Where a king found peace

Where a king found peace

In Odisha

Where a king found peace
Many tourists go to Odisha to visit the Jagannath Temple of Puri, the Lingaraja Temple of Bhubaneshwar, and the Sun Temple of Konark. Though we visited these temples, my interest was in something else. I wanted to see Dhauli, the place where the Kalinga War was fought — in which the mighty Mauryan emperor Ashoka, after vanquishing the kingdom of Kalinga, adopted Buddhism.

From Bhubaneshwar airport we proceeded to Dhauli, located in the outskirts of the city, on the banks of River Daya. The Dhauli Hill is in the middle of a vast field, and as we climbed the hill, the beautiful white Vishwa Shanti Stupa came to our sight. Our guide told us that King Ashoka had great love for Dhauli, which made him build several chaityas and pillars here. However, the present stupa was built by the Japan Buddha Sangha in 1972.

The Vishwa Shanti Stupa, a symbol of peace, has five umbrellas representing the five aspects of Buddhism on it. Inside the hall is a lovely statue of the Buddha in a sitting position. There are a few other temples on this hill, the most prominent being the Shiva Temple, where Shivaratri is celebrated with gusto. As I looked at the fields below from the hill, images of the war came to mind.

On our way down, we stopped to see the rock edicts of King Ashoka. There are more than 10 edicts in Prakrit written in Brahmi script. In one edict, Ashoka expresses his concern for the welfare of his citizens. On the rock above the inscriptions is a sculpture of only the front  of an elephant, carved out of solid rock.

Cave residences
We next went to Udayagiri, also on the outskirts of Bhubaneshwar. Situated on two adjacent hills, Udayagiri and Khandagiri are mentioned as Kumari Parvat. Both have intricately carved caves built during the 2nd century BC. It’s believed that these caves were residences of Jain monks during the reign of King Kharavela. The two hills represent the earliest groups of Jain rock architecture. Udayagiri has 18 caves, of which Ranigumpha or ‘the queen’s palace’ is a two-storied monastery. It’s impressive for its fine carvings. Another cave, Ganeshagumpha, is important for its inscription recording the expeditions of King Kharavela. Most of the caves lie close to each other, and are reached by foot.

While visiting them, I was reminded of Badami, but these are bigger caves. Their sculptures and decorative art are significant. The Khandagiri caves are comparatively less decorated.

By the time we completed our visit, it was dark, so we halted at Bhubaneshwar. The next day we visited the Nandankanan Zoological Park, close by. This zoo is within a forest and has water bodies that help animals live in their natural habitat. Opened in 1979, this zoo, along with the botanical garden, has over 1,200 animals, and its pride of place is the fascinating white tiger. The zoo runs a white tiger safari, and I was happy to come face-to-face with a white tiger cub. The zoo also has a reptile park that has a huge Malayan python, and an aquarium.

Embracing divinity
The same afternoon we drove down to Puri’s beautiful beach to refresh ourselves. We were lucky to see the work of the local award-winning sand artiste Sudarshan Patnaik. After watching a lovely sunset, we headed to the magnificent Jagannath Temple, almost a 1,000 years old, with exquisite carvings. We visited the 8th century Govardhan Mutt that was established by Sri Shankaracharya. We headed to the former temple to partake of its famous maha prasad. Every day, 56 varieties of dishes are offered to the temple deities and later sold to people.

The next morning, we proceeded to see the famous Chilika Lake. Chilika is about 120 km away from Puri, towards Visakhapatnam. As a young boy travelling by train from Chennai to Kolkata, I had seen this huge lake — it covers an area of 1,100 sq km — and had desired to visit it. Since it gets a large number of migratory birds during winter, I had timed our visit then. From Barkul, as we boarded a boat to explore the lake, we saw an island. Our boatman said that the island is famous for its Kalijai Temple. As we sailed along, we watched a variety of birds. We also saw a unique sand wall that separates Chilika Lagoon from the Bay of Bengal. Chilika has many islands — Nalabana, Kalijai, Honeymoon, Breakfast, Somolo etc. We were lucky to see the famous Irrawaddy dolphins as well.