Lalitagiri – A Buddhist Complex, Cuttack Odisha

November 11, 2023

Lalitagiri is in the Cuttack district of Odisha. Lalitagiri along with Udayagiri and Ratnagiri represents the Triangle of the Buddhist heritage of Odisha. The material remains at Lalitagiri proposes that it might have been one of the most famous Buddhist establishments. It consists of a Maha-stupa from the Maurya period, remains of Buddha, a shrine belonging to the Kushan period, and 4 royal monasteries belonging to the Gupta and later periods. An excavated seal from Lalitagiri suggests that one of its monasteries was named Chandraditya-vihara.

The Maha-stupa is located on the top of Nanda hill. It was covered with dressed stones. It was topped with a harmika and umbrella. The antiquity of the stupa can be taken back to the Maurya period based upon the finding of the remains of Buddha in one of the caskets and inscriptions in Ashokan Brahmi script.

Three artifact caskets were unearthed. This finding is significant as relic caskets are not reported from other sites in Odisha. These caskets were positioned in the south, east, and north directions, inside the Maha-stupa. The outermost container of the casket is in form of a votive stupa made of Kondalite stone. It is made of two semi-circular parts. A socket is provided in its base having a soapstone container. One of the caskets has a container made of silver inside the soapstone container. The silver container intern contains a small gold container having a bone foiled inside a golden leaf. The relics inside a gold foil and the gold container itself suggest that the relics were of the most importance. It has been suggested that probably it belongs to Buddha himself. The second casket contains a relic without a gold foil. This relic may belong to Sariputra or Maudgalyayana who were the two main disciples of Buddha. The inner containers of the third set are missing. These caskets are on display, inside a bulletproof vault, in the newly constructed Lalitagiri Museum.

Remains of around 25 Buddha sculptures and stupas show that these were positioned over the periphery of the chaityagrha in an alternating manner. A head of Buddha carved in khondalite was found lying near the center of this stupa. This statue of Buddha might be the earliest structure at the site as evidenced by an engraving found engraved on a stone pedestal. An inscription on this pedestal is in the Brahmi script of the 2nd-3rd century CE. The inscription records the completion of the asana of Adatadamana by Vinaya (a resident of Vadhamana) and his disciple Budhintini (a resident of Aggotisila).

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