Asurgarh: History Untold

Since the Chalcolithic period, forts were being strategically constructed for protection of life and properties of the inhabitants. There is mention about fortification in the ancient texts like Arthshastra and Manasara . Many sites like Harappa & Mahenjodaro also had implemented fortification. As per Rig veda, “Durga” means a fort or a strong hold. There are innumerable references about forts and techniques of fortification in early Indian texts. Few of them also mention the forts as “Garh” which refer to human settlements having fortified townships.

Asurgarh is one such fortified townships believed to be an early urban center of ancient Odisha, during 4th century BC to 5th century AD. Literally meaning “Fort of Demons”, Asurgarh has resemblances to that of Sisupalgarh which is in modern-day Bhubaneswar. Forts being names Asurgarh are found in different parts of Western Odisha like Barpali, Rampur, Manamunda and Adgaon. Excavation was conducted only at Asurgarh near Manamunda in Sonepur district and near Narla in Kalahandi disctrict. 

Asurgarh of Kalahandi

The Asurgarh fort is located at about 20 K.Ms from Bhawanipatna, the district headquarters of Kalahandi. The nearest railway station is Rupra road on the Sambalpur-Vizag raliway route. Limited excavation was undertaken by Department of History, Sambalpur University and Department of Culture, Govt of Odisha in 1973. The excavation of the fort throws significant light on the history and culture of South Kosala and Mahakantara region.

Asurgarh fort was constructed as per the Kautilyan principle of Durgavidhana and ancient Indian geometrical formula. The fort is rectangular in shape and surrounded by massive defensive walls of about four meters in width and 15 to 50 meters in height. The walls are made of rubbles and mud with bricks. After the wall, a wide and deep mote girdles the fort on North, South and East sides. On the west side, river Sandol flows to close to the western rampart towards north to meet the river Utei (a tributary of Tel river) and thereby providing a natural boundary. On each side of the fort, there is an entrance. There is a shrine present near each gate: Goddess Ganga in east, Budharaja in North, Vaishnavi in South and Kalapata in West. The shrine of Goddess Dokari is present inside the fort. There is elevated ground in the central part of the fort as this is present in the ancient times at the time of palace foundation. Wide and deep mote girdles the fort on North, South and East side. On the Western side, River Sandul flows to the north to meet the river Utei which is a tributary of the river Tel and there by providing a natural boundary.

Close to the eastern ditch, there is a huge reservoir measuring 200 acres of land which is popularly known as Asursagar. It was so arranged that when the enemies surrounded the fort, a secret sluice might be opened so that the whole inside and outside of the fort would be flooded with water and consequently the hostile army washed away by the water currents. The fort would remain as an island if such a flood were created, because the fort was situated on a high level. It is presumed that the palace was constructed at the center of the fort. During 2nd half of the 19th century, Raja Udit Pratap Dev renovated the lake for agricultural purpose. The lake at present is known as Udit Sagar according to the name of Raja Udit Pratap Dev. There is a small tank on the southwest corner of the fort known as Radhasagar. The Habitation zone of the inhabitants is documented towards the south and north of the fort immediately after the fortified wall which is further superimposed by another mud wall within 100 hectares radius at each settlement zone. The mud wall has a single gate in the middle.

Historical Significance

From the 1st to 3rd century AD, Ancient Atavika land (comprised roughly the present districts of Koraput and Kalahandi in Orissa and Bastar of Madhya Pradesh) had commercial and socio-cultural relationship with the Chedi of Kalinga and Kushan Empire of the northwest. In the Amaravati stupa inscription the land is designated as Mahavana. The Asokan edicts also has mention about the Atavika people who were considered to be part of the Kalingan army which fought the battle of Kalinga in 261 BC. It was an important recruiting ground for the veteran army of Kalinga even as early as the time of the Mahabharata war. Asurgarh seems to be an important center of the Atavika territory. It was one of the ancient metropolis between 500 BC and 500 AD, contemporary to Sisupalgarh. Asurgarh – Narla served as the political – cultural and commercial hub of the Titilaka Janapada & Atavikas. The discovery of antiquities like Punch-marked coins, a piece of Chunar sandstone, Red, Black Slipped ware, Beads, etc., date back to Mauryan period. 539 silver coins belonging to the king of Kalahandi, were discovered from the site out of which 69 were from pre-Mauryan period, 272 were from Mauryan period and 198 were from the post-Mauryan rule to the Guptas. Such large group of Punch marked coins indicate that perhaps there was a Mint industry in Asurgarh. These finds indicate that Kalahandi region was civilized and prosperous in the days of Ashoka and the Atavika, who were regarded as forest dwellers, were not uncultured and had developed a high standard of civilization. There is similarity of some of the punched mark coins with those of Bijnor and Palia near Kausambi. Also there is similarity of texture and fabric of some pottery types with those found at Ahichhatra. This indicates that there was trade interaction of Asurgarh with prosperous towns like Kausambi and Ahichhatra in northern India during the days of the Maurya. The findings of red glazed Kushana pottery along with highly polished black wares, also indicate that there was cultural and commercial interaction between Kalahandi region and the Kushana Empire during the 1st- 2nd century A.D. Beads from Asurgarh must have played an important role in the trade network, because this region happens to be a rich gemstone deposit belt and it lies on a major trade route of ancient times connecting the eastern Indian site of Tosali with Kosala. Perhaps there was a bead manufacturing industry at Asurgarh. The most common materials are Carnelian, agate, crystal, glass, jasper, sapphire, quartz, ruby, garnet, stone and terrocota. Findings from the pre-historic Stone Age and Copper-Bronze Age have been found from Asurgarh. 

