Odisha is an important state in terms of Buddhist sites. Research says that Buddhism once flourished in this part of India from 3rd century BC to 9th century AD. The diamond triangle consisting of sites like Ratnagiri, Udayagiri & Lalitgiri in Jajpur are quite popular. Further, the twin hills of Khandagiri & Udayagiri caves in Bhubaneswar alongwith Dhaulagiri are quite known & in great demand among tourists for visits. Some more upcoming Buddhist sites are Langudi, Kaema, Bajragiri, Deuli, Tarapur etc are all from Jajpur district. But, very few people have visited Kuruma which is a lesser known site in Odisha, the sole Buddhist site in coastal Puri district alone (excl Aragada of course).
History says, Hiuen-Tsang (Xuanzang), the Chinese scholar & traveler had visited this sacred place during his India visit (634-645 AD) as mentioned in his travelogue. Possibly, Shailodbhava King Madhavaraja II (avg 620 – 670 AD) was the ruler at that time. This archeological site flourished between 5th & 7th century & is located in the rustic village of Jama Dharma, around 8 kms from the famous tourist site of Konark Temple via Bali Dokan Chowk on Konark-Kakatpur Road.
Kuruma Site – The site has 12 chambers for monks to meditate including three blocks in each cardinal direction & a gap in between. Bricks (0.36×0.24×0.08 m) are mostly used here for construction purposes except the central courtyard which is made of khondalite stone. There are cells for the monks and Buddhist practitioners, courtyard, a shrine chamber and an astragar (weapon room) too. Each of the three rooms are named Sata, Raja & Tama or Satwik, Rajasik & Tamasek. It literally means that each & everything is divided into three parts – Satwik for common people, Tamasik for tantriks & finally Rajasik for Kings. Interestingly, if one takes an aerial view, one can see the Swastika symbol from above. The excavated space measures around 29 m square with influence from both Mahayana & Bajrayana (cult started from Odisha) sect under Buddhism. The monastery is whole square on plan but the cells are rectangular on plan and both the exteriors & interiors of the monastery are plain. Contrary to popular belief, Buddhist sites like this is not half made foundations or half destroyed sites nor do they have roofs. But, rather the structure starts from ground level & moves downward. It slowly becomes narrow in a reverse pyramid style (with conical shape towards the floor). There is 3ftx3ft square stone at the centre for monks to meditate. Meditation chambers are always roofless for monks to better connect with nature.
The central open courtyard is the prayer hall or Chaitya Gruha with a stupa at one end. Here, the Chaitya Gruha is the flat space in the middle. In between cells and courtyard, a passage is there. All the chambers are interconnected with drainage facility & with steps which are relatively smaller for energy conservation. The passage connecting the chaitya gruha is the room for worshipping. Maybe the huge Buddha idol was originally enshrined in this corner room due to the presence of triangular space on walls to keep lighted lamps or items (kana machha କଣ ମଛା/kantha kura କାନ୍ଥ କୁରା/thana ଠଣା in Odia)
The Idols of Kuruma – There were four idols recovered from the nearby Dharma Pokhari. The Buddha depicted in the chlorite stone slab in Bhumisparsha mudra is quite unusual due to the elaborate ornaments in his body. The crown on head, the necklace, arm anklets & leg lace have never been noticed among any Buddha idols in Odisha. Probably, this image talks about Prince Siddharth. Two bidyadhars flanked above his shoulders can be noticed while two lions, facing in opposite directions, sitting on the pedestal. In the middle, there is a female devotee praying with a lamp in front of stupas. The second big idol is none other than Yamantaka Heruka (Destroyer of death in Buddhism) as per Mahanirvana Tantra. The Abalokiteswar (Padmapani) image is seated on a lotus whose petals are well carved. The fourth & last small idol is the Tribikram idol.
The Dharma Pokhari – The village pond adds charm to the rustic looks of the site. During the early hours of the day, the females of the village takes a dip in the sacred pond of Dharma Pokhari and prays Lord Buddha. The local villagers are in the opinion that the Dharma Pokhari has magical powers. Bishu Maharana, the chief architect of Konark Temple was from a village nearby. Legend says that Bishu Maharana was childless for many years and mesmerised by the mystic powers of Dharma Pokhari, he visited Kuruma with his wife and paid penance for days and was finally blessed with Dharmapada, his only son.
About Pagal Baba – There were a few mud mounds around the present site and a huge pond near it. The site came into public view due to the efforts of Sri Braja Bandhu Dash, a resident of Nityanandapur Sasan under Kakatpur Block’s Jaleswarpada Panchayat whivh is a few kms from Kuruma. During 1960s, he was transferred to Jama Dharma village as the Principal of Jama Dharma Primary School. Gradually, he came to know from the villagers that there used to be certain Buddhism sites at this very place. He anticipated that there must be Buddhist shrines & idols nearby. Once he noticed that the stone slab on the Dharma Pokhari’s staircase that the villagers were using for washing clothes, is not a normal stone, but a huge slab holding a beautiful Buddha idol in the reverse side. There was another stone nearby, used by the villagers for sharpening their iron tools, later on identified as Yamantaka Heruka (locals refer it as Jama) .
He shared this info with late Ramadeba Mahapatra & late Krupasindhu Parida of the village. In 1970, both the idols were recovered from the pond, cleaned from algae and enshrined in an open mandap for worshipping. Buddha idol was named Dharma Thakura (Buddha is also known as Dharma). The second statue was three headed & had buffalo as vahan, hence it is worshipped as Jama Danda (as per Hindu God of death – Jama, holding a stick). Here lies the logic behind the name Jama Dharma for the idols & the village alike. The temporary shed was named as Jama Dharma Temple. For his passion for the excavation and restoration of the Kuruma site, Braja Bandhu Dash was nick-named Pagala Baba (insane old man) by the locals.
