Sisupalgarh- The Lost City

Pillars-of-Sisulpalgarh

Sisupalgarh, the name itself means a lot. The remains of the ancient city Sisupalgarh has been discovered near Bhubaneswar, capital of the Odisha,India. And truly, I am fortunate enough to live in the city. I try to find various things regarding Sisupalgarh and to my surprise this monument or rather say city, is one of the most preserved city in the world. The excavations of Sisupalgarh took place in various phases. The first excavations at the site were carried out by Mr.B.B. Lal in 1948.On the basis of the architectural pattern and artefacts discovered during the excavations, Mr.B.B.Lal concluded that this fort city flourished between 3rd century BC and 4th century AD. An American-Indian team took up work in 2001. In 2005 ground penetrating radar revealed the probable position of the southern moat.On the basis of the new findings, Miss Monica L. Smith and Mr.R.K. Mohanty claim that the fortified city flourished from around 5th century BC and probably lasted well after the 4th century. Thus, this defensive settlement originated prior to the Mauryan empire.

Stone pillars of Sisupalgarh

Stone pillars of Sisupalgarh

The construction of Sisupalgarh was based on JalaDurga(Water Fort) concept, which in Odia is known as GadaKhai concept. Jala Durga is a type of durga or fort, which must be situated within water body, and its access is rendered difficult on account of the typical tract. It is divided into two categories, viz., the Anterdvipa (Island fort) and the Sthala Durga (Land fort). Antardvipa-Durga (island fortress) is surrounded by natural (sea or river) water bodies. Sthala-Durga (plain fortress)is surrounded by artificial moats or irrigated by a river. This may be assumed that Sisupalgarh was based on Sthala Durga concept, as we can also find remains of River Gandhawati, which is now famous as Gangua nala.

Present state of River Gandhawati

Present state of River Gandhawati

They also have a planned drainage system. It’s really surprising that when urbanisation and planning was not taken place in full fledged form, the planners of Sisupalgarh, develop such kind of design.

Remains of Drainage system of Sisulpalgarh

Remains of Drainage system of Sisulpalgarh

The pillars of Sisupalgarh really attracted lots of enthusiastic mind. But, what were the specific uses of these are still not clear. Some room type structures were discovered adjacent to those pillars, during the excavation.
Till now Eighteen stone pillars were excavated, and a lot is there to excavate. Kindly note the body of pillar is plain.While travelling into the city, I found a small settlement of some people. Near their settlement, a small pond is available.From this small pond, at that time, some antiquities were found but they were lost now. A special type of pillar were recovered from this pond by these persons and due to the typical structure of that pillar, they are worshiping it now, as a Shiva Linga.

Pillar worshipped as Shivling by Locals

Pillar worshipped as Shivling by Locals

Inside the city you will get another small pond. This pond is famous as RaniGadhua, or the pond where the Queen used to bath.This RaniGadhua is almost dried up now. The typical things I found there was a well and a boundary of a small tank. When you closely look at the boundary of that tank, you will observed the peculiar images of elephants, which were also found in lots of temples and other heritage places.
The steps that lead us to the RaniGadhua also have a small temple like structure. It may signify that, after bath, queen did some small puja remembering her IshtaDeva or IshtaDevi.

Elephant Carvings lead to the Rani Gadhu Pond at Sisupalgarh

Elephant Carvings lead to the Rani Gadhu Pond at Sisupalgarh

The other side wall also has structures similar to the old Kalingan Architecture. Various gates were also discovered during the excavations. It is known that this fortified city had eight numbers of gates. Two gates pierce each of the glacis of the quadrangular plan. A glacis is an artificial slope as part of a castle or fortresses. Sisupalgarh’s defenses are the highest known of this period in India. The ancient settlement probably was not dense, but rather there was room inside the fortress to graze.

The Steps to the gate of the Sisupalgarh fort

The Steps to the gate of the Sisupalgarh fort

The population of the city could have amounted to 20,000 to 25,000. Archaeologists have employed geophysical survey, systematic surface collections and selected excavations in the 4.8 km perimeter of the fortified area and studied individual houses and civic as well as domestic architecture to arrive at the figure. The significance of the population is clear when one bears in mind that the population of classical Athens was 10,000. However the historians also claim that it is too early to comment on the population of the city as yet only a part of the city has been excavated.

Remains of Drainage system of Sisulpalgarh

Remains of Drainage system of Sisulpalgarh

Now a day, due to the negligence of state government, ASI and Odisha tourism this world known heritage city is under the threat of Land Mafia. According to a survey by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 1947–48, the area was spread over 562.68 acres of land, but today only 0.77 acres of this entire land remain under the ASI’s control. More than 1,000 buildings are constructed inside the fort area, violating norms of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) (Amendment and Validation) Act, 2010. This clearly shows that there has been no action taken by the state and ASI authorities to stop the illegal activities.

A water tank amidst the ruins of Sisulpalgarh

A water tank amidst the ruins of Sisulpalgarh

Illegal encroachments can be seen by land mafias in the area. Since 2002, yearly satellite images document the illegal house building especially in the north-western quarter which increased in tempo since 2010. Encroachment starts with the staking out of lots. Gradually, building materials is piled up. Foundation walls are laid. Then suddenly the house is erected as soon as possible before the officials can react. Since 2010 the developers have begun to build into the southern city wall and the officials seem to do nothing to counter this.

Illegal encroachment at Sisupalgarh

Our historians identified Sisupalgarh with Toshali and Kalinga Nagara. Kalinga Nagara was the famous capital city of King Kharavela. The Hati Gumpha (Elephant Cave) inscription of Udayagiri in Bhubaneswar points towards this fact.
I want to conclude with a famous quotation by German Professor Paul Yule of the University of Heidelberg “We have one Sisupalgarh in the entire world and we have to preserve it.” When German Professor Paul Yule can understand the importance of Sisupalgarh, I wonder why our own Government, ASI and Tourism department are not able to understand.
Please Save Sisupalgah…..

Post by Ashish Sarangi
His twitter handle – @ashishsarangi

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