ODISHAOdisha’s contribution to Buddhism written in golden letters

Wednesday, 14 May 2014 | BIMALENDU MOHANTY | in Bhubaneswar

Odisha State was known in the ancient time variously such as Kalinga, Odra, Odivisa, Utkala and Toshali. Odisha’s contribution to Buddhism, compared with other parts of our country, is next to none. Starting from a chance meeting of two merchants of Odisha, Tapasu and Bhallika who became the first lay disciples of the Buddha, Odisha became the cradle for the newly-emerging creed. Mentions of these two persons have been found in Vinayapitaka.

According to Anguttara-Nikaya, Buddha handed over tufts of his hair to the two merchants of Ukkala (Utkala) Tapasu and Bhallika, who deposited the hair-relic in a Chaitya (Kesha Stupa) built by them in their native town Asitanjana. From the Nikaya texts, it is also known that the Vassa and Bhanna peoples of Utkala, after hearing the discourse of Buddha delivered at Jetavana, accepted his teaching. From the writings of the Rock Edict-XIII of Asoka, it is known that Shramanas (Buddhist monks) were preaching Buddhism in Kalinga much before Emperor Asoka (c.272-36 B.C.) invaded Kalinga.

After the great Kalinga War in 261 BC, Mauryan Emperor Asoka observing the horrors of the war, out of profound remorse, gave up his ambition of military conquest (Digvijay) in favour of spiritual conquest (Dharmavijay). After this great war, Asoka embraced Buddhism being initiated by an Odia Buddhist monk Upagupta, and with great zeal started propagating Buddhism in every nook and corner of India and also in countries like Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Eastern Archipelago and the Far East. Within a span of fifteen years, it became a world religion.

It speaks well for Odisha that a religious creed being nurtured by it, rose to the stature of a world religion having passed through its very portals. Emperor Asoka had constructed a monastery known as Bhojakagiri Vihara, where his brother Tissa resided. Xuan-Zang (Hieun-Tsang), the famous Chinese traveler, who visited Odisha around 639 A.D., had seen nearly eleven stupas erected by Asoka. Odisha had well developed Buddhist cultural centres at Parimalagiri, Surabhigiri, Bhorasaila, Tamralipta and Chelitalo. Buddhist scholars of eminence like Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Sarbagami, Dignaga and Dharmakirti stayed in these centres and wrote many books on Buddhist philosophy and ethics.

During the reign of Asoka and subsequently, the Hinayana sects, particularly the Theravadins, had their sway in Buddhism. Hinayana Buddhism continued to be in prominence till the 7th century AD. Prof N Dutta, an eminent scholar of Buddhism, has stressed that Mahayana Buddhism had originated from Kalinga in the 1st century AD. Taranath, the Tibetan historian, gives Odivisa (Odisha) the credit of being the earliest centre of Mahayana Buddhism. King Subhakaradeva-I of Odra presented an autographed Buddhist manuscript to Chinese Emperor Te-tsong. The manuscript and a letter were entrusted to the learned monk Prajna for a translation, who after wandering for eighteen years in various places including Nalanda settled in a monastery of Wu-ch’a (Odra) before going to China, which indicates the importance of Odishan monastic establishments.

Canonical Buddhism has had three distinct phases known as the ethical Hinayana, the philosophical Mahayana and the esoteric Tantrayana. Tantrayana had three offshoots, Vajrayana, Sahajayana and Kalachakrayana, which were propounded by Odishan Siddhas Indrabhuti, Laksmikara, his sister, and Manjusree, respectively. All these three esoteric Buddhist Yanas or vehicles were ardently practised by Buddhist adepts in Odisha. Esoteric Buddhism travelled to China from Odisha. Buddhism was a living religion among the people of Odisha till the 15th century AD.

When Muslim invaders Vaktiyar Khilji attacked Nalanda, Vikramasila and adjacent areas and killed thousands of Buddhist Bhikshus, the greatest Mahayana centre of Odisha, Jagadalavihar, gave shelter to hundreds of Buddhist Bhikshus. In 1202 AD, Chancellor of Vikramasilavihara Sribhadra also took shelter in Odisha. The Muslim invaders did not dare to enter Odisha till the 16th century AD.

The great art historian Charles Fabrie had stated that Odisha had an unfathomable treasure trove of Buddhist art and architecture. Presently, it is dotted with nearly four thousand monuments and architectural sites.

