Buddhist heritage sites in Western Odisha have been lying neglected. If promoted, those places can not only boost tourist footfall but also unravel the mysteries surrounding Buddhism in this part of the State. One such place is Boudh.
While historian NK Sahu suggested that Boudh district might have derived its name from Buddha since Buddhism flourished in the district, another historian RD Banerjee made a partial excavation at the Boudh Palace site in 1934 and opined that Buddhism was prevalent in Boudh longer than any other part of Odisha.
Three Buddhist statues found in Boudh indicate that it was once a centre of Buddhism. One of the statues in the town is in seating position in Bhumisparsa Mudra, while another idol is in Shyamsundarpur village, about 40 km from the town. The statue is built with Khondolite stone and locally known as ‘Jharabaudia Mahaprabhu’. Another Buddha statue has been found in Pragalapur village which is at a distance of two km from Shyamsundarpur. Half of this idol lies beneath the earth.
After a temple was constructed by the villagers in 1978, the lower portion of the idol was covered with soil and as on today, the portion above waist is visible.
Two Buddha idols were found in Ganiapali located on the banks of river Ang, eight km from Melchamunda in Bargarh district of which, one was stolen in January 2008.
While one of the idols at Ganiapali resembles the one at Sarnath with the ‘Dharmachakra’, the other one is a serpent hooded meditating Buddha made of bluish chloride stone.
Unearthed in 1935, residents of Ganiapali worshipped the idols as the presiding deities of the village. Locals worshipped the two idols of Buddha as Goddess and goats were sacrificed in the offering. The second idol is now
worshipped as sage Siddhartha (Siddhartha Muni) and the first one as Naga Muni (the serpent sage) till it was stolen.
As per historical records, in the first half of 8th century, Padmasambhava - son of Indrabhuti King of Sambhal in Uddiyan - founded Lamism in Tibet. Historian Sahu maintains that while Uddiyan is modern Odisha, Sambhal is Sambalpur.
Sahu said the ruins at Ganiapali could be the ruins of an ancient stupa and the Gandhamardhan hills had to be searched for Buddhist relics. Noted art historian Charles Febri in his book ‘The History of Ancient Orissa’ has dated these Buddha idols to 5th century. Febri observed that the excavation of Buddha in Muchilinda is a wonder.
Chinese traveller Hiuen-Tsang has in his travelogue mentioned about his tour of Dakshin Koshal and of a Buddhist University (Po-Ri-Mala-Giri) flourishing at Gandhamardhan Hills besides Buddhist Vihar (monastery) at Muchilinda.
Apparently, the State Government is yet to take up excavation in the areas to study the Buddhist heritage. Locals said Buddhist sites in the region should be excavated and work of noted Indologist late Prahallad Pradhan, a native of Bargarh district and a scholar of Buddhism, researched to help rewrite history of Buddhism in Odisha.