Baneswaranasi: A Lesser Known Buddhist Heritage Of Odisha

Until today it is well accepted that Odisha, once upon a time was the cradle land of Buddhism, This is the very land from which different branches of Buddhism such as Mahayana, Vajrayana, Kalachakrayana & Sahajayana originated and propagated all over the world. Buddhism has its sway over whole ancient Odisha since Lord Buddha's lifetime itself up to the end of 16th CE and then it gradually declined from this land leaving its solid footprints at every nook & corner. The viharas once which were active centers of learning and monastic activities became deserted and within next couple of centuries also erased from the memories of this state's inhabitants. Such was the apathy that even till date the things are shrouded in mystery and the curtains of dark clouds are yet to be fully raised. Baneswaranasi can be well certified as one among the lesser known heritage of Odisha.

Since last part of the 19th century the Buddhist heritages started coming to limelight when the British enthusiasts started taking interest in them. Hundreds of scattered chaityas, monasteries, viharas, relics etc all over Odisha are unearthed and research papers also published on them. The notable among them are, Ratnagiri, Udayagiri, Lalitagiri, Langudi, Vajragiri, Kolanagiri, Solamapur, Aragada, Kuruma and many more. Among them are also some lesser known sites which still away from limelight and awaiting excavation. One such site is Baneswaranāsi of Cuttack district which is our topic of discussion.

This site situates around 95 km from Bhubaneswar in the Narasingpur block of Cuttack district in the vicinity of Pādamalā village. Few people know about this site and those who are aware, know it as a Hindu place of worship. Situated on the top of a small hill on the banks of river Mahanadi and the vegetation around yields this site the most picturesque look. From the base of the hill one cannot assume that the hill top with the magnificent temple could be so enticing. A new temple is constructed over the ruins of an old site with the help of old relics. The old temple can be ascribed to the period between 7th to 9th AD i.e. during the Bhaumakara period from its architectural style.

Though at present Lord Shiva(Baneswara) is the presiding deity at this place but it is evident from all the Buddhist relics found here that once upon a time it was a flourishing Buddhist site of which the exact period is unknown as the excavation of this site is yet to be done. The base of this hillock is lined with ancient brick structures, numerous broken bricks and brick built Buddhist edifices erected during 10/11th AD or earlier. It is quite visible from the shape of the hill that some ancient architectural heritages are still buried inside the layers of the earth here. There are remains of stone and brick temples on the eastern side. The Archeological Survey of India has recently demarcated the whole area with raising the boundary of iron railings around this site for the purpose of safeguarding.

Large scale of images belonging to both Buddhist and Hindu pantheon have been discovered from this place many of which are shifted to other places and many are lost into oblivion. Once the site was denuded with numerous brickbats, Stupa relics and exquisite edifices, the traces of which are still visible. Again as per the common practice many Buddhist images are Hinduised and being worshipped by the locals in the vicinity under the pseudonyms of Bhattarikā, Mahākāli, Rāmachandi, Badarāulia etc. One such image is of Simhanada Abalokiteswar, worshipped as goddess Sumāisuni in the locality who is propitiated with animal sacrifice.

Among all the Buddhist images found here three of them need special mention. Two of these are shifted to the State museum Bhubaneswar. One is the image of Buddha in Bhumisparsha Mudra. Here Buddha's head rests on a tree foil arch & below the top vidyadhara image on both sides the four gods Indra, Brahma, Vishnu & Shiva are portrayed. On the right side they are represented in an attacking position as if trying to disrupt the meditation. Whereas on the left side they are standing in anjali mudra as if paying obeisance to Buddha.

The other image is an excellent imposing image of two armed Kharsapana Lokeswara who is sitting in lalitasana with his right hand resting on his knee in varada mudra and the raised left hand(broken) holding the stalk of a full-blown lotus. He is depicted sitting in the crest of mount potālaka on top of which five dhyani Buddhas are resting. Lokeswar is flanked by Tara and Bhrukuti on both side while Sūcimukha, Sūdhanakumara and Hayagriva are depicted on the pedestal. The image is exquisitely carved and bedecked with fine jewellery. The crudeness visible in carving of both the images shows that they belong to Bhauma period when the plasticity in architecture was awaiting for development.

The third one is a rare engaging image of Prajnāparamita, now being worshipped at the location in a small shrine behind the Padmeswara temple. She is sitting in Vajraparyankasana, the hands were originally in vyākhyāna mudra which are wrongly restored to anjali mudra. A full blown lotus is carved spiraling through her left arm which holds the book "Prajnaparamita sutra" on top of the petals. She is flanked by two female attendants on each side and her magnificently carved crown is framed against an ornate trefoil shaped arch with a kirttimukha at the top and two seated boddhisattvas at each end. Stylistically this image belongs to a later period (10/11th CE) than the above two images.

Besides two images of Khadiravani Tara have been shifted to Patna Museum from this place. The vicinity also culturally rich with traces of fading Buddhism all around. The sites like Champeswara, Maniabandha and Bhattarika are most famous among them. The goddess Bhattarika is none other than goddess Tara who is worshipped as consort of Buddha Bhattaraka.

The Padmeswara temple is a live temple and also holds fine specimen of Hindu art. Though the Temple is unfinished, still whatever it has is astounding piece of Kalingan architecture. A large shivalinga is placed inside the temple with Shiva's family members as parswa devatas. Ganesh, Karttikeya and Parvati adorns niches of the outside temple wall. The images of Karttikeya and Parvati are somewhat similar and their standing position is awkward. A beautiful stele depicting Lord Shiva and sage Markendaya story is found lying in front of the temple. It's an architectural piece of its kind.

Deserted by the original inhabitants Baneswaranasi still stands tall till this date. Amidst the greenery of the hillock, on the banks of picturesque Mahanadi this place is a classic example of conversion of Buddhist sites into Hindu places of worship. A thorough and proper excavation would help in establishing the unanswered questions and some ancient links may come to limelight.

REFERENCES:Various Sources

IMAGE REFERENCES:The photos uploaded to the website are collected from various internet sources. ODISHA Tales doesn't own any photos.Thanks to Everyone who clicked these photos.

DISCLAIMER:Testimonials appearing on this site are actually received via text, audio, video submission and some are translated by volunteers. They are individual experiences, reflecting real life experiences of those who have used the website to bring the information for public view. However, there are individual and subgroup findings and that may vary. We are open to receive your input to improve our website. ODISHA Tales is humbled to host the contents. However, respective authors retain the copyright of their own articles. ODISHA Tales bears no responsibility regarding the copyright claims.
Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form