Who does not like listening a good story? Otherwise what is there in a desolate archaeological site, such as Jaugada in Rusikuliya Valley of southern Odisha. In the 3rd Century BCE, it was a flourishing civilisation. Known as Samapa, its prosperity had dragged Ashoka to address its provincial head, Mahamatta and its people on dhamma (principles for good conduct) through rock-edicts. But a couple of centuries later, when the civilisation declined, nothing from the era remained left except heaps of earthen mounds and pottery pieces.
Ashokan Rock Edicts at Jaugada
Rushikulya River and the Beautiful Countryside
Eventually the abandoned civilization was forgotten from people’s memory. We do not know when again people chanced upon its ruins. But whenever it happened there would have been senses of wonders – who lived there, when and how? In the absence of scientific knowledge someone came up with a story connecting it with the land of Virata from epic Mahabharata and the archaeological site was identified as Jaugada, the fortress of lacquer.
Daily Life and Culture in Rusikulya Valley
According to a chapter or parva in Mahabharata, the fortress of lacquer had been built by Duryodhana and his evil uncle and mentor Shakuni in a plot to kill the Pandavas along with their mother Kunti. Architect Purochana had been commissioned to build the fortress in the forest of Varnavrat. It was meant to be a death trap, since lacquer is highly flammable. The plot itself was such that nobody would suspect foul play and the eventual death of the Pandavas would pass off as an accident.
After its construction, the Kauravas invited their cousins to visit a fair held at Varnavrat and spend sometime in the fortress built for them. Before the start of the journey, Vidura tactfully in presence of the Kauravas, warned the Pandavas about the imminent danger in mleccha language.
The Pandavas reached Varanavat on the eighth day of the month of Phalguna. Vidura had created a subterranean passage for them with its one mouth in the centre of the lacquer fortess and the other mouth close to river Ganges. From the first day, Bhima and Purochana were conspiring to kill each other. Purochana was waiting to set the fortress on fire after everybody slept. However as Bhima used to be awake all night, Purochana never got a chance to do so.
The fortress was to be burnt on an amavasya night. When that night finally reached, Purochana, not knowing that the Pandavas were simply sleeping assumed them to be dead. To celebrate this Purochana began drinking and within hours was drunk. Capitalizing this opportunity the Pandavas set fire to the palace and escaped through the tunnel leaving Purochana to perish. Meanwhile, on the other side, a boat-man sent by Vidura saw the Pandavas as they emerged from the tunnel close to the banks of river Ganges and ferried the Pandavas and their mother to safety.
This was a story from the Arya Vrata. However, the region where Samapa flourished was inhabited by Buddhists and Mlechhas, to whom the Aryans indentified as untouchables.
The Village of Raula Palli
Close to Jaugada is a village of 300 families, Raula Palli, a large percentage of them being priests. Yet they are not Brahmins. They were once untouchables. According to a local lore, when Yudhistira established Virata State in their region there were no Brahmins. So it was found difficult for them to do daily rituals. Bhima came up with a solution. He created sacred threads from nets of spider webs and baptized the Raulas. From then on they have acquired the status of priests and are involved performing in all rituals of Hindu custom.
Just outside the village there is a granite hill, called Gupteswara which is shrouded in mysteries. There are a number of caves which have been converted into Hindu shrines. The Raulas link these caves with events from Vana Parva in the Mahabharata. According to their belief here the Pandavas had spent considerable time during their exile and there used to be a secrete passage that linked River Rusikiliya with Jaugada through Gupteswara Hill. A climb to the top of the hill leads to a natural cave where found five stone slabs believed to be the asanas (sitting platforms) of five panavas. There is also an open space believed to be the sabha mandapas of Pandavas.
Shrines in Gupteswara Hill and Landscape
Stone Slabs Believed to be the Seating Platforms of Pandavas
From here the countryside looks spectacular, nothing less than Hampi, but without monuments. After spending an hour at the hill top we drove down to Jaugada again near Kaleshwara Temple, where excavations had been conducted in 1950s and in early 2000s. Today the fortification wall of the ancient city is almost gone but one can see traces of moat in patches. It was the time of sun going down beneath the Eastern Ghat Hills in the distance. There was tranquility all around. But the silence broke with the chirping of returning birds to their night shelter trees beside the temple pond and returning of a herder with his buffalo herds.
Traces of Moat