A lost world, found: Parabhadi, the newest addition to Odisha’s Buddhist legacy

Ruins of a gigantic stupa, broken sculptures of Buddha (Dhyani Buddha, Buddha on Padmasana), terracotta antiquities and more were discovered.

Published: 23rd April 2023 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st April 2023 10:48 AM   |  A+A-

Rock-cut caves; view of the stupa

Express News Service

Atop the hillock of Parabhadi, scattered stone blocks of a large stupa, which dates back to the seventh-eighth century, serve as a reminder of Odisha’s glorious Buddhist legacy. Nestled in the Birupa-Chitrotpala valley and divided between the districts of Jajpur and Cuttack, the hill is part of the ‘Diamond Triangle’, a collection of three Buddhist sites of Ratnagiri, Udaygiri and Lalitgiri. Recently, an archaeological dig, mounted by the Puri Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), uncovered the hill’s historical significance.

Ruins of a gigantic stupa, broken sculptures of Buddha (Dhyani Buddha, Buddha on Padmasana), terracotta antiquities and more were discovered.

“The dilapidated stupa stands 4.5 m high and is 18 m wide, resting on a 10.8 sqm platform on the top of the hill. The masonry is unique too. Iron clamps were used to join the 18 layers of stone arrangement of the stupa and a special mud mortar mixed with stone chips and potsherds used to fill the gaps between the stones,” says ASI Odisha chief Dibishada Brajasundar Garnayak, who headed the excavation.

Dhyani Buddha

Buddhism had a strong presence in Odisha and the Diamond Triangle stands testimony to this. What makes the Parabhadi hill significant is its proximity to Lalitgiri, considered the oldest and most sacred among the triad. Archaeologists say the three monalistic settlements along with Parabhadi were a part of one Buddhist complex.

Excavation of Lalitgiri and Nanda hill in 1985 by the ASI laid bare a huge complex of Buddhist establishment, which is considered one of the largest sites in India. The exploration that continued till 1991 revealed the rich Buddhist cultural wealth of the region. Archaeologist and secretary of Odisha Institute of Maritime & South East Asian Studies, Sunil Kumar Patnaik, says, “Among the many discoveries here, noteworthy was the majestic second-century stupa in Lalitgiri. Within this stupa, a small gold casket was discovered that was encapsulated by a silver casket, which was in turn set in a Khondalite casket. All three were shaped in the form of a votive stupa. Inside the gold casket, bone and tooth relics covered in gold wires and leaf were found.” It was, however, not clear if the relics belonged to Buddha or any Buddhist luminaries as the caskets did not have any inscriptions, says Kumar, whose book Buddhist Heritage of Odisha talks of Parabhadi. “The noteworthy character of this site is that it presents a running chronology from the Mauryan age to the Gajapati period (3rd to 15th century) up to the advent of Muslim rulers into Odisha,” says Kumar.

Diamond Triangle map; terracota plaque

Former superintending archaeologist of the ASI, Jeevan Patnaik, who was a part of the excavation at Lalitgiri and Nanda hill in the 80s, says while Lalitigiri witnessed Mahayana, Hinayana and Vajrayana (or Tantric Buddhism) schools, the explorations at Parabhadi points to presence of only one school of Buddhism—Vajrayana—and it continued till the 12th century BC, the late Buddhist period.

“Parabhadi stupa apart, there was a circular Buddhist shrine on the hill which was subsequently damaged due to mining,” he says.

Largely off the grid, Parabhadi hill also goes by the name Sukhuapada. Etched on its northern slope are seven minor rock-cut caves locally called ‘Hathikhal’ dedicated to Buddhist affinity. These rock-cut chambers are scooped out in horse-shoe shape in different sizes adjacent to each other. Garnayak says in the early part of the 20th century, sculptural remains from the site were shifted to Lalitgiri sculpture shed. Prior to this, a few idols removed by anthropologist and archaeologist from Bengal, Rama Prasad Chanda, are now housed in the Indian Museum, Kolkata. Besides, there is a rock-cut image of Buddha (Padmapani) housed in another cave in the southern slope near the present exposed stupa site and currently under worship by the locals as ‘Ghantiasuni Thakurani’.

“Many of the important and giant Buddhist sculptures which are in the Lalitgiri museum now were found in Parabhadi hill,” says Jeevan. As much as 70 percent of the hill is already lost to stone mining. In fact, Parabhadi has been important for both private miners and the Odisha government because of its rich reserve of Khandolite stones that were widely used to construct some of the finest temples in the state. The ASI now plans to document and reconstruct the stupa. The dislodged stone blocks will be numbered and rearranged atop the hill to reshape the stupa. “It will take some time, but we can be sure that the stupa will be safe now from further deterioration,” says Garnayak.


Lalitgiri (1985-1991)
● Massive stupa having two relic caskets kept in a container made of khandolite stone
● Four monasteries

Ratnagiri (1975-1983)
● A stupa, monastic complex, shrines, votive stupas, sculptures, architectural fragments and other antiquities
● Remains of two monasteries

Udaygiri (1985-86 and 1989-90)
● Huge Buddhist monastic complex protected by a large enclosure wall, a seven-m-high stupa having four dhyani Buddhas in all four cardinal direction of the stupa
● Images of Buddha, Tara, Manjusri, Avalokitesvara, Jatamukuta Lokesvara and terracotta seals


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