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Magnificent samples of Buddhist architecture

A Buddha statue found among the relics.

RATNAGIRI OF the Birupa river valley in Cuttack district (Orissa) is a famous Buddhist centre. The small hill near the village of the same name has rich Buddhist antiquarian remains. A large-scale excavation conducted at the site between 1958 and 1961 have brought to light remains of a magnificent Buddhist establishment consisting of stupas, monastic complexes, and temples hitherto unparalleled in Orissa and comparable to the well-known Buddhist site at Nalanda. On the basis of seals containing the legend "Sri Ratnagiri Mahavihariya - Aryabikshu - Sanghasya," the place has been identified as the Ratnagiri Monastery.

The excavation revealed the establishment of this Buddhist centre at least from the time of the Gupta king, Narasimha Baladitya (first half of the sixth century A.D.). Buddhism has developed at this place unhindered up to the 12th century A.D. In the beginning, this was an important centre of tantric Buddhism or Vajrayana art and philosophy. Pag Sam Jon Zang, a Tibetan source, indicates that the institution at Ratnagiri played a significant role in the emergence of the kalachakratantra during the 10th century A.D. This is quite evident from the numerous votive stupas with reliefs of these divinities and inscribed stone slabs and moulded terracotta plaques with dharanis found in the excavation of Ratnagiri. All the above indicate the importance of Ratnagiri as one of the main Buddhist Centres of Orissa from early times.

The Mahavihara at Ratnagiri, as revealed from Orissan inscriptions, was a great centre of learning in Buddhist philosophy. Now, this university is in ruins, nevertheless attracts scores of visitors every year. For lovers of art and architecture, lay tourists and special groups, Ratnagiri offers, in its magnificent ruins, a large brick monastery with beautiful doorways, cellar, sanctum with a colossal Buddha figure and a large number of Buddhist sculptures.

The Mahavihara at Ratnagiri ... the centre for learning Buddhist philosophy is in ruins.

The archaeological remains consist of the main stupas, monasteries and numerous minor stupas. The main stupa situated at the peak of the hillock towards its south-western corner has its lofty base made of fine brickwork with a shell-like coating over it. The edifice itself is imposing though the superstructure is missing.

The podium has vertical projection on each side. The inner part of the structure above the podium was in the form of a wheel with a central solid hub, 12 spokes and an outer rim.

The main stupa belongs to the 9th century A.D. and was probably built over the ruined plinth of an earlier stupa, which is ascribable to the Gupta period. To the east of the main stupa is the stupa, which has a moulded façade.

The area around the main stupa is covered with numerous stupas of varying dimensions and forms. They represent various motifs, and the carvings on them are interesting. Most of them enshrine figures of various Vajrayana deities inside niches along with Buddha and Bodhisatvas.

To the north of the main stupa, two impressive full-fledged monasteries are found. The larger one is known as Monastery No. 1, facing the East. It has a pancha-ratna projection at the front, for the entrance complex. Approach is obtained from a stone paved forecourt by a flight of steps.

For lovers of architecture and tourists, one of the rich Buddhist antiquarian remains in Cuttack, Orissa.

The sidewalls of the front porch are decorated with the exquisite figures of Vajrapani and Padmapani, standing within niches. The sidewalls, with their lavish and pleasant decoration, mark the splendour of decorative art, unrivalled anywhere in monastic structure. A temple, with curvilinear tower is also seen in this site. It is only one of its kind, discovered in Orissa, within a Buddhist complex.

Monastery No. 2 consists of a central paved courtyard flanked by a pillared verandah around which are arranged 18 cells, a central shrine, entrance porches with ornamented door frame.

Its front side is Pancha-vatha on plan, while other exterior sides are Tri-vatha on plan. The stone paved central shrine facing the entrance houses a standing Khondolite image of Buddha in varada mudra, flanked by the figures of Brahma and Sakra on both sides.

Ratnagiri has various relics — among them, icons of Buddha and a host of divinities including Tara, Lokesvara, Aparajita, and Hariti are worth mentioning. They boast of post-Gupta period of Indian art and the Ratnagiri images remarkably preserve the Gupta idiom and sublimity. All these images and antiquities are preserved in an attractive museum in the complex.

Ratnagiri is an excellent showpiece of Buddhist sculptural art, which was one of the main constituents of the medieval Orissan architecture. The ornamentation and the sculptures, especially of the deities, show the architects' mastery in figural composition and aesthetic elegance.


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