After Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the next Indian state that stands out in terms of unique Buddhist heritage is definitely Odisha. Bestowed with distinctive and rich cultural heritage, this eastern Indian state is also slowly becoming famous for its Buddhist links. It all started during the times of Mauryan Emperor Ashoka’s rule. His gruesome attack on ancient Kalinga, the modern day Odisha in the third century BC resulted in a battle so violent that the carnage inspired Ashoka’s legendary conversion to Buddhism.
He started resurrecting the Buddhist heritage sites through commissioning rock edicts around his empire and stupas, temples and pillars around the Buddhist sites of renown. Of all the Buddhist sites, the mighty Mauryan Emperor had a soft spot for Dhauli Hill in Odisha. It was here that the emperor underwent a psyche change and abandoned world conquest for spiritual conquest in the 3rd century BC. He embraced Buddhism here. There is a rock edict commissioned by the emperor himself that projects Dhauli near Daya river as the site of Kalinga war.
At present, the white Vishwa Shanti Stupa adorns the Dhauli Hill and overlooks the spot where the emperor annexed Kalinga in the decisive battle. Built in 1972 by an association of Japanese Buddhist followers, the modern stupa stands as a memorial to Ashoka’s legendary change of heart and spread of new wave of Buddhism.
The next Buddhist attractions of Odisha are famous as a tourism circuit of Diamond Triangle Tour. Featuring a tour through Ratnagiri, Udayagiri and Lalitgiri, the journey brings the visitor closer to the unique Buddhist heritage of the land. Located close to Bhubaneshwar (capital of Odisha), these Buddhist heritage sites narrate the glory of region’s Buddhist links, present right from the times of Lord Buddha.
The most impressive of the three sites is Ratnagiri (Hill of Jewels) which, between the 7th and 11th centuries, was a major Buddhist university and monastic settlement according to the accounts of Hiuen Tsang, a 7th century Chinese Traveller. Located on top of a mound, Ratnagiri is crowned by a large stupa and the best preserved structure here is a monastery with a central courtyard. The excavations here reveal the largest excavated monastery and Buddha’s sculptures.
The largest Buddhist complex in Odisha belongs to Udayagiri, the sunrise hill. It was a monastic retreat which during excavations revealed with the presence of a monastery complex, a number of Buddhist sculptures and a brick stupa.The hill of grace i.e. Lalitgiri is believed to be the oldest of the Buddhist heritage sites in the state. The ruins, spread over two adjacent hills include a terraced stone platform, a gallery of life-size Bodhisattva figures and an apsidal temple.
Odisha or Orissa is a rich repository of Buddhist heritage, visited by the travellers who are keen to trace the journey of the faith through different destinations in India.