In 4th century A.D., the fort of Asurgarh appeared to have belonged to king Vyaghraraja of Mahakantara, to whom Samudragupta claimed to have defeated in course of his Southern campaign. The next important king known to have held sway over Asurgarh was Maharaja Tustikara, the donor of Terasingha copperplate grant. However the excavation indicates that the fort area was deserted in 5th-6th century A.D. and it is presumed that Tustikara was the last ruler of Asurgarh region. In 7th century A.D., Chinese pilgrim Yuan-chwang travelled through this area but has not mentioned about Mahakantara, so it is presumed that at this area had lost it’s importance by 7th century A.D. The discovery of charcoal, coal, bone and ashes indicate that the residence of the last dweller of this fort were destroyed due to the natural calamities or fire.

Asurgarh region flourished from 3 rd century B.C. to 6 t h century A.D. with such important features like: – fortified settlements, structural features (both religious and secular), a rich ceramic industry, terracotta, bead and mint industries. Thus the fort of Asurgarh bears testimony to the antiquity of an early urban center of ancient orissa.

Water Management System

People of ancient India had realised the importance of water (Jala) and they used the synonym Jivana (life) for it. The rise and fall of many civilisations rested on the proper management of water resources. As per the ancient literatures, those who had effective control over their water resources, did enjoy considerable social, economic and political powers. People used to dig dams, pond and reservoirs to preserve water for multiple purposes. Small and big ponds are invariably noticed in early historic towns and metropolises of Odisha. Two huge tanks have been identified in Western Odisha, one at Maraguda urban complex in Nuapara district and the other at Asurgarh urban center in Kalahandi district. Asursagar also known as Udit Sagar, covers an area of more than 200 acres of land. Its alignment is from east to west exactly corroborating the cardinal directions of tank as outlined by Varahamihira (6th century A.D.). The water of this tank had multiple utilization. In case of external aggession, the water could be channeled to fill up the encircling moat. Also in case of scanty rainfalls, the water preserved water could be utilized for agricultural purpose during scanty rainfall.

In close proximity to the Southern rampart and ditch of Asurgarh, a small pond was excavated, which is now a shallow land, yet the site still retains its original name known as Radhasagar. The excavation in this site revealed nude terracotta figurines (female fertility deities) and square plinth of the brick structure (identified as shrine). Besides domestic utility, small tanks had their religious bearing in ancient India. It was also known as Puskara (lotus pond) in Sanskrit. In the beginning such ponds were dug independently. Later on, however, temple structure was added or vice versa adjacent to the pond. Small pond was also needed for the consumption of the king and priest. Ancient Indian texts also speak about pond associated with the fertility rite. In Orissan context, finding of nude terracotta figures and temple structure in Asurgarh lend us to belief that ponds were imperative for fertility rites.

Asurgarh: Political-Commercial Site

Asurgarh was an important political and commercial center situated on the high road joining South Kosala and Mahakantra with Kalinga. According to late scholar Paramananda Acharya, it was situated on a short route through which salt and other commodities were transported from Mahamagiri to Dakshina Kosala. The discovery of terracotta ornaments, glass bangles, gems stones suggest the habitation of royal and aristocratic people during 4th and 5th century A.D.. The discovery of Terasingha copper plate of Maharaja Tustikara near the site is datable to 5th century A.D. The place of issue of the charter, Parvatadvaraka, which literally means “the gateway of the hill” represented the site under consideration. It served as a royal residence with proper fortification; free from external danger from the western side of Mahakantara region. The iron artifacts portray urban trend culture based on agricultural patterns.

