Welcome to Udayagiri Jajpur Odisha, where you will find the ruins of a 1300-year-old Buddhist monastery. A place steeped in mystery, legend, and intrigue that still holds many of its secrets. These ancient ruins were an important part of Buddhist history and were once home to many monks.
Udayagiri means “Sunrise Hill” (Mountain of the rising sun). To this day, visitors are still drawn to the majesty and grandeur of this sacred site. Not only is the Mahavihara at Udayagiri Jajpur a great place to explore and discover the past, it’s also a place to enjoy the present and experience the beauty and tranquility of this unique setting. So come and explore, learn and be inspired. There is no end to the tales and wonders that await you at Udayagiri, Jajpur Odisha. Uncovering the beauty and mysteries of Udayagiri’s ancient Buddhist monastery was absolutely exciting.
We were on our first visit to Odisha to witness the grand Jajpur Mahotsav 2023 along with visits to some of the spectacular attractions, that make up Jajpur.
Ancient Buddhist Monastery in Udayagiri Jajpur Odisha
Udayagiri Buddhist Monastery at Jajpur is one of the three Buddhist monastery which form the Diamond Triangle of Odisha for the purpose of tourism and sometimes referred to as the Buddhist circuit. The other two are Lalitgiri in the district of Cuttack, the oldest and Ratnagiri, also in the district of Jajpur, the second oldest, which makes Udayagiri Odisha as the newest of the lot, only 1300 years old.
Nestled in the foothills of two Eastern Ghats mountain ranges, Udayagiri is the most beautiful, and most elusive of the three sites that make the Diamond Triangle. Often mistaken for her more famous cousins, the Udaygiri and Khandagiri Caves of Bhubaneswar, this gem of a site is also perhaps the least excavated and therefore the most mysterious.
Originally the site had been surveyed a bit by the British but serious excavations were started only after 37 years of Indian independence, as recent as 1985. However the work was intermittent and some work is still going on. First to be excavated was the big stupa and corresponding monastery and is called Udayagiri 1. The second major discovery with another complex of smaller stupas and a monastery and , ASI named it Udayagiri 2, excavated in late 1990s. Excavations were difficult considering the dense jungle which was almost impenetrable. Reminds me of the movies Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones.
Archaeological Excavations of this region have unearthed many rock cut inscriptions, some of them refer to this place, especially Udayagiri 1, as Madhavapura Mahavihara. These inscriptions also tell you that this was one of the biggest centre of Buddhist learning. Udayagiri Monastery complex is the largest of the three and also the youngest. It is also, perhaps, the best maintained.
Latest find, is a kitchen area, to one side of what ASI calls as Udayagiri 2. It looks like visitors are still not allowed there.
We have used the ASI’s zone classification along with ours and have come with 7 must-visit sites in the Udayagiri Jajpur Monastery Archaeological Complex.
Entrance of the Udayagiri Jajpur Mahavihara
There is a well marked board at the entrance which is unmissable and iron gates which were half closed. On entering we saw a single stone sculpture of a person wearing a large headgear which looked quite ancient. The decorated headgear means he must be someone important. The lotus in his hand, unraveled the mystery. He was Bodhisattva Padmapani or Avalokiteshvara or in simple words, embodiment of compassion. For more information on Bodhisattva click here.
This also could be the place where, once upon a time, a 7 foot Padmapani was found in two pieces.
We looked ahead and saw nothing but a beautiful vast area of green grass and trees, a brown dirt road that seemed to pierce it and a distant mountain. Nothing else! Ruins of Udayagiri Monastery were not visible at all. For a moment we thought is that it? However, having seen the teaser in the form Padmapani’s ancient sculpture, we knew there were going to be more. … and more there were. Much more than what we had envisaged!
Open-air Mini Museum!
There is no real museum building. ASI may build it later, though. However we saw a few more sculptures, some of them with intricate carvings and inscriptions, that we named it the open-air museum!
It is said, the place had so many scattered sculptures here at one point in time. The better ones had been taken by the erstwhile zamindar of Jajpur to his home and later by the government to the Patna Museum. (making a mental note to visit that sometime).
Udayagiri 1 – Madhavapura Mahavihara at Udayagiri Buddhist Monastery Complex
A series of excavations spreading over 4 years, from 1985 to 1989, exposed the big Stupa and the monastery a further west. From the various dating studies, it was found to be during the period of 8th century CE to 12th century CE. One of the most important discovery was the inscription saying this was Sri-Madhavapura-mahavihara-arya-bhikshu-sanghasa. In short Madhavapura Mahavihara.
