seen as a taboo. Work pressure, alternative lifestyles and stress especially in urban India has kept people distance from kama. Perhaps a visit to Konark and appreciating how our ancestors celebrated life may inspire us for a deeper retrospection to tune our lifestyle in sync with ancient wisdom and practices.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Sahi Jatra – Puri’s Holy Carnival

12th – 13th Centuries India! While on one end India was witnessing a renaissance through emerging traditions of classical art and culture on the other end there used to be constant threats from invading iconoclast sultans of Delhi in pursuit of their political ambitions.  We all know how Devagiri, the wealthiest capital of Yadavas became Daulatabad in Deccan and how the great Shiva Temple built by the Kakatiyas in Warangal Fort turned from its splendour into shattered ruins.

The holy city of Puri and its famed Jagannath Temple was also in the wish list for invasions. The protection of the city and the temple had become prime responsibility of Gajapati King Chodaganga Deva, who was also the builder of the present Jagannath Temple in the 12th century CE. For this, the king had established many Kotas (fortress) and Jaga Gharas (gymnasiums) to train youths as safeguarders of Puri and the Jagannath Temple. Jaga Gharas were established in 9 of its oldest sahis (neighbourhood streets) which are continued till present though through several alterations made from time to time. Most probably, Jaga is derived from the word jagarana (to keep awake).

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Some of these sahis having Jaga Gharas are Bali Sahi, Dola Mandapa Sahi, Hara Chandi Sahi, Kundei Benta Sahi, Mani Karnika Sahi, Mati Mandapa Sahi, and so on. While Lord Hanuman (Mahaveer) is commonly worshipped, each Jaga Ghara also has a presiding deity of its own.

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Monks, Monasteries and Murals – A Photo Story on Puri’s Two Legendary Mathas

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The character of a Jaga Ghara is having a temple for its presiding deity, a gymnasium and a pond to perform various rituals. Men of all ages come here for bodybuilding, to bathe in the pond, gossip or playing a Ganjapa card game. In the temple, Lord Hanuman is worshipped along with the presiding deity of the respective Jaga Ghara.

Travel Tips

Puri is a well-known pilgrimage site for Hindus and celebrated as one of the four supreme dhams. The holy city of Lord Jagannath is well connected by rail and road and forms part of the golden triangle in Odisha for tourists world over, the other two places in the triangle are Konark and Bhubaneswar. The nearest international airport is located in Bhubaneswar, 65 km away. Puri abounds in sites for both spiritual and adventure seeking souls. Every street of Puri and its surrounding villages has something to offer whether it is food, craft, ethnic life, devotion or spirituality. Its sea beach is one of the most celebrated beaches of India on the Bay of Bengal and a drive through the Puri – Konark marine drive is one of the most memorable experiences for a traveller. 

Puri is full of hotels and restaurants to suit all budgets. While at Puri don’t forget to eat mahaprasada, the food offering to Lord Jagannath on a daily basis. 

To experience Sahi Jatra in Puri, one has to visit here during Ram Navami in the month of March/April. Check out the calendar before you plan to visit.  

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Starting from the day of Ram Navami and continued for eleven days all these Jaga Gharas and the sahis celebrate a grand carnival every night, locally known as Sahi Jatra.

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Dola Jatra – The other Rath Yatra

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The Sahi Jatra of a particular Sahi starts its procession to its competitor Sahi or Badi Sahi. For example, Bali Sahi is the Badi Sahi of Hara Chandi Sahi. Suppose today the procession of Bali Sahi goes to Hara Chandi Sahi and displays their performances on the next day the procession of Hara Chandi Sahi goes to Bali Sahi for the performance. In Sahi Jatra, all the members of Jaga Gharas take part.

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Osakothi Rituals in Ganjam – An Anthropological Journey

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Partly militant and partly religious, the themes of Sahi Jatra are the episodes of the Ramayana.  The non-winding procession of various mythological characters crawls through all major crossings, lanes and by-lanes of Puri’s major and oldest sahis throughout the 11 nights. The characters include Naga, Durga, Kali, Parasurama, Rama, and demons like Ravana, Navasira, Saptasira and Trisira, and various local deities.

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One of the main attractions of Sahi Jatras is the procession of Nagas and Medha dances. The performers go through rigorous training in their respective Jaga Ghahras for a couple of days before the commencement of the Jatra.

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Adorned with medhas, silver jewellery and masks of respective character and accompanied by acrobats, tumblers and drummers, each participant displays his valour and strength to fullest. Among these characters, the key attraction is, however, Naga.

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Naga is associated with the Nagarjuna Vesa of Lord Jagannath which is usually done in a leap year when the five days of Panchuka becomes six days during the holy Kartik month. In Nagarjuna Vesa, the lord is decorated like a warrior honouring Parasurama, the warrior incarnation of Lord Vishnu.  The Naga dance seems to have originated from this tradition. It showcases the martial or warrior dance of victory.

Usually young and energetic men are preferred for the Naga character. He wears a huge headgear profusely decorated with silver jewellery and false beard almost covering the face. Multi-coloured arrows attached in two bamboo sticks are tightly fitted to the arms. On his waist portion, several weapons like shield, dagger and knife are placed. He wears a rosary around the neck. On the back portion of the figure, a bamboo mat can be seen which is tied on his body. With the jerky movement of the shoulders, he dances in heroic steps. Sometimes he holds a gun. He moves at the front of the procession along with the drummers who provide rhythm to his movement.

People also encourage participants with clapping and cheering words. While the rehearsal is in full swing, some other community members, especially ones with artistic skills are engaged in decorating and painting fresh murals on street walls, community space and temples. Colourful and fancy street lighting is also arranged for the carnival.

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On the evening of Ram Navami, the procession of Rama and his three brothers along with their teacher Rishi Vishwamitra starts from Kalika Devi Sahi. In a decorated horse chariot the group first visit Lord Jagannath Temple for blessing and then proceed to Rajabati, the palace of Gajapati King located on the Grant Road (Bada Danda). Hundreds of people are gathered to witness and participate in the procession.

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On the 12th day, the Sahi Jatra ends with Ravana’s death. Even on that day Ravana visits Lord Jagannath Temple and offers red hibiscus flower to the Lord. Later that day after the Sandhya Dhoopa rituals, idols of Rama and Lakshman are kept on Ratnasingahsan and then carried to Jagannatha Ballav Math for Ravana Vadha Ritual.

Sahi Jatra of Puri is a unique cultural institution showcasing community participation. Apart from being fun and entertainment, it reminds us we are all equal before the Almighty and harmony should be the only motto for our living.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com