Important Shakta center of ancient Odisha

There is legend about Asurgarh that there were 64 deities. The villagers worshiped a deity named Dokry as the guardian deity, which was inside the fort. Among the 64 deities, Goddess Ganga was in the East, Kalapata in the west, Vaishnavi in the North and Budharaja in the south. The third excavated site, which has been pointed out as a mound in a topographical map, is perhaps there was a temple. The important discovery is a spherical shaped sculpture made of brick. Late Dr. N. K. Sahu has identified a circled brick wall as a ruin of a Yogini temple; which may be compared with Yogini temple of Ranipur Jharial. Among the terracotta objects, includes animal figurines, goddess, a silver ambulate seal, silver ring and a large quantities of bones and skeletons. It may be possible that human sacrifice was prevailed during this period.

The discovery of Terasingha copper plate grant of Maharaja Tustikara (5th century A.D.) near Asurgarh indicates that Tustikara was perhaps the last ruler of Asurgarh region who was a great devotee of goddess Stambhesvari, who was responsible for the spread of Stambhesvari cult.

Tourist Information

By Air: Raipur (260km) in Chhatisgarh is the nearest airport. Other airports are Bhubaneswar (420km) and Vishakhapatnam (350km) respectively. Buses and private vehicles are available to reach Asurgarh.

By Train: Kesinga railway station connects Kalahandi with major cities of India. Buses and private vehicles are available to reach Asurgarh.

By Road: Bhawanipatna is the nearest major bus station which is connected by road with the railway station as well as the nearest airports. 

Acknowledgements:

  1. OHRJ, Vol. XLVII, No. 3 ASURGARH – AN EARLY URBAN CENTRE OF ORISSA by Prabhas Kumar Singh

  2. http://www.indiamapped.com/monuments-in-india/asurgarh-fort/
  3. http://www.nationalpubliclibrary.org/articles/eng/Asurgarh#History

 

 

Bali Harachandi: Tourist’s Delight

Bali Harachandi: Tourist’s Delight

Odisha is blessed with a vast coastline and several rivers get into the Bay of Bengal across it. There are many fantastic beaches which are delight for the tourists. After the Chandipur beach, my favourite is the Bali Harachandi beach. The main attraction of the latter is the vast secluded stretch of sea beach on one side with lush green cover on the other .

Bali Harachandi is situated at about 25km from the holy city of Puri, which is the nearest railhead. The nearest airport Bhubaneswar is at 60kms far but one can reach the easily by road. Located off the national highway no. 203, the place gets its name from the local deity Harachandi who is a form of Goddess Durga and “Bali” in the local language means Sand. As Goddess Harachandi is worshipped in a temple built on sand, the place is named as Bali Harachandi. Painted in pure white, the temple attracts devotees from nearby places who believe in Goddess Harachandi.

Facing towards the eastern direction, the temple houses the presiding deity is Asta-Bhuja (Eight-Armed) Mahisamardini Durga worshipped as Bali Harachandi. The latter is also regarded as goddess of water and navigation and believed to protect the boatmen and fishermen from potential danger in the sea. The temple is a protected monument of Odisha State Archaeology and under the Endowment Department, Government of Odisha.

Bali Harachandi Temple
The Bali Harachandi Temple
Bali Harachandi Temple
Entrance to Inner Sanctum (Garbha Gruha)

After paying obeisance at Goddess Baliharachandi temple, one can proceed to the confluence of river Bhargavi with the Bay of Bengal. The scenic beauty of this place is ideal for group picnic.

River Bhargavi
Enroute to the sea beach across River Bhargavi

A brief boat-ride enroute to the beach is enjoyable. After that one has to walk a few hundred meters to the beach where stretches of sand and greenery on one side, the mighty blue sea on the other side are truly mesmerizing experience. The sunrise and sunset scene on beach is amazing. Best part of this beach is that it’s secluded, hence one can have quiet sun bath here.

Baliharachandi Beach
Vast patch of the sandy beach
Baliharachandi beach, Odisha
Bali Harachandi beach on Bay of Bengal
Baliharachandi beach, Odisha
Bali Harachandi Beach

 

 

How to reach Bali Harachandi?