Mahastupa at Madhavapura Mahavihara
The Mahastupa at Udayagiri 1, Madhavapura Mahavihara, was one of the first structures to be excavated fully and restored. It was just a mound of bricks. In fact there were many mounds of bricks along the way from the foot of the hill. For centuries, it is believed, that the local villagers had carried them away, along with small sculptures and other artifacts, to build and decorate their own homes. Except for the biggest mound of all. The villagers, who called the rice granary or Dhana Kandi, feared going near the big stupa as there were stories of the mound being cursed and accidents involving people who stole bricks or statues. Good for us!
As travelers, we would say we are lucky the villagers felt that way! From accounts of some of the archaeologists, they also felt blessed that the biggest Mahastupa had been left untouched except for the ravages of Nature.
The Mahastupa at Udayagiri Madhavpura Mahavihara has now been restored. The entire Mahastupa is on a raised platform accessible via 10 steps on the eastern side.
We climbed the steps to see that this brick structure has niches on its wall in all the four cardinal directions bearing different forms of Buddha. All of them behind a steel grills. With some difficulty we clicked a photo of the insides. On the eastern side is a seated Buddha in Padmasana sporting BhoomiSparsha Mudra. The right hand seems to touch the floor (bhoomi). The left hand is in Dhyana Mudra. Perhaps Buddha as Akshobhya is depicted here. It is said that this mudra represented the actual moment of enlightenment.
Two bodhisattvas, Manjusri and Padmapani (aka Avalokiteswara), accompany on either side and a couple of Gandharvas from the heavens showering flowers. The Stupa is not exactly hemispherical. The area between two niches are a bit extended, perhaps to provide more stability. There is some area around the stupa for circumambulation (Parikrama or Pradakshina).
Monastery of Madhavapura Mahavihara
Monastery at Madhavapura Mahavihara lies about 50 metres west of the Mahastupa. We could already make out that the monastery was in greater ruins than any other part we had seen till now. From this distance we could only see the plinth level foundation and room at the far end which was probably the sanctum sanctorum of the monastery.
Due to paucity of time we had to give it a miss. Wish we had that extra 30 minutes and we would not have missed this. See the photo below.
Udayagiri 2 – Simhaprastha Mahavihara at Udayagiri Jajpur
We took the right hand side trail while returning from Udayagiri 1 to reach Udayagiri 2. That is, the second part of the excavations was done as recently as 1997 – 2002 and two reports were published only in 2007 and 2012.
Although many mounds of brick rubble were found quite early in the 20th century, due to various factors that only bureaucrats can know, there was this great delay in excavation. The archaeologists had discovered a number of terracotta seals which identifies this second monastery as “Sri Simhaprastha Mahaviharaya Bhikshu Samghasya” or simply Simhaprastha Mahavihara. Most of the structures here again belong to the 8th century to 13th century CE. However, excavations have unearthed artifacts belonging to even 1st century BCE!
The artifacts found here indicated a strong Vajrayana sect of Buddhism in these parts. These include the unearthing of female bodhisattvas like Tara, Aparajita etc. Many beautiful artifacts and sculptures have been moved out of here. This had started more than 100 years ago itself.
The guide said , as per one account, the golden period of this Monastery was between 8th and 10th Century CE when Bhauma Karas ruled this region and fell to disuse after that.
Some of the artifacts that have been relocated to other places out of Udayagiri are as follows.
- Huge magnificent door frame from sanctum of Monastery 2 has been moved to the Ravenshaw College at Cuttack and then Patna Museum.
- There was an even more dramatic entrance to the Monastery complex, which is now in Patna Museum.
- An exquisite sculpture of ganga on her vehicle Makara (crocodile) is now in Patna museum.
- There was supposed to be a 8 armed Avalokiteswara. No one could tell us where it went!
- The Local Zamindar moved many sculptures and statues to decorate his residence, in Kendrapada, in the 19th century.
- An image of Vaisravana from near the temple is now in Patna Museum.
- I am sure many objects were stolen and sold to foreign collectors.
- Jatamukta Lokeswara found near the step well is now in Ravenshaw college, Cuttack
Complex of Stupas at Simhaprastha Mahavihara
We saw that Udayagiri 1 was laid out in multiple levels. First thing that caught our eye was a huge monolith lying on the ground, cut to an outline of a human. It seemed to me that people had to leave in a hurry, maybe.
On a terrace in line with the trail we could see many brick stupas, big and small. They may have been in the memory of some monks. Some of them may even contain pieces of their body or ashes in caskets. In the middle was a rectangular ruin which, if you have my imagination, could be an apsidal chaityagriha (prayer hall in the shape of an apse). A Hindu temple also exist here but could be of a much later period.
