BUD­DHIST HER­ITAGE OF ODISHA

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Apart from In­dia, Sri Lanka, Thai­land, Nepal, Ti­bet, Ja­pan and Mon­go­lia are the coun­tries hav­ing enor­mous sig­nif­i­cance of Bud­dhism. Var­i­ous parts across In­dia are con­sid­ered as ma­jor Bud­dhist des­ti­na­tions. Bodh Gaya in Bi­har, Sar­nath and Kushi­na­gar in Ut­tar Pradesh, and the North Eastern re­gion are some of the fa­mous Bud­dhist pil­grim­age sites in In­dia. One such state in In­dia is Odisha, where an am­bi­tious king, Ashoka, laid down the weapons of vi­o­lence and adopted a life of Ahimsa, in the form of Bud­dhism, af­ter the war of Kalinga. Odisha is now a fa­mous Bud­dhist pil­grim­age, hav­ing var­i­ous mon­u­ments at Rat­na­giri, Udaya­giri, Lal­it­giri, and Dhauli­giri. Rat­na­giri, lo­cated in the Ja­jpur district in the state of Odisha, is a renowned Bud­dhist holy des­ti­na­tion. The place con­sists of sev­eral im­por­tant Bud­dhist sculp­tures spot­ted around the hills. Ac­cord­ing to some ex­ca­va­tions, the his­tory of the re­gion is as­so­ci­ated with

6th Cen­tury AD and the Gupta Dy­nasty.

Odisha also be­came a renowned Bud­dhist site mainly due to the teach­ings of the Bud­dha. Odisha Bud­dhist trails and sites say the clear story of the rich cul­ture and his­tory of the re­gion, in terms of Bud­dhism. The rich Odisha Bud­dhist Her­itage re­lated to the early Chris­tian era of 15th and 16th cen­tury AD, has been re­vealed by the ex­ca­va­tions done in Rat­na­giri, Lal­it­giri and Udaya­giri by the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia.

There are some pop­u­lar legends among the peo­ple sug­gest­ing the wealthy Bud­dhist tra­di­tion in the an­cient re­gion, like the tooth relic of the Bud­dha that is pre­served in the Odisha Bud­dhist Her­itage Site. The promi­nence of this reli­gion in the state is well in­di­cated by the lit­er­acy ref­er­ences, myths and his­tor­i­cal data of the era. In the con­se­quence of the Kalinga war held in 261 BC, King Ashoka, who con­quered Kalinga, re­alised the dark­est side of a war, left the com­pan­ion­ship of weapons and took the path of non-vi­o­lence. He sub­se­quently ac­cepted Bud­dhism and prop­a­gated the reli­gion in the Kalinga re­gion of Odisha by build­ing a num­ber of ‘stu­pas’ and other sculp­tures in the re­gion, ex­press­ing his con­cerns about peace of the world.

Bud­dhism is be­lieved to have been flour­ished dur­ing the pe­riod of Bhau­makara Dy­nasty in 8th to 10th cen­tury AD. This was the time when Bud­dhism touched its zenith. It is men­tioned in in­scrip­tions that dur­ing this pe­riod, a ruler of Bhau­makara dy­nasty repli­cated a Ma­hayana Bud­dhist text ‘Gan­davyuha’ and gifted it to a Chi­nese ruler. Chi­nese trav­el­ers Hieun Tsang and Fa-hien also men­tioned in their texts that all the Bud­dhist schools like Ma­hayana and Hi­nayana bloomed to the fullest dur­ing this pe­riod. Bud­dhist schol­ars also believe that Odisha was the heart of sev­eral kinds of Tantric Bud­dhism like Va­jrayana, Kalachakrayanaand Sa­ha­jayana, con­tribut­ing sig­nif­i­cantly to the growth of Tantric Bud­dhism and hav­ing ex­ten­sive in­ter­ac­tion with Ti­betan Tantric School.

Nu­mer­ous Bud­dhist ‘stu­pas’ and other sculp­tures have been un­earthed in the Odisha Bud­dhist Her­itage Site, which com­prises Rat­na­giri-udaya­giri-lal­it­giri and nearby ar­eas like Lan­gudi Hills. Utkal Ta­passu and Bhal­lika, two mer­chants, be­came the first lay dis­ci­ples of Lord Bud­dha, as is writ­ten in early Vi­naya texts. Bud­dha gave them eight hand­fuls of his hair, and re­ceived rice cake and honey in re­turn from them. The mer­chants, later on, de­posited the heirs in a ‘stupa’ (Kesa Stupa) in their na­tive place Asi­tan­jana. More­over, the rich Odisha Bud­dhist Her­itage re­lated to the early Chris­tian era of 15th-16th cen­tury AD has come into lime­light by the ex­ca­va­tions done in Rat­na­giri, Lal­it­giri and Udaya­giri by Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia.

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