Odisha , when I was a child was known as Orissa and the sea side holy town of Puri was a favourite destination. The great train bringing us from Calcutta, now Kolkata, would go through all the various places that became so familiar like Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. But that was a long time ago and so I was glad to make a return in early 2018.
We arrived by plane at the very nice Bhubaneswar international airport that is named in honour of Odisha’s great Freedom Fighter Biju Patnaik. We had travelled from the extreme west of India in Kerala, but I think most people would add Odisha to a visit to West Bengal and therefore arrive from Kolkata. Many Buddhists arrive from other Asian countries as the Buddhist Trail is important to them and India has much that reveres the Buddha and his wise teachings. To be clear, the Buddha did not actually ever visit ancient Kalinga but as I tell you the story you will understand why it became so important.
After the attempted take over of India by Alexander the Great the Mauryan Empire arose. But let us travel back even further in time to The Indus Valley Civilisation from 5500 BCE to 1500 BCE – Most people were farmers who grew barley, wheat, peas and kept cattle. The Cities were surrounded by walled fortresses with checkerboard pattern streets; sections for homes and public buildings with sanitation. Trade for the Indus people was vital. They traded with Persia, Mesopotamia, and China. The Arabian Gulf region, central parts of Asia, areas in Afghanistan and north western India.
Terracotta pots, beads, gold, silver, coloured gems like turquoise and lapis lazuli, metals, flints, seashells and pearls. It is thought they also traded cotton as cultivation had begun in India in 5,500 BCE. Because of the rivers changing course, and probably because the Trade Routes changed to more direct paths, the civilization disappeared & migrated east to the areas around the Gangetic plain.
Trade continued, but it is when Alexander the Great and his attempted conquest of all north India that it is documented once again. Alexander after initial victories retreated. Greeks however remained in north west India and established the Indo Greek states, but this was the advent of the great Mauryan Empire.
This was India’s first great empire and it followed the decline of that established by Alexander the Great in the north in 326 BCE; he died in 323 BCE. In 322 BCE Chandragupta Maurya seized Magadha in the Ganges valley and over the next 24 years conquered northern India and founded the Mauryan Dynasty which lasted till 232BCE; it encompassed the whole of the subcontinent except the extreme south. Chandragupta was a successful administrator and a military leader. Seleucus Alexander’s general had inherited the fragmenting empire upon his death but the account of Megasthenes, his ambassador to the Mauryan kingdom details the life of the court at Pataliputra (modern day Patna in Bihar). Megasthenes reported that there were no famines. Crop rotation, irrigation, foreign trade and a simple form of sewerage system were practised.
Following on Chandragupta’s death in 297 BCE the empire was expanded southward into the Deccan Peninsula, but it was Ashoka 269-232 BCE, his grandson the most revered of all Indian rulers, who became more committed to peace than war once he espoused the ideas of Buddhism after his terrible cruel defeat of the Kalingas in what is now Odisha in 261 BCE. He killed 100,000 people at least and enslaved a further 150,000, but then was covered in remorse and became a devout Buddhist and espoused the cause of non-violence – Ahimsa and of Dharma, doing what is right doing one’s duty. Throughout the empire Ashoka had his edicts carved on rocks and pillars and they remain today as the oldest surviving Indian documents. Ashoka had become a devout Buddhist, but he did not persecute Hindus and preached tolerance of others’ beliefs. He sent Buddhist missionaries to the Himalayan regions, the south (what is now Tamil Nadu), Lanka (Sri Lanka) and Burma and as far away as Greece and Macedonia. The lion on the capital of one of his pillars was adopted as the national seal of India in 1947 when India became independent of the British rule.
The Mauryan Empire collapsed almost immediately upon Ashoka’s death in 232 BCE. The Shanti Stupa at Dhauli was built as a peace pagoda jointly by the Japan Buddha Sangha and the Kalinga Nippon buddha Sangha. It is modern of course, but beautiful and depicts the life of the Buddha and the Son et Lumiere is very powerful which we watched on our first evening. In daylight I returned to see the famous Rock Edicts of the Emperor and photograph the stone which is semi carved like an elephant; I had come across the famous rock on the Girnar Mount in modern day Gujarat in 2012 and it was Colonel James Tod of Rajputana fame who had discovered that and painstakingly drawn the carved script for the record in 1822. A group of young men including Lieutenant Kittoe who found the one here at Dhauli, and James Prinsep – famous in Kolkata for his good deeds there – and James Tod in the 19th century were determined to uncover the ancient history of India about which they were convinced there must be some written documentation – it was the rock edicts of Ashoka that proved their theories right – the edicts are written in the Brahmi script. To this day Ashoka’s Edicts are watchwords for living a good dutiful constructive life…his espoused belief of Ahimsa and Dharma are evergreen to this day, and most probably influenced Gandhiji in his quest for India’s freedom in the 20th century.
Dhauli Peace Pagoda (Image Credit:- Wikipedia & Aline Dobbie)
Bhubaneswar is the capital of Odisha though in the ancient past and right up until 1948 Cuttack was the capital. Bhubaneswar is famous for its hundreds of temples; at one time it was reputed to have about 500 but now 50 temples are spoken about and we had the pleasure of visiting some of the most famous.
The modern city of Bhubaneswar was laid out in the early 1970s by a German architect Otto Konigsberger. I was so impressed; because you see in my childhood there was merely the old original city but this newish one has gracious avenues, trees, beautiful buildings and, for an Indian city I have to say is quite clean….cleanliness is so important for foreign tourists and travellers.
Modern City of Bhubaneswar (Image Credit:- Aline Dobbie)
We were so warmly greeted by representatives of the Swosti Group of Hotels at the airport with armfuls of roses and then driven to their very nice Swosti Premium Hotel in an elegant part of the city. The welcome was so warm and gracious with a lovely suite and after enjoying the sound and light show at Dhauli we were given the most sumptuous delicious Thai meal. That had been my own choice. The Swosti Group have two hotels in the capital and then a number throughout the State. There is a good ethos in this group of which I approved – I miss very little, so this keen eye takes in all aspects of a hotel or resort!
Hotel Swosti Premium, Bhubaneswar. (Image Credit- Aline Dobbie)
On a Sunday morning there is an activity called Ekamra Walks which is a weekly heritage walk for visitors to explore the heritage trails of the city. We went to the wonderful Mukteswar Temple just as the sun rose to learn about this temple and others close by. It is a good time of day to walk and comparatively quiet at that hour on a Sunday morning – we went back to the hotel for a well-earned breakfast. We managed to see the famous 11thcentury Lingaraj Temple which is perhaps Bhubaneswar’s largest ancient temple complex, plus the Raja-Rani Temple and one or two others on another morning. They are all stunning in their own ways and I have some lovely photographs of them all.
We asked to visit the Botanic Gardens and were somewhat dismayed to see the huge queues on a Sunday but of course that is entirely natural; to our amusement it is the custom to bring almost one’s whole kitchen to designated camp sites to then have a huge family outing with curry and rice being cooked, one family had brought their little puppy too.
Of course, one understands, these folk are perhaps cooped up in small flats for their home lives and on a Sunday, there is a chance to go out to a beautiful place and spend the day in the fresh air and have good family time,
but we then went and enjoyed the adjacent Butterfly Garden which is well maintained and a delight.
(Penned By:- Aline Dobbie , International Travel Blogger & Author)
Read Her Stories @ http://www.thepeacockscall.co.uk/