The second level had a flat stone floor with a few votive stupas and a huge circular foundation. Just above that was another empty ground, except for a few smaller votive stupas, with a single statue of a four-armed Avalokiteshwara. Three of the hands hold a water pot, a rosary and a lotus. The headgear has an image of Buddha, his master. As per ASI, there are inscriptions on its back that a big stupa with Buddha relic, was erected here with the blessings of Padmasambhava, Tara and other Buddhist gurus and deities. Maybe the circular foundation we saw before was this Stupa or was it the Mahastupa at Madhavapura Mahavihara which we saw earlier? Will we ever know?
Monastery of Simhaprastha Mahavihara
We climb to the next higher level and reach the Monastery of Simhaprastha Mahavihara. We notice a compound wall and a corridor around the monastery. Something not seen in Monastery 1. This was used for Parikrama or circumambulation of the monastery by pilgrims and monks. In each corner a huge niche was built where protective deities were installed.
The entrance was from the North side and sanctum was at the South side. There was a seated Buddha in Bhoomisparsha Mudra (looks like the most common mudra in this region). As per one of the books at ASI, the statue was supposed to of blue chlorite. It did not look like that to us or maybe it needed some acid-wash!
The sanctum sanctorum has no roof. Even the door frame look plain and new, unlike its corresponding one at Monastery 1. We came to know later that the door frame was transported to Cuttack and from there to Patna Museum.
The courtyard had stone floor and there was provision for drainage as well.
Rock-cut Step Well
We turned back and took the Northbound trail back to the open-air museum. Just before reaching the museum we saw a large terrace with a stone compound, measuring about 100 feet by 40 feet. In the middle was the walled rock-cut step well. It is dated much later at 10th to 11th century CE under the Somavamsi Rule.
The Rock-cut Step Well is located in the eastern slope of the Assia hill range and on the right bank of the river Birupa.
It was about 23 feet by 23 feet and 28 feet deep from the terrace. One had to descend 31 steps to reach the water level. We had read that there would be inscriptions in Nagari script near the bottom step that this was the well donated by Ranaka Vajranaga. I went down the steps to locate it but couldn’t. 🙁
The locals say that there is always water in this well. There is a temple nearby of a much later period. We did see a sadhu coming up from the well. Was he taking dip? The water did not look too clean for that. Would you?
Useful Information on Udayagiri Jajpur, Odisha
How to reach Udayagiri Monastery Complex
By Air – Bhubaneswar is well connected to all major airports of India. From the Biju Patnaik airport in Bhubaneswar to Udayagiri and other monasteries of the diamond triangle is around 90 KM and about 12 kms from Haridaspur chowk on N.H 5 (A) running from Chandikhol to Paradeep.
By Train – Jajpur has a railway station.
By Road – Jajpur is well connected to other cities of Odisha.
Where to stay Near Diamond Triangle Sites
We stayed in Jajati Courtyard at Jajpur road town, we were covering other parts of Jajpur too. Quite a decent hotel and the staff is courteous, helpful. There’s another good hotel named Brahmani. Check out below all the possibilities of stays as per your budget.
If doing the Diamond Triangle Buddhist Circuit is the one point agenda then there are good hotels near Udayagiri itself, which can serve as a base to cover Ratnagiri and Lalitgiri as well.
Tips when visiting the ancient Udayagiri Buddhist Monastery at Jajpur
- Carry plenty of water as it could become too hot because of the rocks and stones. A lot of greenery is planned in future.
- Cover yourself well because of the heat, especially in the afternoons. It was so hot when I visited, that my phone’s camera stopped working.
- Please do not take out artifacts from the grounds. It is illegal to do so.
FAQ on Udayagiri Jajpur Odisha
Where is Udayagiri Jajpur Located?
Udayagiri Jajpur Buddhish Monastery Complex is located about 30 KM from Jajpur City and about 60 KM from Jajpur Road Town.
How far is Udayagiri Jajpur Monastery from Bhubaneshwar and Cuttack?
Udayagairi Jajpur is about 90 KM from Biju Patnaik International Airport at Bhubaneshwar and about 60 KM from Cuttack railway station.
How Many Udayagiri are there in Odisha?
Udayagiri Jajpur Monsatery is not be confused with Udayagiri & Khandagiri caves near Bhubaneshwar. Udayagiri Jajpur is to do with Buddhism whereas Udayagiri caves is predominantly to do with Jainism.
Is there car and bike parking available at Udayagiri Monastery Site?
Yes ample parking is available which is free of cost at the time of writing
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