Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang) a name that has fuelled my imaginations for decades. I first read about him when I was in class 4 and the image that I vividly remember was a Chinese bald man with a rucksack made out of a stick on his back. He walked to India from China just to learn about Buddhism in India.
He traveled across India especially to Bihar and Odisha recording all the monasteries and viharas. Based on his description many modern historians have managed to trace back major important Buddhist sites across India. Places that were once lost thanks to his accounts were traced.
One such important place which Hiuen Tsang had visited when he traveled to Odra (Odisha) was that of Pushpagiri. We all are well aware of the Diamond Triangle consisting of Lalitgiri, Ratnagiri, and, Udayagiri but there was once a place much bigger than these three which Hiuen Tsang had referred to as Pu-Sie-Po-Ki-Li.
History of Pushpagiri
Historians had always had this problem of perfectly pinpointing the Pushpagiri that Hiuen Tsang had mentioned in his writings. The main issue was that previously no archaeological sites had been excavated with any direct reference to Pushpagiri. There is a Pushpagiri in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Kerala, we can completely rule out Karnataka and Kerala but Andhra Pradesh with its proximity to Odisha was always a confusing factor.
Langudi Hill in Jajpur district of Odisha was not much excavated previously. As recent as 1995 – 1996 basic excavations were done on this hill. Langudi was overshadowed by the great archaeological finds at Lalitgiri, Ratnagiri and, Udayagiri. But if you place Langudi on the map you may be surprised by its proximity to all these three sites.
During the excavation, a fragment of the inscription was discovered written in Brahmi. The type of Brahmi used here puts these inscriptions within a date range of 1st – 2nd century AD. One of them was Sri Pushpasabharagirayah this when translated can be read as “The Illustrious mountains with the load of flowers”.
The second inscription also in early Brahmi is Konasakkhay which translated to “Off the staff (bearing) school (sect)”.
The next inscription excavated out here are in three lines as (Pu)phagiri Kak-k(a), nana-haladharakasa, Prarachavalasa. These when translated reads like “Of Prarachavala the ploughman of Pushpagiri Kanana (garden)”
At a later stage, another inscription was found from this location which had Pispasiriviha(r)e which can be translated as “In the monastery of Pishpagiri (Pushpagiri)”.
Keeping in mind the significance of the above inscription during the excavation of Langudi Hill it’s almost certain that this place is indeed what was once referred to by Hiuen Tsang as Pu-Sie-Po-Ki-Li.
Further excavations during 1999 – 2000 found fragments of pottery, pillars, etc. One interesting find during this excavation process was that of an inscription fragment with the words Ami Upasaka Asokasa Samchiamana Agra Eka Thupe “In prominent stupa of the accumulated height of Ashoka”. Now this changed the significance of Pushpagiri as this script directly refers to Ashoka the great ruler who was known to have constructed several Stupas during his lifetime.
It is very much logically possible for Hiuen Tsang to have visited this place considering the significance of its relation with Ashoka. During his trip around Odra, he had visited ten stupas that were built by Ashoka.
Location of Pushpagiri Langudi Hill
Excavation of Langudi Hill
ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) has concentrated more on Lalitgiri, Ratnagiri and, Udayagiri considering the vast amount of visible artifacts found in this location and are still planning to extend the exvacation at Udayagiri. Very little has been excavated at Langudi Hill and the vast size of the hill will take a significant amount of effort and resources if it was to be excavated in detail. Around two years back a team from ASI restarted excavation at the top of the hill and reminisce of those activities can be still be seen on top.
What to see at Langudi Hill (Pushpagiri)
Langudi is a fairly large hill and luckily there is only a single entry point to this archaeological site. Once you enter the site you climb uphill first and then take left (walk northwards) towards the remains of the foundation of the large stupa. Nothing much remains of the stupa except for the main foundation and the broken staircase. The material used in the construction of the stupa was mainly laterite stones and terracotta bricks.
From the remains of the stupa walk east around 50 meters and you will come across a series of rock-cut small votive stupas. One side of the hill has these small stupas in various sizes, some carved into the hillside with only one side visible with some have three dimensional shaped structured.
On the south side of the hill which can roughly correspond to the hilltop facing the stupa, you will find rock-cut sculptures of Buddha and Tara in various states. Similar to that of the votive stupas you will find the figures of Buddha carved into the hillside.
Some of the formations or mudras in which you can see here are Dhyani Buddha (Samadhi Mudra), Tara, and four armed Prajnaparamita, Avalokitesvara, Buddha in Bhusparsa Mudra, etc.
If you climb to the northeast section of the hill you will be able to see the excavated sections by ASI. You can see stone foundations that have been dug out indicating that once there were bigger structures on top of the hill. Pushpagiri had a monastery (Vihara) attached to it, while we can only see the foundation of the stupa the main Vihara of the monastery must have been somewhere around the hill.
Apart from these one interesting thing to note out here are the scattered stone bricks all around the hilltop. This indicates that either these scattered pieces were part of the main stupa or there must have been other structures around the hill that do not exist anymore.
You can easily plan to visit Langudi (Pushpagiri) along with a trip to Lalitgiri, Ratnagiri, and, Udayagiri it’s very near to the Udayagiri excavation site.
No tickets are required for entry to this site.
There are no guides around here thus I would suggest you take a copy of the location of the map on your mobile for easy navigation.
This particular site is completely desolate thus I would recommend visiting only during daytime and avoid late afternoon to evening time.
Carry water bottles as the climb to the top especially during hotter months can be a bit of a workout.
There is a caretaker at this site and you can request him to unofficially show you the archaeological site. Do remember to tip him later as a thank you gesture.
This place is not equipped for tourists with special needs.
When I was there I could not see a properly functioning toilet thus plan accordingly.
Excavations at Udayagiri-2, 1997-2000 by Bimal Bandyopadhyay