  • From Puri , drive on NH-203 towards Bramhagiri & Satapada, take left diversion at Kathuari Chowk and drive further about 5km to reach village Palanka. Bali Harachandi is just 1km from this village.

Podagada: History Untold

Introduction

About 52km away from Nabarangpur, a small town in the southern part of Odisha; there is a historical monument called “Podagada” (Ruined Fort). Apart from the sculptures, ruined fort temples & coins, the rock inscriptions in Brahmi at this place, speak about the Nala rulers who rose to prominence during 6th Century AD. In spite of being a rich source of history, Podagada monuments unfortunately haven’t come to limelight in terms of archaeological survey or development as a tourist spot. Well endowed by nature, the tribal dominated belt has potential for tourism sector.

Historical Significance

Two inscriptions point us towards the historical linkage of Podagada with the Nala dynasty. The kingdom of the Nala dynasty was established in Trikalinga region comprising parts of the modern districts of Bastar, Koraput and Kalahandi.

The copper plate inscriptions found in Kesaribera (or Kesaribeda) in Nabarangpur has mention about the Nala King Arthapati and was issued from Puskari (modern day Umerkote Tehsil of Nabarangpur district). As per the rock inscriptions at Podagada, the capital of Nala kingdom was at Puskari. It also records that a village called Kesalaka was granted by Arthapati in favour of Brahmins belonging to Kautsa gotra. The locality has been identified as Kesaribeda village near Umerkote. During the reign of Arthapti, the Nala capital Puskari was invaded by the Vakataka king Prithvisena II (son of Narendrasena) and destroyed it. The Nala king was probably killed in the battle. Arthapati’s inscriptions suggest that the king was a devotee of Maheshvara (Shiva) and Mahasena (Kartikeya). it also mentions that he was from the family of Nala.

Arthapati was succeeded by Bhavadattavarman. An inscription of Bhavadattavarman’s successor Skandavarman indicates that Bhavadattavarman lost the control of Pushkari, possibly to the Vakatakas or the Chalukyas. Probably during the rule of Bhavadattavarman, Nala power was extended towards the North. Here the Nalas came into conflict with the Vakatakas. But while Bhavadattavarman was busy annexing the heart of the Vakataka kingdom, the region around Puskari was probably attacked by the Western Chalukyas under the leadership of Kirttivarman I who claimed to have destroyed the Nalas and their residence. The Nalas have sometimes been regarded as traditional enemies in the records of he western Chalukyas. Inscriptions of the time of Chalukya Vikramaditya I refer to the home of the Nalas as Nalavadi-visaya, identified with the modern Ratnagiri in Bellary district of Karnataka. An Aihole inscription credits the Chalukya king Kirtivarman I with the destruction of the Nalas. The fact that Bhavadattavarman’s Rithapur charter was issued from Nandivardhana instead of Puskari, the original headquarters of the Nalas, seems to suggest that they had extended their sway, for at least a short period, to the ancient Vidarbha and Nandivardhana, which was the capital of the Vakatakas. This is corroborated by the record of Vakataka Prithvisena II, who is stated to have restored the glory of this family, apparently by  siding the Nalas and even carry arms into the enemy territory. It was probably the Vakatakas or the western Chalukyas under Kirttivarman I who were responsible for the attack on the Nala capital Puskari and its devastation. The Vakataka king Prithivisena II is said to have restored the glory of his family, apparently by defeating the Nalas.

Arthapati’s brother Skandavarman took to the thrones by about 480 AD. The inscriptions at Podagada mentions him as a son of Bhavadattavarman. The inscription states that Skandavarman retrieved the lost glory of the Nala family, and re-populated the deserted city of Pushkari. It also records the construction of a Vishnu shrine by the king.

About 60 gold coins were discovered between 1939 and 1957 which speak volumes about the rulers of the Nala dynasty. 32 gold coins discovered in 1939 belong to the kings Varaharaja, Arthapati and Bhavadattavarman. These coins had figures of the Nala legends on them. In May 1957, 28 gold coins were discovered from the forest of Kodinga tehsil of Nabarangpur district. As per history, the place was under Nalas and subsequently it went to the Nagas. No archaeological survey has been done in this district till date and antiquities so far available are very low. The sun and moon statues found here talk about the art, culture and civilisation of the Nala dynasty.

Podagada has immense potential of tourism with places like the ruined queen palace, foot print of goddess Laxmi, Sati stone, Bhairab temple, Madagam Dongri, Bhai Bhauni, Nandagada, Gumphs, Punji, Belghari, Tangapani etc which are of historic importance but are lying unprotected.

