Ancient Avalokitasvara idol found inside Shiva temple in Odisha
Representational Image

Bhubaneswar: An ancient idol of Avalokitasvara Padmapani, a god of the Buddhist pantheon, with inscriptions on its rear was found in Pipli block in Odisha’s Puri district recently, according to INTACH.

The nearly 10-inch high idol was found in the ‘garbagriha’ or sanctum sanctorum of the Rasmeswar Shiva temple at Bageswarpur village, said Anil Dhir, a member of Odisha unit of INTACH.

The temple priest had kept it for years on the ‘singhashan’ (throne) of the dieties and the idol was worshipped as ‘Dhyani Mahadeva’ (Mahadev or Shiva sitting in meditation), he said.

Such inscribed stone images of Avalokitasvara have been found in the Ratnagiri and Udayagiri sites too. Many of them are terracotta tablets, but a stone carved image as the one found in Puri district is a rarity, specially because it is one whose inscription is clear and has not eroded, Dhir, who is leading the exploration by INTACH, said.

In Buddhism, Avalokitasvara is a bodhisattva who contains the compassion of all Buddhas. He has 108 avatars, the most notable of which is Padmapa?i (the lotus bearer).
INTACH has written to Odisha State Museum to take an estampage of the inscription and keep a replica of the same in the Lalitgiri museum, he said.

An estampage of the statue for deciphering the script was also taken by INTACH, Dhir said. Estampage is stamping on clay or other material to obtain the exact replica of an inscription that cannot be transported.

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is considered as one of the world’s largest organisations involved in spreading awareness on heritage and conservation.

The Rameswar Mahadev temple and the script dates to the 8th-9th century CE when Buddhism flourished in the region under the Bhaumakara dynasty, many of whose rulers had adopted the religion. It has many intricate stone carvings on its outer walls, some with Buddhist iconography, another INTACH member Deepak Kumar Nayak said.

Nayak, who is claimed by the organisation to be the first to have recognised the idol, said the inscription is in Sanskrit in the Nagari (the prescursor of Devnagari) script.
The inscription is a portion of ‘Vinaya Pitaka’ one of the ‘Tripitaka’, the ancient Buddhist scripture, he said.

The inscription was deciphered as ‘Ye Dharma Hetu Prabhab Hetu, Teshantathagato Hyabada Teshascha, Yo Nirodha Ebam Vadi Mahashramanah’. Translated it means: ‘Tathagata has told about Dharma (deeds), its cause and effects and how to negate them, as mentioned by Mahashramanas’ (religious teachers), Nayak said.

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A four-member INTACH team, comprising Biswajit Mohanty and Bishnu Mohan Adhikari besides Dhir and Nayak have been surveying the monuments in the Daya and Ratnachira river valleys for the past one year. The idol was found during it.
Dhir said, the early river valley civilisations which were spread across Odisha have rich archaeological heritage. These civilisations came into being when early man began to move from a hunting and gathering existence to an agrarian one.

They gave up their nomadic existence and settled around the river valleys, as it was easy to grow crops for themselves and their animals. These ancient river civilisations set the foundation for later civilisations, which were replaced by modern ones. Odisha abounds in such river valley civilisations and proper archaeological and heritage studies should be undertaken, he added.

INTACH has completed a comprehensive survey of the heritage of the Prachi and Mahanadi Valleys too.

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