Ashoka stupa found in Orissa

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Debi Patnaik in Bhubaneswar

An Ashoka stupa has been discovered atop the Langudi hill, an ancient Buddhist site in coastal Orissa, along with an inscription referring to the great Mauryan emperor Ashoka.

Archaeologists have described the discovery as unique as no inscription in the name of Emperor Ashoka or stupa has ever been discovered at any Buddhist site in the state.

The stupa, encircled by a laterite wall and covered with burnt bricks, was unearthed during excavation by the Orissa Institute of Maritime and South East Asian studies under the supervision of its secretary archaeologist Debraj Pradhan.

The hill, near Jaraka in Jajpur district, has been identified as Puspagiri Mahavihar, one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries mentioned by Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang who visited Odra (Orissa) in 639 AD.

He had detailed 10 Ashoka stupas in Odra where Buddha had preached. This is the first such stupa to be unearthed.

According to Pradhan, along with the stupa, a parasol of the Mauryan era, uncarved suchi (cross-bar), pillars, northern black polished ware and fragmentary inscriptions were also discovered at the site.

The stupa could date back to the third century BC, which will make it one of the earliest in eastern India.

Pradhan said Hiuen Tsang's statement has now been corroborated by the discovery. Though earlier excavations at important Buddhist sites such as Lalitgiri, Udayagiri and Ratnagiri revealed remnants of several monasteries with seals and stupas, the archaeologists had not come across any Ashoka stupas.

Ashokan stupas have been discovered at Sanchi near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, Bodh Gaya (Bihar), Piparbha and Sravasti (Uttar Pradesh).

The stupa at Langudi hill is rectangular, with a diameter of 60 feet and uniform brick size. The excavations also led to the discovery of another important stone inscription in the name of Ashoka. The great Mauryan emperor, after his conversion to Buddhism, had set up thousands of stone inscriptions and rock edicts throughout his kingdom.

In almost all inscriptions, he had declared himself as 'Devanam Piya Piyadasi' (beloved servant of god) instead of Ashoka, except in some places like Maski in Karnataka and Gujjara in Madhya Pradesh. Even in Dhauli and Jaugarah in Orissa, Ashokan inscriptions have been discovered, but these do not carry his name.

Pradhan said the inscription discovered from the hill was in the Brahmi script and could be described as having "immense archaeological value".

The inscription, deciphered by Prof B N Mukharjee of Calcutta University, says the stupa may have been built by a lay Buddhist worshipper called Ashoka and the accumulated height of Ashoka may be the height of the stupa or any other religious object dedicated to the stupa.

Ashoka has been credited with the construction of 84,000 stupas. Pradhan said at least 10 terracota seals were discovered, but these were yet to be deciphered.

The archaeologist claimed that the stupa discovered from the hill was undoubtedly the creation of Emperor Ashoka. It could also be presumed that the sramanas or bhikhus of Langudi hill may have been responsible for the conversion of Chanda Ashoka to Dharma Ashoka or from Digvijaya to Dharmavijaya.

The hill, Pradhan said, has assumed great significance with the discovery of Puspagiri Mahavihara, terracotta Buddha images and rock-cut architecture. The latest discoveries have enhanced its position as a site of an important Buddhist monastery of the early Christian era.

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