Ratnagiri, the hill with precious gems; probably the hill did have precious gems and that is how it got named! But call it coincidence, today Ratnagiri is indeed scattered with gems: the remains of the Buddhist era that flourished here between the 5th to 12th centuries.
Ratnagiri forms a part of the Diamond Triangle of Odisha, the other two being Udayagiri and Lalitgiri. These three sites were once active study centres of Buddhist monks and preachers. Standing on one of the mounds, looking dreamily at the ruins of the monastery of Ratnagiri Odisha, I tried to imagine the hustle-bustle the place would have seen once.
If you are in Jajpur Odisha, it would be a great idea to add Ratnagiri Monastery and Museum to your Jajpur travel itinerary. There are plenty of things to see and do in Ratnagiri, Odisha. Alternatively, you can plan a day trip from Bhubaneswar (the nearest airport), explore the remains of stupas and monasteries, visit the Ratnagiri museum nearby and make the most of your time here.
Of the three monasteries, Ratnagiri developed later than Lalitgiri but preceded Udayagiri. During its heyday, Ratnagiri was an important pilgrimage site which was visited by pilgrims from as far as countries in South East Asia, not to forget from Sri Lanka too.
The ticket office is at the base of the hill. A flight of stone-cut steps leads you towards the monastery. But before you reach the monastery you will cross a mini forest of smaller stupas of varying dimensions. These were lying scattered all around the hillside; they have been neatly arranged and displayed. Some of them have been moved to museums. Stunning blue-green door frame; after crossing this mini forest of small stupas you will arrive at Monastery 1 on your right. This quadrangular monastery has a stunning door frame made of blue-green chlorite stone.
It won’t be an exaggeration if I say that many tourists spend at the door frame more than 50% of the time they spend at the site; just to admire and photograph this stunning intricately carved blue-green coloured door frame. And when they realize they are running out of time they start scurrying through the other two monasteries, which are equally worth spending time with.
The doorways, pillars and sculptures here are mostly in two types of stone; the blue-green chlorite is definitely the most attractive one among others. Another variety is the local khondalite, garnetiferous gneiss with plum-coloured overtones.
History records on these ruins state that these Buddhist monuments were constructed from the 5th century onwards, with the last work done in the 13th century.
This is the largest one, which will take most of your tour time. It has a spacious open courtyard, cells and veranda facing the courtyard, and a colossal Buddha. It had at least two storeys, but everything above the ground floor has now collapsed. Tourists climb up this space to photograph the sights around. The windowless cells on the ground floor were probably occupied by more than one monk. The guide accompanying us explained one was used as the monastery treasury.
The main shrine has the statue of a colossal seated Buddha made of horizontal sections of chlorite stone, 3.7 m high including the base, flanked by smaller standing figures of Padmapani and Vajrapani. One structure in the courtyard that catches attention is an incomplete facade with a central doorway flanked on both sides by three niches. A later addition to monastery 1, it has elaborate carvings and looks kind of mismatched to the place yet adds quality to the place.
Exiting monastery 1, to its right is monastery 2, much smaller in size. It has a similar plan with a central courtyard, pillared veranda and cells all around. The central shrine here has the image of Shakyamuni in Varada Mudra flanked by Brahma and Sakra. The porticos are grand with carvings.
This is on a small hillock, much smaller than the other two. One interesting sight we saw on the ground surface as we climbed the mound was the curls of hair on Buddha's head. If the mound is excavated it is sure to expose another gigantic statue of Buddha's face for sure. With one look at the site from the hilltop, it is easy to conclude why the monks of that era chose the serene hillside. The place is enveloped with an atmosphere of calm and peace, the kind that aids meditation!
Archaeological museum of Ratnagiri Odisha
Try and spend midday in the Archaeological Museum of Ratnagiri to escape the heat. The museum has 4 display rooms with systematically arranged objects found during excavation. A panel in the long corridor explains the evolution of Odia script right from the times of Ashokan Brahmi in the 3rd century BC. And another at the end of the corridor explains the rise and fall of Buddhism in India and Odisha. Fascinated by these famous Ratnagiri monasteries of the medieval era? Are you wondering how to get to Ratnagiri in Jajpur Odisha? Ratnagiri is well connected by road to other cities of Odisha. The distance of Ratnagiri Monastery complex is 98.8 km northeast of Bhubaneswar airport, and 33 km south of Jajpur. You can hire a cab from these cities and state buses, too, ply between these cities.
The best time to visit Ratnagiri would be during winter, from November to February. However, do apply sunscreen and take a hat along. It is possible to visit all three Buddhist sites of the Diamond Triangle of Odisha in one day. Do hire a travel guide for a better understanding of the carvings and statues on the site. The site and museum are open from 9 AM to 5 PM. However, Ratnagiri Archaeological Museum is closed on Fridays, so plan the visit to Ratnagiri accordingly.