Apart from Podagada, Nabarangpur district also has other tourism attractions like:

  • ancient Shiva shrine, Shahid Smrutisthambha at Papadahandi
  • Chandan dhara & Gosain Dor water falls in Jharigam block
  • Shrine of Ghumreswara Shiva lingam situated in Tentulikhunti block
  • Chatahandi Shiva shrine and caves situated in the Nabarangpur block
  • Shrine of Kelia Shiva lingam and goddess Parvati nestled in lush green hills in Dabugam block
  • Maa Bhandaragharani, the presiding deity of Nagarangpur
  • Maa Pendrani, the presiding deity of Umerkote
  • Khatiguda dam on river Indravati & water reservoir

* Could not find a picture of the historical site on web. Requesting everyone who has a photograph to pass on. Will put it in the blog with due credit.

CREDITS:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nala_dynasty#cite_note-FOOTNOTESnigdha_Tripathy199737-2
  2. Inscriptions of Odisha, Vol 1 by Snigdha Tripathy
  3. https://nawrangpur.blogspot.in/2009/08/podagada-ruined-fort-podagada-is.html

Weekend getaway in Bhubaneswar

Across the eastern coastline of India lies a city called Bhubaneswar, Odisha which is incidentally the capital city of Odisha which is a state of the Indian republic. Usually a slow paced city with planned distribution of habitation, the city boasts of its temples. Bhubaneswar houses a plethora of temples dedicated to various Hindu gods and goddesses, so it’s also called as temple city. Being strategically located, the city serves as a base point for inward tourists to plan their itinerary. Many use Puri, Odisha for this purpose too because of its religious significance due to the Jagannatha Temple and also due to cost effective accommodation.

However for those who wish to have some extra comfort to relax and satiate their culinary appetite, can choose to check into a luxury hotel in Bhubaneswar.

There are various star properties available for tourists to choose, based on their budgets. Mayfair Lagoon is one luxury hotel which I always gave least preference going by its looks from outside. Until recently when I stayed there for a few days.

The ambience inside the hotel is world class. Built in a cottage/resort format, it has villa type accommodation. The best part is the greenery inside the resort which has been created over a long time. Across the corridors, you find artefacts, statues and fountains which add some contrast to the rustic nature look. Best part is the whole place is maintained well and it’s very clean.

For culinary lovers, the resort houses various restaurants with world cusine, local delicacies to an Irish pub. Lazy bugs can relax with a drink across the swimming pool surrounded by greenery. Quality of food is great (though quite highly priced!).

It also has recreational facilities too for those interested. But I never used, so no idea about them.

Mayfair Lagoons is an ideal destination for a weekend getaway for local travellers to relax and spoil themselves! For international tourists, the resort offers an opportunity to explore Bhubaneswar and it’s surroundings, with sacrificing the comfort & luxury.

Note:
I have no connection with the hotel. The blog is just for sharing of experience. Its website has detailed and beautiful illustrations, along with further details about the hotel.

God’s Own Country: A day on Houseboat

God’s Own Country: A day on Houseboat

Kerala, one of the southern states in India is blessed by mother nature. The state boasts of a coastline almost running across its length, abundant green cover, hill stations with tea plantations and huge spread of backwaters. If you drive across the countryside, the roads are lined up with either the tea plantations or spice gardens. You can virtually smell the aroma of raw spices. Truly called as “God’s own country”.

During a visit to Kerala few years back, we got the opportunity to stay onboard the houseboats. We started from Kumarakom which is famous for backwater tourism. The houseboats are literally like a resort on water, equipped with all modern amenities.

Our boat had 2 air-conditioned cabins for guests with all modern amenities, a dining area, kitchen and the best part was small cushioned sitting space along the edges of the boat. The experience of sitting there and watching the boat cutting through the water on the Vembanad lake is mesmerising.

Vembanad Lake
Sprawling backwaters: Vembanad Lake

The continuous stretch of coconut trees along the coast, add to the beauty further.

Coconut grooves
Coconut grooves along the coast

Once onboard, the guests are taken care of by the very professional crew. Food served on the houseboat are freshly prepared in the kitchen aboard. The food can be customised as per the culinary tastes of the guests. We preferred to go for the traditional Keralite cuisines, you know “when you are in Rome, act like Romans”. After ferrying for the whole day on the sprawling water, the houseboat was docked at one place for taking rest overnight near a small village. We watched the birds on their way back to their nests, sun going down.

Nostalgic feelings.