Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Hill Of Jewels

Ratanagiri is the biggest and highest of three hills, the others being Lalitagiri and Udayagiri, situated some 50 miles from Bhubaneswar in Orissa. Each of these hills has extensive Buddhist ruins on them. Major excavations of the ruins were carried out by Debala Mitra in the late 50s and her Ratanagiri remains the definitive account of the place’s history, architecture, sculpture and inscriptions. She uncovered several large stupas, hundreds of smaller ones, one main monastery and several smaller ones as well as dozens of fine Buddha and bodhisattva images. It is thought that the Kalacakra Tantra was composed in Ratanagiri and it was likely to be the last functioning Buddhist centre in India.

I spent two days exploring the Ratanagiri/Lalitagiri/Udayagiri ruins in 1989 and was fascinated by the place. It was very remote in those days and getting there required wading across the nearby river. A nearby village family put me up for the night. The tourist boom in India has now stimulated the authorities to do further excavations, build a nearby museum and construct better access roads. But the three hills are still rarely visited. A friend of mine in Vienna, Herbert Lotz, has recently returned from Ratanagiri and sent me some photos he took while there, which I reproduce with his permission. His other photos can be seen at


There are more photos of Ratanagiri at



Jeffrey Kotyk said...

The crimson bricks and statues remind me of Nalanda University up in Bihar, though this site is much better preserved and it looks like none of the statues got beheaded.

Do you know why the site was abandoned? It doesn't visibly appear that some military force destroyed the place like Nalanda.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Jeffrey,
It has been years since I read the archaeological report but as I recall Ratanagiri ceased to be a centre of Buddhism around the beginning of the 13th century. The evidence suggests that it was not violently destroyed for as you point out; almost none of the images were defaced. Probably what happened there was similar to what had been happening in other places in the previous centuries. The monks gradually became more purveyors of magic and protective rituals and became indistinguishable from the local Brahmin priests, took wives and slowly evolved into landed farmers. Within two or three generations the distinctive Dhamma was lost, upkeep of large establishments became too expensive, and the place was abandoned.

Ruth Cornelius said...

Dear Shravasti Dhammika,

I have been reading your blog with great interest! I was wondering if I may seek your opinion on a couple of matters? I am writing a dissertation on the eight requisites (the list I am using lists them as the three robes, the alms bowl, the razor, water-strainer, belt and needle). You may have noticed that ther is very little written on these matters (apart from the robes and some on the bowl) in comparison with other areas of Buddhism. I am seeking to explore their relevance to the modern monk and I was wondering if at all pissible (as I know you must be busy!), if you would be at all able and happy to comment on these suc items? Your use of them (if at all) and whether you conside them to still be relevant and necessary tdoday lie they were 2500 years ago.
Best wishes,
Ruth Cornlius (University of Bristol student).

Richard said...

These pictures are really beautiful. The weathered stone is a strong visual reminder of the long history of Buddhism. thank you very much for posting these.