The period from the 1st century AD to the 7th century AD can be regarded as the Golden Era of Buddhism. The Mahayana form of Buddhism was flourishing during this period. Mahayana in detail has been described in the Prajnaparamita literature. After a great deal of research, finality has been reached that Astasahasrika, the first volume of Prajnaparamita was written in Odisha. Therefore, Odisha was the birthplace of the Mahayana Buddhism. This fact has been written by Tibetan historian Lama Taranath in his book Pagsam-Zon-Tsang.

From the 1st century AD, Chinese people were greatly attracted by the Mahayana Buddhism and hundreds of them came as pilgrims to the Buddhist centres of India, including those in Odisha. The three prominent Chinese travellers who have been immortal because of that travelogue are Fahiyan, Hieun-Tsang and It-Tsing. Emperor Harshavardhan, who was a Mahayana Buddhist, had conquered Odisha but did not do any harm to Hinayana Buddhist.

From the early 8th century AD, the Tantrayana form of Buddhism developed in Odisha. Here, Saraha propounded Buddhakapalatantra. Kambalapada and Padmavajra jointly propounded Hevajratantra. Luipa, the famous Buddhist monk, propounded Samputatilaka. In the middle of the 8th century, King Indrabhuti of Sambala (Sambalpur) simplified all these forms into Vajrayana and his sister Laxmikara founded Sahajayana.

King Indrabhuti’s adopted son was Padmasambhava. He is regarded as the second Buddha. He had married Princes Mandaraba of Jahore (Keonjhar). Guru Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) with the help of his wife had taken great penance and attained Siddhi in Sahajayana. It has been mentioned in a number of Buddhist scriptures of Nepal that Gautama Buddha had said that after a few centuries of his Parinirvana, Padmasambhava would take birth at Uddiyana (Odisha) and he would attain great height of sainthood. Guru Padmasambhava at the invitation of Shantirakshita (his brother-in-law) went to Tibet and established Lamaism there. Lamaism has spread in different parts of the Himalayan territory such as Sikkim, Leh, Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh. He along with Shantirakshita had also established Sam-ye monastery in Tibet.

Starting from Hinayana Buddhism, Odisha was the birthplace of Mahayana Buddhism, Tantrayana Buddhism, Vajrayana Buddhism and Sahajayana Buddhism and has many Siddhas who had written Buddhist philosophy, literature, logic and ethics and illuminated the world. The contribution of Guru Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) has excelled everybody. Therefore, Odisha’s contribution to Buddhism is unparallel and is written in golden letters in history.

(Dr Mohanty is a former vice-chancellor of the Utkal University of Culture and vice-president of the Mahabodhi Society of India Mobile-9238300265



Buddhism in Odisha (Orissa):

Buddhism in Odisha

Buddhism was known in Odisha (Orissa), right from the time of its inception, though the Lord Buddha never visited Odisha (Orissa) during his lifetime. Buddhist Chronicles refer to Buddha’s Kesa Asthi (Hair relic) brought to Odra (Odisha (Orissa)) by two rich traders — Tapassu and Bhallika. In the subsequent period, the nail and tooth relics of Buddha too entered into Odra.

Scholars believe that Biraja (modern Jajpur) was a sacred land of Buddha Padmaprabha and the cradle of Mahayana, supported by fact that Jajpur and its neighbourhood are seen to be rich in Mahayanic antiquities. In the 7th century, the visit of Hiuen Tsang to Odisha (Orissa) vividly accounts the flourishing state of Buddhism in Odra.

Between the 8th-10th century, Buddhism was the state religion under the Bhaumakaras and this period also saw evolution of tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism. The influence and impact of Buddhism continued in Odisha (Orissa) until 15th century. The innumerable stupas, viharas (monasteries) and images found across Odisha (Orissa) testify to its long heritage.

Buddhist tourism in Odisha (Orissa) has observed the opening up of some new vistas by recent findings from excavations. Despite the fact that many Buddhist monuments already exist in Odisha (Orissa), these newly identified sites with Buddhist remains have also added to the charm of Odisha (Orissa). With Lalitagiri, Ratnagiri and Udaygiri hills located 90 kms from Bhubaneshwar and 60 kms North East of Cuttack, Odisha (Orissa) attracts many Buddhist tourists each year.

The Ratnagiri Hill is known to have the most extensive ruins and is famous for housing the monastery of ‘Pushpagiri’ reported by Chinese traveler Hiuen T’ Sang. Most of the sculptures found here date back to 8th and 9th centuries. The Laitaghiri hills in Odisha (Orissa) also serve to be a historical site of importance. An ancient stupa containing relics preserved in caskets of stone is one of the recent and spectacular discoveries.

