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Ancient Buddha statue found

- Tribals mistook idol for Hindu God

Bhubaneswar/Kendrapara, Jan. 1: The discovery of a four-feet high Buddha idol at a rock-cut cave in Kendrapara district has put the focus back on the contentious co-existence of Hinduism and Buddhism in the state centuries ago.

A team of researchers led by the principal of Derabish College, Harisha Chandra Prusty, were impressed by the beauty of the Buddha in dhyan mudra (meditative posture) as they reached the cave on the Parabhadi Hill on the border of Kendrapara and Jajpur.

The idol has been worshipped by the area’s tribal people as a Hindu deity, popularly known as Bhuyan, in what appears to be a case of mistaken identity.

Prusty, who undertook the expedition last week, said: “We found the rock-cut idol of Buddha in dhyan mudra facing southwards on a rectangular piece of rock inside a small cave around 18 foot deep. Buddha is seated on lotus petals in a meditative posture. The idol has striking resemblance to those unearthed and preserved at Buddhist heritage sites in Udayagiri and Langudi in Jajpur district.”

Well-known scholar and former superintendent of the state archaeology department Bijoy Kumar Rath felt the latest discovery could be traced back to the 9th Century.

“The Buddha idol might date back to the 9th Century when the Somavamshi dynasty ruled the then Kalinga empire. Buddhism flourished under the Bhaumakaras and the Somvamshis between the 7th and the 9th Century. Buddhism declined with the disintegration of these dynasties. But the rich archaeological treasures of the Buddhist culture are intact in the state.”

The hill where the discovery has been made is not far from the golden Buddhist triangle of Lalitgiri-Ratnagiri-Udayagiri, which the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the state government have been promoting vigorously.

The tribal people living around the place have been worshipping the idol as their presiding deity. But they scarcely realise that it is actually an idol of Buddha.

This is not an isolated example of a Buddhist image being confused with a Hindu deity in the belt comprising Jajpur, Kendrapara and Cuttack where Buddism found a fertile ground to flourish in the past.

Many believe that the region was the birthplace of Vajrayana, or esoteric Buddhism, which came into existence between the 6th and 7th Century BC, when Hinduism was still facing a threat.

Another classic example of a Buddhist deity being honoured as a Hindu divinity is Lord Loknath in an 18th Century temple at Paradipgada on the outskirts of Paradip. The local residents have been worshiping him as an incarnation of Shiva. Sources in the ASI here said such confusion was possible because the two religions had co-existed for a long time in history.

Tribal people, in particular, have hardly ever treated Buddhist divinities and culture as alien and this explains the worshipping of Buddhist divinities in many Hindu temples in Jajpur, Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur districts.

Hillocks such as Landa, Parahhadi-Hatikhai, Sukhuapada, Gangi, Olasuni and Parabhadi are veritable storehouses of Buddhist heritage. Prusty has called for protection of such places to ensure that the state’s priceless cultural heritage is not lost to posterity.