Diamond Triangle of Odisha -Lalitgiri, Ratnagiri, Udayagiri


Foreign tourist coming to India are mostly bound to do a common tourist circuit called the Golden Triangle. This Golden Triangle consists of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Apart from this, there is another very important site, which is referred to as the Diamond Triangle and is a very important part of India’s Buddhist heritage.

Lalitgiri, Ratnagiri and Udayagiri are referred to as the Diamond Triangle of Odisha and is often considered as some of the most important Buddhist sites of the state. The name Diamond Triangle is not due to the locations of these sites on map instead the very root or sect of Buddhism from where these have evolved.

Vajrayana which when you translate from Sanskrit would mean Thunderbolt Vehicle (Vajra = Thunderbolt and Yana = Vehicle). In Sanskrit Diamond is also known as Vajramaṇi thus Vajrayana was referred to as the Diamond Vehicle sect of Buddhism.

Vajrayana

Vajrayana evolved from within Mahayana around 7th  – 8th century. This particular sect is said to have evolved from Tibet when Padmasambhava was invited by King Trisong Detsen of Tibet in order to balance the influence of nobles of his kingdom who have said to follow the indigenous Bon religion of Tibet. Padmasambhava managed to converge the traditions and practices of Bon along with Buddhist Dharma thus giving rise to the Vajrayana sect. Padmasambhava constructed the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet at Samye.

Vajrayana Buddhism Emphasizes

Prajna & Karuna, which is the unity of wisdom and compassion

Sadhana, which forms the concept of meditation and exercise

Tharpa or the awakening

Various forms of Buddha in the form of Amitabha Buddha and Avalokitesvara the Bodhisattva

Key Rituals of Vajrayana

Mantra (prayer) is the act of chanting of prayers along with meditation. These Mantras is said to carry the cosmic energy of Bodhisattva. Mantras also help the person by protecting them from negative energy by using their own inner positive energy.

Mandala (circle) is the symbolic themes of meditation, which represents the cosmic diagram. It represents the entire universe.

Mudra or the gesture is the symbolic positioning of the hand and body.

Location of the Diamond Triangle

Road Sign Showing the Location of the Sites
Road Sign Showing the Location of the Sites

History of Buddhism in This Region

This part of Eastern India was ruled by the Bhauma Kara Dynasty, which lasted between 8th to 10th centuries. As per records the first three kings of this dynasty where Buddhist and as per some records the next two kings in this dynasty were followers of this religion.

Keshmankara, Shivakara I, and Shubhakara I were the first three kings in this dynasty known to be Buddhists. Even the next two rulers Shivakara II and Shubhakara III were known to be affiliated to this religion.

During this phase of rules in this region, the kings were like patrons of Buddhism and encouraged monks to come and settle in this region. Many scholars, monks started to migrate to this region of ancient India and settle down in the various monasteries here. With the protection of the king, these monasteries thrived and expanded heavily.  

These facts have be confirmed by the famous Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang who as per record had travelled in this region once in the 7th century and then sometime between 8th and 9th century.

Lalitgiri

Lalitgiri – Location of All the Important Sites
Lalitgiri – Location of All the Important Sites

I would recommend you to spend maximum time at this location not only for the ruins but also for the museum, which has been recently opened and has all the excavated objects found at this site preserved and labelled for easy reference.

Lalitgiri initially was confused for Pushpagiri and in the 1980’s further excavation at this place revealed that Pushpagiri was separate site located elsewhere. The excavations over the years also revealed many statues of Buddha and inscriptions which was referred to have been from the Mahayana and Hinayana form of Buddhism thus it can be easily said that this site of Lalitgiri existed even before the Bhauma Kara Dynasty patronising the Vajrayana form of Buddhism.

As you enter the excavated site of Lalitgiri, you will find the museum to your left but I would also recommend that you visit this museum after going around the site so as to get an overall feel and then it will be also easy to relate the site with the objects displayed in the museum.

