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RATNAGIRI
Ratnagiri or “Hill of Jewels", was once the site of a mahavihara, or major Buddhist monastery, in the Brahmani and Birupa river valley in Jajpur district of Odisha. It was part of the Puspagiri University, together with Lalitgiri and Udayagiri. Ratnagiri monastery, situated on a flat hill-top providing for a panoramic view of the surrounding, might have been chosen for the seclusion for the serene and calm atmosphere necessary for monastic life and meditation studies. The Buddhist site at Ratnagiri dates back to the 6th century AD and flourished unhindered there until 12th century AD. In the beginning, it was a center for Mahayana Buddhism. During the 8th and 9th centuries AD, it became a significant center for Tantric Buddhism. Subsequently, it played a notable role in the emergence of Kalachakra Tantra.

The Ratnagiri site was discovered in 1905 and excavations carried out between the years 1958 to 1961. Excavation conducted during 1960's yielded the remains of an impressive Stupa (Stupa 1) surrounded by a large number of votive Stupas of varying dimensions, two quadrangular monasteries (Monasteries 1 and 2), a single winged huge monastery with beautiful carved door jamb and lintel, spacious open courtyard, cells and verandah facing the courtyard with spacious sanctum enshrining a colossal seated Buddha sculpture, flanked by Padmapani and Vajrapani. The monastery known as Monastery 1, constructed in 8th-9th centuries AD, is the largest excavated monastery in Odisha. Its elaborately carved green doorway leads to 24 brick cells. The existence of temple with curvilinear tower is only one of its kinds discovered in Odisha.

The massive stone sculptures of Lord Buddha's head at Ratnagiri are particularly awe-inspiring. More than two dozen heads of various sizes, magnificently depicting the serene meditative expression of Buddha, were found during the excavations. They're considered to be fine works of art. A large number of clay sealing, found during excavations, bearing the legend Shri Ratnagiri Mahavihariya Arya Bhikshu Samghasya have helped in identifying the name of Ratnagiri monastery. Large number of stone sculptures, few bronze and brass image of Buddha and Buddhist pantheon recovered during excavations tend to prove that Ratnagiri was a great center of Buddhism comparable to that of Nalanda in Bihar.

The Archeological Museum of Ratnagiri is open on all days from 10am to 5pm except Friday.
UDAYGIRI
Udayagiri, "Sunrise Hill", is home to the largest Buddhist complex in Odisha. It consists of a brick stupa, two brick monasteries, a stepped stone well with inscriptions on it, and numerous rock-cut Buddhist sculptures. Chronologically, the Udayagiri Buddhist Complex is later than Ratnagiri and Lalitgiri, and the monasteries probably flourished between the 7th and the 12th centuries A.D. Although it was discovered in 1870, excavations didn't commence until 1985. They've been undertaken in two phases across two settlements around 200 meters apart -- Udayagiri 1 from 1985 to 1989, and Udayagiri 2 from 1997 to 2003. The remains indicate that the settlements were called "Madhavapura Mahavihara" and "Simhaprastha Mahavihara", respectively.

The stupa at Udayagiri 1 has four seated stone statues of Lord Buddha, enshrined and facing each direction. The monastery there is also impressive, with 18 cells and a shrine chamber that has an intricately carved ornamental facade. The excavation turned up many Buddhist images and stone sculptures of Buddhist divinities as well.

At Udayagiri 2, there's an extensive monastic complex with 13 cells and a towering statue of Buddha, seated in bhumisparsa mudra. Its vaulted arches are an architectural marvel from 8th-9th century AD. What's unique about this monastery is the path around its shrine, which isn't found in any other monastic settlements in Odisha.

Another attraction at Udayagiri is a gallery of Buddhist rock-cut images, overlooking the Birupa river (locally known as Solapuamaa) below. There are five images consisting of a standing life-size Boddhisattva, a standing Buddha, a goddess seated over a stupa, one more standing Boddhisattva, and a seated Boddhisattva.

The Udayagiri site promises additional treasures, as there's still more to excavate. The un-excavated area poses a mystery to archaeologists, art lovers and lay visitors alike with the prospects of the hidden treasures that lie buried. Adventure seekers will be thrilled by the ascent to the hilltop. The hilly, serpentine, all-weather approach road on the other side of Udayagiri is another added attraction.
LALITGIRI
Lalitgiri forms an important node of the Diamond Triangle ie Lalitgiri , Ratnagiri and Udayagiri. Well connected by excellent roads to Cuttack and Bhubaneswar, the ruins at Lalitagiri (in present Cuttack district), while not being as extensive as those at Ratnagiri and Udayagiri (in present Jajpur district), are notably for the earliest Buddhist Complex dating back to the 1st century AD. Recent excavations here have brought to light significant archaeological material that upholds Lalitgiri as a great centre of Buddhist attraction. Major excavations carried out from 1985 to 1992 unearthed evidence of it being continuously occupied from the 2nd century BC to the 13th century AD. The majestic ruins of the huge brick monastery, the remains of the chaitya hall, a number of votive stupas and a renovated stone stupa at the apex of a small rugged sandstone hill dominate the rural greenery around. The excavations found a stupa, an apsidal chaitya hall or chaityagriha, four monasteries, and numerous stone sculptures of Buddha and Buddhist divinities.

Undoubtedly, the most exciting discovery was three relic caskets (two containing small pieces of charred bone) inside the stupa at Lalitgiri. Buddhist literature says that after the death of the Buddha, his corporal remains were distributed amongst his disciples to be placed within stupas. Hence, the remains are presumed to have belonged to the Buddha himself, or one of his prominent disciples. The Odisha government intends to display the relic caskets in a museum at Lalitagiri in the future.

The apsidal chaitya hall unearthed at Lalitagiri is also the first of its kind in the context of Buddhism in Orissa (a Jain one was discovered in another location earlier). This rectangular prayer hall has a semi-circular end and contains a stupa at the center, although it's quite damaged. An inscription attributes the structure to the 2nd-3rd centuries AD.
Many of the Buddhist sculptures found during excavations are housed in a sculpture shed next to the monasteries. However, apparently, they make up less than 50% of the original treasures of the site. Some have sadly been lost, while others have been shifted to museums elsewhere.
 
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