The Shanti Stupa at the Dhauli Hill, on the bank of the River Daya, is also one of the much famed Buddhist sites at Odisha (Orissa). It was here that emperor Ashoka underwent a psyche change and abandoned war for the rest of his life, in the 3rd century BC. So, the Nippon-Buddha Sangha established a peace pagoda or Shanti Stupa at Dhauli. A monastery named Saddharma Vihar Lalitagiri was also constructed here, thus, making it the earliest Buddhist complex of 1st century AD.

Apart from these, Buddhist monuments are scattered throughout the state still awaiting further excavation and study. Cuttack, Sambalpur, Balasore, Ganjam and Phulbani are some, to name a few.



Buddhist tourism gets new push in India

IANS, 25 December 2012

Odisha, India — The Buddhist tourism circuit in India is getting a new fillip with the luxury tourist shuttle, the Mahaparinirvana Express, expanding its run to touch Buddhist sites in Odisha from Jan 20 besides those in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The move is to meet the growing demand by pilgrims, especially from countries like Sri Lanka in South Asia as well East and Southeast Asia, to visit more places associated with the Buddha – Bhubaneswar, Lalitagiri, Khandagiri and Udayagiri.

‘The train that begins from Safdarjung in the capital now goes to Bodh Gaya, Rajgir, Nalanda, Varanasi, Sarnath, Gorakhpur, Kushinagar, Lumbini and Sravasti in a seven-night, eight-day odyssey,’ Harshvardhan Singh Rawat, an official at the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), told IANS.

The train, which was introduced in 2007, has tariffs ranging from Rs.7,500 to Rs.34,000.

Speaking on the margins of the Confederation of India Industry Roundtable on Indian Tourism, the IRCTC official said the government was reconsidering resuming the Chennai Buddhist shuttle that stopped in March this year.

‘We will soon put the train from Chennai back on track to cater to the surge of Buddhist pilgrims from Sri Lanka. We are working out the cost of the 21-day, 20-night trip that covers many more places than the Delhi train,’ the official said.

The Mahaparinirvana Express, on an average, clocks 60 percent occupancy with the bulk of tourists from China, Thailand, Taiwan and other countries in the region. The official said tourists from at least 30 countries opt for train tourism in the Buddhist circuits.

The corporation has tied up with luxury hotels at Bodh Gaya, Kushinagar, Gorakhpur and Lumbini (Nepal) to host the tourists overnight. Now the spotlight is on Odisha, where Buddhist sites had been in the shadow of the popular Puri-Konark Hindu pilgrimage tourism.

The Odisha loop comprising Ratnagiri-Dhaulagiri-Udayagiri-Khandagiri and Langudi dates back to early 6th century BC. The sites are dotted with stupas, chaityas and Ashokan edicts. It is also a seat of the study of Vajrayana Buddhism.

Amiya Pattnaik, vice-chancellor of Utkal University of Culture in Bhubaneswar, who was in the capital to promote the Buddhist circuit, said the state was home to 100 Buddhist sites of which 20 were ‘very important’.

‘Ratnagiri can be compared with Nalanda and can even compete with Bodh Gaya,’ he said.

Ancient Buddhist documents indicate that ‘Buddha Kesha’ (hair relics) were brought to the state by two rich traders, Tapassu and Ballika. Later, the Buddha’s teeth were also believed to have been brought to the state.

S.K. Yadav, managing director of Wanderlust Travel, meanwhile said the ‘hardcover Buddhist tourism circuit should be redefined and diversified’.

‘Why not give the tourists Ladakh in the package? Not just Buddhist shrines, but tour operators must package the entire destination with out-of-the-box activity like yak safaris. Tour operators need to think about promoting new Buddhist destinations,’ Yadav said at th CII roundtable.

Sreenivas Rao, managing director of Rao Travels, said of the nearly 400 million Buddhists around the world, around 200,000 (2007 figure)-500,000 people come to India and this should be increased.

‘We should look for at least two million. Even if they spend $1,000 per head, it would contribute to over $2 billion to the economy,’ he noted.

Ravi Luthra, director of Landmark Tours and Travels Pvt Ltd, said that a lot more needs to be done in providing facilities, identifying potential and ensuring law and order.

‘Lot of tourist-generating countries that are Buddhist have to be ready to develop infrastructure. Tourist associations like IATO – Indian Association of Tourist Operators – are playing a positive role in promoting Buddhist tourism with special seminars,’ he said.



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