At Lalitgiri, you can find the ruins of four monasteries, a stupa and a mahastupa on top of a hill.

Monastery 1 – Lalitgiri

As you move ahead, you will find Monastery 1, which is the largest of all the monasteries at Lalitgiri. You will be able to see a mix of stone structures like pillars as well as terracotta bricks. You can clearly see various sections, which could have been rooms inside the monastery. If you climb to the top, you will be able to see the massive size of the monastery.

Monastery 1 – Lalitgiri - Interiors
Monastery 1 – Lalitgiri – Interiors
Monastery 1 – Lalitgiri – Stone Pillars
Monastery 1 – Lalitgiri – Stone Pillars
Monastery 1 – Lalitgiri – Terracotta Bricks
Monastery 1 – Lalitgiri – Terracotta Bricks
Monastery 1 – Lalitgiri – Outer Wall
Monastery 1 – Lalitgiri – Outer Wall
Monastery 1 – Lalitgiri – Top View
Monastery 1 – Lalitgiri – Top View

Monastery 2 – Lalitgiri

To locate this monastery you have to take the small road right after the museum and at the end of the hillock. Out here, you will find some structures of stone and bricks, which is in real bad shape. Out of all the structures in this complex, this is in most of the dilapidated state. Only one stone carving can be seen out here, which gives some historical reference to being a monastery in the first place. This was one of the last structures built out here after which there was a steady decline of Buddhism in this region.

The road towards Monastery 2 - Lalitgiri
The road towards Monastery 2 – Lalitgiri
Monastery 2 – Lalitgiri
Monastery 2 – Lalitgiri
Monastery 2 – Lalitgiri – Stone Carvings
Monastery 2 – Lalitgiri – Stone Carvings
Monastery 2 - Lalitgiri
Monastery 2 – Lalitgiri

Monastery 3 – Lalitgiri

You can see the large floor space and the various room made with terracotta bricks can be visible here.

Monastery 3 – Lalitgiri – Outer Wall
Monastery 3 – Lalitgiri – Outer Wall
Monastery 3 – Lalitgiri - Entrance
Monastery 3 – Lalitgiri – Entrance
Monastery 3 – Lalitgiri – Inner Sections
Monastery 3 – Lalitgiri – Inner Sections
Monastery 3 – Lalitgiri – Inner Rooms and Chambers
Monastery 3 – Lalitgiri – Inner Rooms and Chambers
Monastery 3 – Lalitgiri – Top View
Monastery 3 – Lalitgiri – Top View

Monastery 4 – Lalitgiri

This particular monastery was the most exiting one for me considering the headless Buddha statue located inside. It would be wise to say that the statue was missing the upper part of the body. In front of the room, housing the statue there was an open space with multiple stone and terracotta brick chambers in the side.

Monastery 4 – Lalitgiri – Outer Wall
Monastery 4 – Lalitgiri – Outer Wall
Monastery 4 – Lalitgiri - Entrance
Monastery 4 – Lalitgiri – Entrance
Monastery 4 – Lalitgiri - Interiors
Monastery 4 – Lalitgiri – Interiors
Monastery 4 – Lalitgiri – Inner Chambers
Monastery 4 – Lalitgiri – Inner Chambers
Monastery 4 – Lalitgiri – Statue of Buddha inside the Main Shrine
Monastery 4 – Lalitgiri – Statue of Buddha inside the Main Shrine

Chaityagriha Stupa Lalitgiri

Right opposite to Monastery 4, you will find a large circular stone foundation, which was the Chaityagriha Stupa. The entire top portion of the stupa is missing and you can see other stone structures and pillar foundation all around. The most striking thing about this structure are the several mini stupas, which are lined up next to each other. In order to get the best view of this place it is recommended that you look from the road, which is in elevated position.

