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Buddhist temple in India: Lalitgiri

By Devik Balami at
lalitgiri

Lalitgiri is a major Buddhist temple in India which is also popularly known as Naltigiri. This Buddhist complex is situated in the Cuttack district of Odisha, India. This Buddhist complex houses major Buddha stupas, Buddha statues, and monasteries. It is regarded as one of the oldest sites in the Odisha and a part of Diamond Triangle. The other two complexes of Diamond Triangle are Ratnagiri and Udayagiri.

Excavation Information

It was M.M. Chakravarty, the then Sub Divisional Officer in Jaipur who first identified the archaeological antiquities from the Diamond Triangle sites in 1905 CE. In 1927 and 28 CE. R.P. Chanda of Indian Museum in Kolkata documented the site and in 1937 the site was officially declared a protected monument by the central government. Again in 1977, 1985 and 1991 excavations were done at the site with the initiation of Utkal University, and Bhubaneswar CIrcle of the Archaeological Survey of India. The findings concluded that the Lalitgiri maintained a continuous cultural sequence starting from the post-Mauryan period till 13th century AD.

Art and Architectural Remains at Lalitgiri, a Buddhist temple in India

The excavation project carried out at the Lalitgiri have unearthed several buried things. It can be categorized as follows:

Stupas

The excavation has unearthed remnants of a large stupa on the hill which housed two rare stone casket with the relics of Buddha. It was learned that these stone caskets were made up of khondalite stone which had three other boxes made up of steatite, silver, and gold respectively. The golden casket contained a relic or dhatu in the form of a small piece of bone.

Along with this large stupa, an east facing stupa was also uncovered. This chaitya was built of bricks which were 33m in height and 11 m wide with 3.3 m thick walls. It was recorded that this stupa contained a circular stupa at the center.

Monastery

The excavation team unearthed remnants of four monasteries at the site. The first monastery which was facing east had a two-storey structure. This monastery measures 36 sq. m. and has an open space of 12.9 m square at the center. It was recorded that this was dated to 10th-11th century CE.

The second monastery was excavated in the northern extremity of the hill. It was believed that this monastery was built when Buddhism was losing its importance in Lalitgiri.

The third monastery which was excavated at the site faced south-east direction and has dimensions of 28 by 27 m. Like the first one, this monastery has an open space of 8 sq. m. and represents the end stages of apsidal chaitya.

The fourth monastery is measured 30 sq. m. in size and houses many large sized Buddha heads. The monastery also houses a terracotta monastic seal with the inscription Sri chandraditya bihara samagra arya vikshu sanghasa which dated to the 9th-10th century CE.

Images of Buddha, consort, and Bodhisattvas

It has been recorded that the numerous meditative Buddha statues unearthed at the site belong to the period when Mahayana Buddhism flourished at the site. Along with these Images of Buddha, Images of Tara, Harati, and Amitabha Buddha have been excavated in the Lalitgiri. The Images or Tara were in the form of Tara Kurukulla while the Amitabha Buddha and Harati were portrayed in seating posture.

The team also excavated gold pendant, silver jewelry, stone tablets with imprints of Ganesha and Mahisasurmardini, a seal matrix-cum-pendant, and a small statue of Avalokiteshvara.

Inscriptions

The excavation team also found potsherds which had an inscription. It was mentioned that the site was dated from the post-Mauryan period to 8th-9th century CE. This information indicates that majorly Buddhist monks belonging to the Hinayana and Mahayana sects lived in Lalitgiri. Later, the monks belonging to Vajrayana also settled in this site during the reign of Bhaumakaras (9th-10th-century CE.)