BUDDHIST HERITAGE OF ODISHA
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.