Chaityagriha Stupa Lalitgiri – Outer Periphery
Chaityagriha Stupa Lalitgiri – Outer Periphery
Chaityagriha Stupa Lalitgiri
Chaityagriha Stupa Lalitgiri
Chaityagriha Stupa Lalitgiri – Votive Stupas
Chaityagriha Stupa Lalitgiri – Votive Stupas
Chaityagriha Stupa Lalitgiri
Chaityagriha Stupa Lalitgiri
Chaityagriha Stupa Lalitgiri
Chaityagriha Stupa Lalitgiri

Mahastupa Lalitgiri

Moving ahead on the right above a small hillock you will be able to find the Mahastupa. Take the flight of stairs and reach to the top to access this place. This stupa became very important from the point of excavation as some relics were discovered inside. The archaeologists discovered two stone caskets and one of them has three more caskets in one of them there was one bone relic in a golden casket. This can be seen at the museum of Lalitgiri. It is assumed that this is an actual Buddha relic in the form of a bone fragment.

Mahastupa Lalitgiri – Stairs Leading You to the Top
Mahastupa Lalitgiri – Stairs Leading You to the Top
Mahastupa Lalitgiri
Mahastupa Lalitgiri

Lalitgiri Museum

Gallery 1 – This section consists of eleven Buddha images and a Stupa. These are from an earlier period and the detailed features are not so prominent.

Gallery 2 – This section consists of six Buddha images from a later transitional period. These have a better details thus can be assumed was done at a later period.

Gallery 3 – This sections consists a large Buddha head, which is surrounded by six seated Bodhisattvas. Important amongst these are Dhyani Buddha, Manjushri and Jambhala, which are god of wealth.

Gallery 4 – This contains the Relic Casket. Three sets of these containers made of Khandolite were found inside the Mahastupa, three caskets containers were designed in the form of a Votive Stupa. Out of these three caskets, two had a set of gold casket kept within a silver casket. Each of these two gold caskets had a relic in the form of a charred bone wrapped in gold foil and the other without any foil.

Gallery 5 – This gallery consists of four Buddha female deities and six Bodhisattvas from the Vajrayana line of Buddhism.

Gallery 6 – This is the open courtyard at the centre of the museum and have been designed to resemble a Buddha Mandala.

Lalitgiri Museum – Relic Caskets
Lalitgiri Museum – Relic Caskets
Lalitgiri Museum – Statue of Manjushree
Lalitgiri Museum – Statue of Manjushree
Lalitgiri Museum – Statue of Tara
Lalitgiri Museum – Statue of Tara
Lalitgiri Museum – Votive Stupa
Lalitgiri Museum – Votive Stupa
Lalitgiri Museum – Massive Buddha Statue in the Courtyard
Lalitgiri Museum – Massive Buddha Statue in the Courtyard

Lalitgiri Entry Ticket Cost

Indian Visitor = Rs. 25
Children (Below 15) = Free
BIMSTEC Visitor = Rs. 25
Foreign Citizens = Rs. 300
Video Charges (only for excavation site and not museum) = Rs.25

Ratnagiri

Ratnagiri – Location of All the Important Sites
Ratnagiri – Location of All the Important Sites

The next site in the Diamond Triangle would be that of Ratnagiri which is around 13 to 16 kilometres (depending on the route) from Lalitgiri. There is a good hotel and a restaurant located right next to the excavation site thus would recommend you to have your lunch out here during your Diamond Triangle Tour. This archaeological site is spread on top of a small hillock on almost flat surface. After taking staircase which will take you to the top of the hill you will be able to see the first glimpses of the archaeological site.

Ratnagiri – Stairs Will Take You to the Top of the Hill
Ratnagiri – Stairs Will Take You to the Top of the Hill

Votive Stupas – Ratnagiri

Once you reach the top of the hill on the left, you will be able to see a collection of Votive Stupas (8th to 11th Century). These are generally constructed as a sign of commemoration when visiting a famous stupa. These are like miniature stupas about one or two feet in height. They look similar to a stupa with similar features. Out here, you will find hundreds of them but these were actually found around the Mahastupa.