To get further details on the site, Braja Bandhu started carrying out research at his level based on the artefact & fragments recovered from the site by him and articles & research books on Buddhism & archaeology books. The artefact includes terracotta idols of Ganesh (without any mouse as vahan), four armed Durga, Saraswati, Laxmi, beads, terracotta ornaments, precious stones, fragments of earthen pots of red ware etc. The recovered artefact ranges from from Kanishka, Kharavela to Maratha period. He also recovered a 9 inch long black granite stone with 3 line inscription (in Devanagari) on it. He has a good collection of antique palm leaf etchings which have turned fragile due to time. All these items were kept safely in the school’s almirah at Principal’s cabin. For full fledged excavation, he wrote a letter to Puri District Collector who visited, took possession of the inscription & forwarded the excavation work to the Odisha State Archeology. Its staff visited the site & collected the artefact from Braja Baba which is now displayed at Odisha State Museum. However, he didn’t handover certain items like the idols of Ganesh, Laxmi, Saraswati & Durga to the officials since he was worshipping the idols on daily basis. When the excavation work did not start, he wrote another letter to the District Collector with a copy to Central ASI. The team headed by a lady official soon visited the site along with Puri Collector for inspection. She assured Braja Baba for excavation soon & instructed the State Archaeology Head, Sri P K Ray to start the work.
The Story So Far –By 1974-75, the excavation started and 12 rooms were carved out from the mound. Saligram stone, Tribikram idol, Abalokiteswar & many other artefact like statues inscribed seals were recovered further. When the news spread, tourists, locals & researchers started flowing to Kuruma site & thus it was declared a tourist site with a signage. After that, there has been no noticeable effort by either Central or State Govt. During the super cyclone of 1999, the school building was damaged and many artefact were either broken or washed away. Braja Bandhu, with his own efforts, kept the rest artefact in the temporary museum made by him near the site. At the fragile age of 82, he still attends the local & foreign tourists visiting the site and the details are noted down in a visitor’s diary maintained by him. Chatting with him will make one feel as if he is on a mission to save Kuruma & give its due credit that it deserves. The villagers of Kuruma and its adjoining villages namely Bamara, Pubei & Adhual villages have constituted a committee & are observing Buddha Purnima by gathering at the temple shed & burning nine earthen lamps (Buddha is considered as the 9th avatar under Dasavatar).
Although, the State Archaeology has constructed a permanent laterite shed for the four idols namely Buddha, Yamantaka Heruka, Tribikram & a small Abalokiteswar, to be enshrined inside in 2017. The site has a deserted looks and without conservation, the site may loose its vigour in due course of time. Braja Bandhu has been working relentlessly for the conservation and putting Kuruma’s name in the tourist map, but his age doesn’t permits more. Moreover he now stays at Jaleswarpada & visits Kuruma on Sundays only. The govt has taken over the land under ASI, but no compensation has been paid to the villagers yet for the loss of their land. And, out of agitation, villagers are using the site for drying up cow dung cakes (used as fuel) and stocking haystack, thereby damaging the site.
Kuruma’s Tryst With History – The artefact recovered and the chaitya rooms signifies that Kuruma was once a flourishing place used by sea travellers since the Khalakatapatna port is nearby. Like, it’s said that sea was flowing near Konark in earlier centuries, similarly Kuruma might have be an ancient port or a coastal place. Maritime traders & travelers might have used it for resting due to its safe location. Monks used this site as gurukul for learning, dwelling and meditation place. As per the broken earthen pots, rectangular shaped ovens, water drainage facility and other artefact recovered, the site is assigned to 9-10th century AD of Shomavamsi period by State ASI. Late Shyam Sundar Tripathy (historian) has mentioned in his book, titled “Buddhism & Other Collegians Culture of South East India” that Kuruma was a Buddhist site for spreading Buddhism religion & Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang had visited this site in 7th century. Chances are there that more artefact might be there in the pond’s floor which needs excavation. Further, there’s one more mound, just 50 ft away from present site, named as Artatrana Gaddi & some more chaityas might be hidden there which needs immediate excavation from where it was left halfway. The villagers are staying just next to the site which needs full fledged excavation too.
Again Kuruma is associated with Jayadeba, creator of epic Geeta Gobinda. He was born in the present village of Kenduli Sasan (ancient name Kendubilwa), around 19 kms from Kuruma, both of which are located near the holy river Prachi. From temple inscriptions, it is considered that Jayadeba received his education in Sanskrit poetry from a place called Kurmapataka, possibly near Konark. Again he had been a member of the teaching faculty of the same school where he gained experience in composition of poetry and music and in dancing.
Issues with Kuruma – Absence of public transport system from famous Konark Temple area to Kuruma gives a negative impact for its growth in terms of tourism. One need to book an auto or take a cab from Puri or Bhubaneswar, touch Konark & visit Kuruma. Site is not well maintained due to which vegetation has over grown. Using site for cow dung cake baking damages the structure & gives a wrong impression to the limited tourists visiting it. An official guide needs to be posted at Kuruma to guide the tourists around the site which has no shops nearby for tourist essentials. Further, Odisha Tourism needs to focus & promote Kuruma alongwith Konark as a package.
Anyway. the usual route from Bhubaneswar is BBSR > Nimapara> Gop>Konark> take left from Konark main square towards Kakatpur route>Bali Dokan chowk>take left to Jama Dharma village>Kuruma
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All Photos: Taranisen Pattnaik
Reference: Kuruma Boudha pitha – Dharitri newspaper, dt 10.5.2017