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Uddiayana Was Odisha

Updated: December 22, 2012 1:03 pm

Buddhism was prevalent in Odisha long before the invasion of Emperor Asoka. The Kalinga War which was more or less responsible for the conversion of Asoka from Chandasoka (the violent and cruel one) to Dharmasoka (the virtuous one) was one of the phenomenal turning points in the history of Buddhism.

Odisha has been the cradle of the many branches of Buddhism since ancient times. The propagators of the Vajrayana, Kalachakrayana and Sahajayana forms of Buddhism were Indrabhuti, Pitopada and Laxmikara, who were all natives of Odisha. Historians and scholars over the years have been crying themselves hoarse about the importance of Odisha in the spread of Buddhism in Asia. The romance and glory of the Asoka’s Kalinga War has overshadowed other serious facts and facets about Buddhism in Odisha.

There has been a considerable confusion about the identity of Buddhist saints, scholars and place names in the ancient Buddhist texts and lores. Scholars have variously made suitable interpretations as per their own needs, to establish theories, which they wanted to propagate.

That Guru Padmasambhava came from Uddiyana is a fact that is accepted by all schools of Buddhism. Padmasambhava is the most venerated name among the Buddhist in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Japan and is also regarded as the second Buddha. But the very place and occurrence of Uddiyana has been the bane of experts for the last two centuries. The general belief was that it was in the Swat valley in Gilgit, but places in Assam, Odisha & Bengal too were identified.

Many eminent historians over the years have opined that there are several arguments and reasons to believe that Odisha is Uddiyana mentioned in the ancient texts. They believe that Padmasambhava was actually born in Odisha. The recent and older archaeological excavations in Odisha support the fact that it was the most important place for Buddhism in the early days. The excavations at Lalitagiri, Ratnagiri and Udayagari have all yielded rich finds including the relic of the Holy Buddha. Many discoveries are being made every year, and experts agree that Odisha is a repository of Buddhist artifacts waiting to be discovered. Archaeology has not as yet fully located and uncovered many of the ancient sites which find mention in the old Buddhist texts.

The earliest reference of the ancient Kingdom of Uddiyana is found in the writings of Hiuen Tsang, who visited India in 630 AD. He gave a brief but clear description of the Kingdom’s geography, culture and people. At the time of his visit almost all the people of the state were Buddhist and there were hundreds of Boudha Viharas. Uddiyana is a land, said Hiuen Tsiang, that is rich in gold and iron and other profitable minerals. Throughout the year the temperature is never too hot or cold. It is thus, he said, a most agreeable land. The hillsides are covered with dense forests and the valleys are rich in flowers. He described the sprawling University of Puspagiri and the many stupas and monasteries that existed. The people are appreciative of fine culture, and they are all real lovers of learning.

In this book, the author has tried to reconstruct as best as he could, using whatever evidence the modern archaeology has thrown up, the fact that Uddiyana was indeed Odisha of yore, and the Guru Padmasambhava went forth from this hallowed land to spread the gospel of peace and brotherhood across the seas. They have cited many references and unfolded a true understanding of the lives of the ancient Gurus. Previous studies of the texts have remained meaningless and obscure, however now they have been given a historical meaning. For those of us familiar with the contours of contemporary scholarship, we know historicity has been challenged by the main stream of the academic community. Peeking out from the shadows, the mists of history and myth, this book points a way out in solving the unexplained origin of Padmasambhava and Uddiyana. In short, I strongly recommend this book for all readers who have an interest in Buddhism and its spread.

Author Bimalendu Mohanty is the former founder Vice Chancellor of the University of Culture, Bhubaneswar. He is a prolific scholar who has written many books on Buddhism in Odisha.

 By Anil Dhir

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