Votive Stupas - Ratnagiri
Votive Stupas – Ratnagiri
Votive Stupas - Ratnagiri
Votive Stupas – Ratnagiri
Votive Stupas - Ratnagiri
Votive Stupas – Ratnagiri

Shrine Complex

Waking up ahead from the set of Votive Stupas towards the main section you will come across a stone foundation like structures on your left. This is the Shrine Complex (9th to 11th Century) and only visible reference other than the stone foundation are few stone carvings.

Shrine Complex – Ratnagiri – Remaining Stone Foundation
Shrine Complex – Ratnagiri – Remaining Stone Foundation
Shrine Complex – Ratnagiri – Remaining Stone Sculpture
Shrine Complex – Ratnagiri – Remaining Stone Sculpture
Shrine Complex – Ratnagiri – Remaining Stone Sculpture
Shrine Complex – Ratnagiri – Remaining Stone Sculpture

Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri

This is the most majestic site out here built around 8th to 11th Century, especially the entry gate with its majestic doorjamb. Once you cross that, you will find yourself in the massive courtyard surrounded by massive stone heads of Buddha. There are several small rooms around this vast monastery and from the top, you can see the huge building complex. On the other end, there is a small room (shrine) with status of Buddha.

Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri – Doorjamb
Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri – Doorjamb
Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri – Doorjamb Details
Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri – Doorjamb Details
Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri – Stone Carvings
Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri – Stone Carvings
Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri – Stone Carvings
Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri – Stone Carvings
Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri – Massive Buddha Head
Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri – Massive Buddha Head
Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri – Remains of Various Stone Statues
Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri – Remains of Various Stone Statues
Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri – Main Shrine
Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri – Main Shrine
Remains of Different Rooms at Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri
Remains of Different Rooms at Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri
Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri – Stone Wall
Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri – Stone Wall
Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri – View from the Top
Monastery 1 – Ratnagiri – View from the Top

Monastery 2 – Ratnagiri

Right next to Monastery 1 is the smaller monastery, out here you can see the open courtyard with the room with a Buddha statue. All around you will be able to see various rooms

Monastery 2 – Ratnagiri – Exterior Walls
Monastery 2 – Ratnagiri – Exterior Walls
Monastery 2 – Ratnagiri – Interiors
Monastery 2 – Ratnagiri – Interiors
Monastery 2 – Ratnagiri – Main Shrine
Monastery 2 – Ratnagiri – Main Shrine

Up ahead in front of Monastery 2 you will find some Votive Stupas surrounding a statue of Buddha. If you look to your left you will find a small square room, make sure you look inside, as you will get to see three stunning statues.

Votive Stupas
Remains around Ratnagiri
Remains around Ratnagiri
Votive Stupas around the Shrine
Votive Stupas around the Shrine
Statue inside the Shrine
Statue inside the Shrine

Mahastupa – Ratnagiri

This was the Mahastupa of Ratnagiri and it massive in size and is surrounded by more Votive Stupas. Look around and on one side, you will find a small stupa with a five discs on top. This structure is dated to be before 10th century, the surrounding walls are dated around 13th century.

Structures around the Mahastupa
Structures around the Mahastupa
Mahastupa at Ratnagiri
Mahastupa at Ratnagiri
Votive Stupas around the Mahastupa
Votive Stupas around the Mahastupa
Structures around the Mahastupa at Ratnagiri
Structures around the Mahastupa at Ratnagiri
Structures around the Mahastupa at Ratnagiri
Structures around the Mahastupa at Ratnagiri

Mahakala Temple – Ratnagiri

This temple was originally built over an existing stupa and in order to preserve the original site the temple was carefully block-by-block and placed on the side of the hill in the year 1996. If you look closely the stone bricks will have small numbers written on them which were used as reference numbers while shifting the temple.

