Samten de Wet

24th July 2016

Very little is known or said about the roots of Tantra [or Vajrayana] in Orissa, and thus here follows a short digest of material that may help with further study:

 Thomas Eugene Donaldson:

 “(6) There is also a complex mandala incised on the back of an image of Jambhala at Ratnagiri which can be dated to the 9th-10th century. The diagram contains two concentric circles at the center, an eight-petalled lotus, and two more larger concentric circles, the ensemble including the mantra of Jambhala at the center and the name of his sakti (Vasudhara) in the second circle, the names of his eight yaksa companions on the lotus petals, while the names on the petals of the outer circle include four dance deities, four pujopakaranas (puja materials personified), four deified instruments, etc. (Mitra 1981, 1983: I, 229-32).”

 Thomas Eugene Donaldson,  Probable Textual Sources for the Buddhist Sculptural Maṇḍalas of Orissa, East and West, Vol. 45, No. 1/4 (December 1995), pp. 173-204

 This Mandala of  Jambhala is described in greater detail at this site, including the 8 Mantras of Jambhala on the Mandala.  HERE   . 

Dr Umakanta Mishra:

 “There are at least 120 archaeological Buddhist sites in Odisha, some of which, such as Lalitgiri and Udayagiri and Langudi, continued uninterruptedly for more than a millennium. These sites contain temples, viharas, caityas, votive stupas, mantras, dharanis and most importantly, gods, goddesses, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, so rich and varied that have few parallel in any other region of India.

    Literary and archaeological data point out that Odisha was one of the earliest centres of Vajrayana Buddhism from which the Buddhist mandalas, mandala art and architecture spread to Tibet, Java, China and Japan. There is much evidence to make the claim that the earliest archaeological evidence of Tibetan and Shingon Buddhism is found from Odisha.

   However, Odisha hardly figures in the standard books on Buddhist India. These books either refer to Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, Sanci, Nalanda and other sites associated with Buddha’s life or refer to early excavated sites of Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda and Kanheri, Karle, Bhaja in Western Deccan. Or else these books highlight sites such as Odantapuri, Vikramasila and Somapura mahavihara of the Vajrayana times.

 Dr Umakanta Mishra, Odisha: Cradle of Vajrayana Buddhism. In: The Souvenir of the Indian History Congress, 74th Session, Ravenshaw University, Cuttack 28-30 December 2013, pp 79-87.   [Lecturer Department of History, Ravenshaw University, Cuttack . The article is ONLINE HERE   .   And this is the page of Dr. Mishra


“The  Buddhist establishment of Ratnagiri with its nucleus dating from about  5th century AD  or even earlier witnessed a phenomenal growth in religion, art and architecture till 13th century A.D.”


Thomas Eugene Donaldson, Orissan Images of Varahi, Oddiyana Marici, and Related Sow-Faced Goddesses, Artibus Asiae, Vol. 55, No. 1/2 (1995), pp. 155-182

At Rhanipur Jharial we find the 64 -Yogini Pitth, [Orissa, 8th cent. A.D. ] which as a circular Temple is a proto-mandala form.  See images at the site at the end of this quote:

  “The kernel of Tantricism that originated at Maraguda had fuller efflorescence at Ranipur-Jharial. The Tantric Vajrayana and Sahajayana which Indrabhuti and Laxmikara of ancient Sambala (modern Sambalpur) propounded, were very much popular in this region. However, Ranipur-Jharial witnessed great religious development during the time of the Somavansis who ruled over this tract in 8th/ 9th century A.D. Most of the existing monuments can be assigned to this period. When exactly, this place was deserted is difficult to say due to want of evidence.”  HERE   .   


 “Lalitgiri, one of the earliest Buddhist sites in Orissa, maintained a continuous cultural sequence starting from the post Mauryan period (322–185 BC) till 13th century AD.[2] It is also inferred that this site maintained a continuous of presence of Buddhism, unbroken, from 3rd century BC to 10th century AD.”

Lalitgiri. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


“ . . the Udayagiri Buddhist complex is later than Ratnagiri and Lalitagiri and the monasteries where probably flourishing well between 7th to 12th centuries A.D. Pag Sam Jon Zang, a Tibetan source, indicates that the institution at Ratnagiri played a significant role in the emergence of the Kalachakratantra during the 10th century A.D.”

 Meanwhile, Chitta Baral has written an article on recent excavations of Dr. Debala Mitra, which give ore details on the Buddhist culture of the area:

“Debala Mitra, the director general of Archaeological Survey of India during 1975-1983, who explored and excavated several Buddhist sites, wrote a two-volume book on Ratnagiri and another book titled Buddhist Monuments of India. In the latter book, she compared Ratnagiri with Nalanda and said the following: “... recent excavations of the top of the hillock brought to light imposing remains of one of the most important Buddhist establishments, reclaimed as Ratnagiri-mahavihara (and not Pushpagiri-vihara as presumed by some) on the basis of a number of sealings bearing the legend Sri-Ratnagiri-mahavihariy-aryabikshu-sanghasya. With its nucleus dating at least from about the fifth century A.D., the establishment witnessed a phenomenal growth in religion, art and architecture till the twelfth century A.D. It played a significant role in disseminating Buddhist culture and religion forming itself, like Nalanda, an important religious and philosophical academy, to which flocked the entrants and scholars to take lessons from the intellectual stalwarts of Buddhism.”

She backs up her claims with a multitude of evidence including references to Tibetan literature such as Taranatha in his History of Buddhism in India (completed in A.D. 1608) says that a vihara, called Ratnagiri, was built on the crest of a mountain in the kingdom of Odivisa (Orissa) in the reign of Buddhapaksha (identified with the Gupta Emperor Narasinghagupta Baladitya of the Gupta dynasty by N. Dutt). In this vihara were kept three sets of Mahayana and Hinayana sastra. There were eight great groups of dharma and 500 monks. According to the Pag Sam Jon Zang (completed in A.D. 1747), Acharya Bitoba went through magic to Sambhala where he obtained the Kalachakra-tantra, brought it to Ratnagiri and explained the doctrine to Abodhutipa, Bodhisri, and Naropa.

Addressing some concerns by researchers, Mitra had said that the veracity of the ancient Tibetan works is often questioned but its authenticity is established in the excavated remains, which are spectacular even in their ruins. The eminent historian had said that the excavation laid bare the remains of an imposing stupa (main stupa), rebuilt at least once, two magnificent quadrangular monasteries (monasteries 1 and 2), also rebuilt at least once, a single-winger monastery, eight temples, a large number of stupas, sculptures and architectural pieces, objects of daily use and hundreds of other evidences of what life was like in these sumptuous monasteries. Indeed, excavations have revealed that here was an establishment that can be compared with that of Nalanda. In the overwhelming number of portable monolithic stupas, Ratnagiri can compete even with Bodhgaya. The number of these antiquities is an adequate index of the profound popularity and sanctity of this centre in the Buddhist world.”

Chitta Baral, Unknown History, The Telegraph, Calcutta, India 23rd January 2012  ONLINE HERE: