Exploring an ancient kingdom

Buddhist relics unearthed during recent excavations in Jajpur district of Orissa lead scholars to identify Radhanagar as the capital of the ancient kingdom of Kalinga.

Published : Oct 07, 2005 00:00 IST

A rock-cut elephant found during the excavations.-PHOTOGRAPHS: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

A rock-cut elephant found during the excavations.-PHOTOGRAPHS: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

ORISSA is already known for its rich Buddhist heritage. Now its importance in ancient history is all set to mount. Experts believe that the recent discovery of Buddhist relics by archaeologists of the Orissa Institute of Maritime and South-East Asian Studies can solve many unanswered questions pertaining to the location of the capital of Kalinga, the Buddha's visit to the ancient kingdom, and Emperor Asoka's work in the land where he fought a bloody battle in 261 B.C., known as the Battle of Kalinga.

Buddhist stupas, inscriptions, pottery and terracotta remains dating back to the third century B.C. have been dug up in Dharmasala block of Orissa's Jajpur district. The area is close to the well-known Ratnagiri-Udayagiri-Lalitgiri Buddhist complex. The excavations were carried out after obtaining a licence from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Epigraphists of the ASI had deciphered the inscriptions and confirmed the findings, said State Culture Minister Damodar Rout.

"The excavation led to an amazing discovery in the field of ancient history, which could solve many puzzles of Indian history in general and Orissa history in particular, and may add new chapters in the annals of history," a beaming Rout said while announcing the findings recently.

Debraj Pradhan, Secretary of the Institute and director of the excavation project, said that the excavations had brought to light the fort of Tosali, the royal headquarters of Kalinga, at Radhanagar village in Dharmasala. The Asoka rock-edicts near the Dhauli hills near Bhubaneswar say that Tosali was the royal headquarters of Kalinga during the time of Asoka. But Tosali had not been identified till date. Though scholars tried to identify Tosali with Sisupalgarh near Bhubaneswar, no inscriptional evidence to buttress the arguments could be found.

"The unearthing of several inscriptions and other corroborative evidence clearly proves that Radhanagar was the capital city of Tosali,'' Pradhan said. A senior ASI expert has deciphered the inscriptions as `Tosali Nagara', `Tosali Nagar' and `Tosali', and they are datable to the third and second century B.C.

The inscriptions tell the tale of a lost era. One of them says: `Kalinga rajna go'. Unfortunately, the remaining portion of the potsherd, which might have revealed the name of the Kalinga king, could not be retrieved. Experts now believe that the name of the Kalinga king during the Kalinga war might have started with `Go' or `Gu'.

The recent findings may also lead to the tracing of the exact venue of the Kalinga war. Yuddha Meruda in Korei block near Dharmasala seems to be the place where the historic battle between the forces of Asoka and the king of Kalinga was fought. Yuddha Meruda, a vast expanse of land on the bank of the Brahmani, seems to fit the descriptions of the battle. Until now, it was widely believed that the battle was fought on the banks of the river Daya on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar.

Archaeologists are excited over the uncovering of the actual site of the Kalinga battle because Yuddha Meruda is not very far from Radhanagar.

From the archaeologists' point of view, what is significant is that all the 10 Asoka stupas have been discovered within a radius of 10 km. This matches with the Chinese traveller Hieun Tsang's accounts (A.D. 629-645), which say that the Buddha had visited the region where Asoka constructed 10 stupas.

Excavation work is in progress at Langudi, Tarapur, Kayama and Deuli. Excavations will also be carried out in Neulpur, Kantigadia and Vajragiri to unearth the remaining stupas.

The ancient texts say that Emperor Asoka constructed these stupas to commemorate the Buddha's visit and preaching.

The current excavation has led to the unearthing of square stupas made of laterite blocks, burnt bricks, railing pillars, cross-bars and so on. Besides, pottery and terracotta remains of the Asoka period have been found in these hills.

The excavation at Tarapur has led to the identification of the Kesa stupa. It has also been discovered that the stupa was built with a donation from Bhikhu Tapusa. The Buddhist texts say that the Kesa stupa is the earliest stupa. Two pillars, discovered at the site, carry the inscriptions `Kesa Thupa' and `Bheku Tapusa Danam'.

According to the Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya, two merchants from Ukkala, on their way to Madhyadesa with 500 carts, met the Buddha on the last day of the seventh week after his enlightenment at Bodhgaya. They offered him rice-cake and honey. The Buddha gave them eight handfuls of his hair, which they later deposited in a stupa in their native Ukkala. The stupa came to be known as Kesa stupa (kesa meaning `hair'). It is now presumed that the place was a centre of attraction as early as the lifetime of the Buddha and that the Buddha visited the locality on the invitation of Tapusa and Bhallika, his first disciples.

Asoka might have chosen to construct 10 stupas in and around Tarapur as the Kesa stupa constructed by Tapusa during the sixth or fifth century B.C. possessed strands of Buddha's hair. Another reason was easy riverine communication, surrounded as the place was by rivers such as the Brahmani, the Kelua and the Sagadia.

In one of the railing pillars found at Kesa stupa, the word `Kalingaraja' is inscribed. The pillar is broken and the remaining part of the name of the king is missing. The Kalinga monarch was probably a Buddhist and he might have made some endowment to the Kesa stupa, Pradhan said.

In another railing pillar, the inscription in Oriya is `Gupata Khandagiri Parikshya', meaning `secret Khandagiri where experiments are made'. Five great poets in 15th and 16th centuries have vividly described the sacredness of Gupta Khandagiri, Pradhan pointed out.

The excavation at Kayama hill, on the right bank of the Kelua river, towards the north of the great fort of Tosali, has resulted in a series of discoveries. The rock-cut elephant at Kayama is a unique piece of Kalinga art and was probably erected by Tisa, the brother of Asoka who stayed back in Kalinga after the war. The anatomical features of the elephant are perfectly to the scale.

The name `Tisa' is also inscribed on a rock-cut bench situated towards the north of the Kayama elephant. Tisa, who became a Buddhist, desired to stay in Kalinga with his preceptor Dharmarakhita. Asoka constructed a Vihara, named Bhojakagiri, for his brother.

A royal pendant found at Radhanagar has the name Tisa inscribed on it. The pendant, made of semi-precious stone and rectangular in shape, has `Sadabhu Tisa' written on one side and the figures of the sun and the moon, a Swastika and the Buddhist symbol on the other sides. The pendant is considered to be a unique symbol of a royal personage who believed in all faiths.

The Orissa Culture Department may be thrilled over the uncovering of the Buddhist heritage, but it is yet to get its act together on saving the relics from plunderers. In recent years, the Buddhist heritage in the district has faced threats from local contractors who carry out illegal quarrying in the hills, to extract red soil and stones that are used for laying asphalt on roads and for building houses.

The local administration, despite efforts from time to time, has not been able to keep the plunderers at bay. The authorities have to take the matter seriously to ensure that the rich Buddhist heritage is protected. Maybe the government should declare the area protected.

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