Mahakala Temple at its New Site at Ratnagiri
Mahakala Temple at its New Site at Ratnagiri
Mahakala Temple – Ratnagiri
Mahakala Temple – Ratnagiri
Mahakala Temple - RatnagiriMahakala Temple - Ratnagiri
Mahakala Temple – Ratnagiri

Single Winged Monastery – Ratnagiri

To see this monastery you have to go back to the place where the collection of Votive Stupas are present. If you walk ahead, you will reach this spot.

Single Winged Monastery – Ratnagiri
Single Winged Monastery – Ratnagiri

Ratnagiri Museum

Take time out to visit this museum as most of the artefacts found at Ratnagiri site have been shifted to this museum. Apart from statues, you will be able to see coins, jewellery and old manuscripts.

Archaeological Museum at Ratnagiri
Archaeological Museum at Ratnagiri

Gallery 1 – Twenty five stone images of Buddha, Avalokitesvara, Khasarpana, Manjusri, Tara etc. are present here all belonging to 9th to 11th century AD.

Gallery 1 (Photo Courtesy Government Archaeological Museum – Ratnagiri)
Gallery 1 (Photo Courtesy Government Archaeological Museum – Ratnagiri)

Gallery 2 – There are twenty-four antiquities in this gallery some of which are that of Buddha, Bodhisattvas, Jambhala, Tara in various postures, Vasudhara, Chunda etc.

Gallery 2 (Photo Courtesy Government Archaeological Museum – Ratnagiri)
Gallery 2 (Photo Courtesy Government Archaeological Museum – Ratnagiri)

Gallery 3 – Eighty one antiquities are displayed out here; important ones are stupas depicting Buddha, Bodhisattvas, Aparajita, Ushnishavijaya etc.

Gallery 3 (Photo Courtesy Government Archaeological Museum – Ratnagiri)
Gallery 3 (Photo Courtesy Government Archaeological Museum – Ratnagiri)

Gallery 4 – This gallery has eighty displays. This gallery features broken pottery, terracotta plaque depicting Buddha, monastic seal, copper plates etc. This section also has bronze images of Buddha, Krishna-Yamari, Tara and Manjusri.

Gallery 4 (Photo Courtesy Government Archaeological Museum – Ratnagiri)
Gallery 4 (Photo Courtesy Government Archaeological Museum – Ratnagiri)

Reserve Gallery – This gallery features artefacts excavated from Ratnagiri and consists of stone sculptural pieces, monolithic votive stupas, terracotta seals, bronze objects, glass bangles etc.

Ratnagiri Entry Ticket Cost

Indian Visitor = Rs. 25
Children (Below 15) = Free
BIMSTEC Visitor = Rs. 25
Foreign Citizens = Rs. 300
Video Charges (only for excavation site and not museum) = Rs.25

Museum Entry Fee (for all) = Rs. 5
Museum Entry Fee (below 15 years) = Free

Udayagiri

Udayagiri – Location of All the Important Sites
Udayagiri – Location of All the Important Sites

The last place amongst the Diamond Triangle is Udayagiri. Amongst the other two this site was excavated much later and was done in two phases thus, we have the Udayagiri 1 and Udayagiri 2. This is the largest Buddhist site in the state and still being expanded after further planed excavations.

It was late in the afternoon when I had arrived at this spot and with the low light it was difficult for me to photograph properly so instead of using my grainy images I am using photos, which are creative commons.

Udayagiri Archaeological Area – Some Stone Remains Can Be Visible
Udayagiri Archaeological Area – Some Stone Remains Can Be Visible
Udayagiri Archaeological Area
Udayagiri Archaeological Area
Stone Statues – Udayagiri
Stone Statues – Udayagiri
Stone Statues - Udayagiri
Stone Statues – Udayagiri
Stone Statues – Udayagiri
Stone Statues – Udayagiri

Stepwell – Udayagiri

This is the very first structure you will come across in this archaeological site. This is an ancient stone well sometimes referred in Northern India as Baoli. It has a stairs, which takes you to the bottom of the well, which has a square tank. From the other end of this stepwell, you can directly see the square tank deep below.

Stepwell – Udayagiri
Stepwell – Udayagiri (Photo Courtesy – Amartya Bag)
Stepwell Square Tank – Udayagiri
Stepwell Square Tank – Udayagiri (Photo Courtesy – Daniel Limma)

Shrine Complex – Udayagiri

If you take the left pathway, you will reach Udayagiri 2 section, which was excavated later. On your left, you will see a vast stretch of stone formations resembling several stupas most of which have only visible foundations. You will also be able to see some Votive Stupas out here.

If you take the left pathway, you will reach Udayagiri 2 section, which was excavated later. On your left, you will see a vast stretch of stone formations resembling several stupas most of which have only visible foundations. You will also be able to see some Votive Stupas out here.

Shrine Complex – Udayagiri
Shrine Complex – Udayagiri (Photo Courtesy – Daniel Limma)
Shrine Complex – Udayagiri
Shrine Complex – Udayagiri (Photo Courtesy – Daniel Limma)
Shrine Complex – Udayagiri
Shrine Complex – Udayagiri (Photo Courtesy – Daniel Limma)
Shrine Complex – Udayagiri
Shrine Complex – Udayagiri (Photo Courtesy – Daniel Limma)

Monastery 2 – Udayagiri

Going past the Shrine Complex you will reach Monastery 2 which is clearly understood by its rectangular structure. Right at the centre there is a courtyard and in front you can see the main shrine with the stone statue of Buddha.

Monastery 2 – Udayagiri
Monastery 2 – Udayagiri (Photo Courtesy – Daniel Limma)
Monastery 2 Shrine – Udayagiri
Monastery 2 Shrine – Udayagiri (Photo Courtesy – Daniel Limma)
Monastery 2 Shrine – Udayagiri
Monastery 2 Shrine – Udayagiri (Photo Courtesy – Amartya Bag)
Monastery 2 Shrine – Udayagiri
Monastery 2 Shrine – Udayagiri (Photo Courtesy – Daniel Limma)

Mahastupa – Udayagiri

From the stepwell if you take the right pathway you will reach the Udayagiri 1 section which was first to be excavated. The most prominent structure of this place is the Mahastupa. The Mahastupa is the most unique of all the three sites of Diamond Triangle as it features a Buddha in each direction which is accompanied by Bodhisattvas

Mahastupa – Udayagiri
Mahastupa – Udayagiri (Photo Courtesy – KIshor Kumar Mishra)
Mahastupa – Udayagiri
Mahastupa – Udayagiri (Photo Courtesy – Daniel Limma)

Monastery 1 – Udayagiri

Going past the Mahastupa you will be able to see Monastery 1. The monks used these as residential complex while staying out here for meditation and education.

Monastery 1 – Udayagiri
Monastery 1 – Udayagiri (Photo Courtesy – Daniel Limma)
Monastery 1 – Udayagiri
Monastery 1 – Udayagiri (Photo Courtesy – Daniel Limma)

Ideally, you can do a day trip from Cuttack or Bhubaneswar and cover all the three sites and the two museums on the Diamond Triangle of Buddhism in Odisha. Would recommend you to start as early as possible to get enough time to cover all the sites. Best season would be winter as the sites would be clean of moss and weeds. Avoid the rainy seasons as with the rains the shrubs around the sites grow and turn the stone and terracotta structures in to a dull black in colour.

I hope you have enjoyed my blog on the Diamond Triangle of Odisha I had travelled to Odisha as a part of Times Passion Trails organized in association with Odisha Tourism.

Other Blogs on Odisha

Barabati Fort – Lost and Forgotten
Tribal Museum Bhubaneswar
Netaji Birthplace Museum – Cuttack
Odisha State Maritime Museum Cuttack
Daytrip to Chilka Lake from Puri
Daytrip to Raghurajpur Village

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