The Stone Elephant at Kayama Hill: Legacy of Ashoka’s Brother

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    Emperor Ashoka is one of the most famous rulers in India. Equally famous are the stories of the Kalinga War and its aftermath. But what is not so well know, is that Emperor Ashoka had a brother named Tissa who stayed back in Kalinga. His legacy can still be seen in an ancient stone elephant at Kayama Hill just outside Jajpur.

    Located around 30 kms from Jajpur town is a Kayama hill. It is a small hill covered with thick vegetation that does not stand out in the countryside. But this hill has uncovered an absolute treasure-trove of archeological evidence that throws light into the Mauryan past of the region.

    Right at the base of the Kayama hill, next to the flight of steps stands a stone elephant carved out of a single rock. Along its four sides are the remains of broken pillars of what would have been its canopy. Nearby is an inscription dedicated to ‘Tissa’, the brother of Emperor Ashoka, which reveals to us that this elephant dates back to the Mauryan times.

    The Glory of Kalinga

    The Kayama Hill is located near an archeological site known as ‘Radhanagar-Toshali’ which many archeologists believe may have once been the capital of ancient Kalinga.

    Ancient Kalinga, located in present-day Odisha in Eastern India, was renowned for its wealth and prosperity. The region flourished due to its strategic location along trade routes, abundant natural resources, and the industriousness of its people. Kalinga was known for its flourishing maritime trade, which brought in goods from distant lands and facilitated cultural exchange.

    The wealth of Kalinga was primarily derived from its rich agricultural lands. The fertile soil and favorable climate supported the cultivation of various crops, including rice, sugarcane, and spices. The region's agricultural surplus enabled Kalinga to become a major trading hub, attracting merchants from neighboring kingdoms and beyond.

    Furthermore, Kalinga's coastal location granted it access to abundant marine resources. Fishing and seafaring activities were integral to the economy, providing a source of sustenance and facilitating maritime trade. The people of Kalinga were skilled sailors, navigating the seas to establish trade links with Southeast Asia and beyond.

    Emperor Ashoka and the Kalinga War

    The wealth and prosperity of Kalinga were marred by the infamous Kalinga War, which took place in 261 BCE. The war was a significant turning point in the history of ancient India and had a profound impact on Emperor Ashoka, who led the Mauryan Empire. The Kalinga War was a brutal conflict, resulting in immense loss of life and destruction. Emperor Ashoka’s Rock Edict number 13 at Kandhahar in Afghanistan states -

    “The Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Priyadarsi (Ashoka)conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dharma, a love for the Dharma and for instruction in Dharma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas.”

    After the conquest of Kalinga, Ashoka’s brother Tissa, a Buddhist monk, decided to stay back in Kalinga. As per Buddhist texts, Tissa was the only brother left alive by Ashoka, who had killed all his brothers. During the War of Succession, Tissa was made to sit on the throne by the courtiers. When Ashoka found out about that, he persuaded Tissa to become a Buddhist Monk. Tissa endowed a large number of Buddhist establishments in the region, including the one seen at the Kayama Hill.

    Discovery of the Historic City of ‘Tosali’

    From the year 2000 onwards, the trchaeologists from the Orissa Institute of Maritime and South-East Asian Studies embarked on an ambitious excavation project in Dharmasala block, Jajpur district.

    As archaeologists meticulously examined the inscriptions and relics discovered at Kayama Hill, they unraveled fascinating clues to the past. The inscriptions deciphered by experts mention "Tosali Nagara," "Tosali Nagar," and "Tosali" itself, dating back to the third and second century B.C. These inscriptions provide crucial insights into the lost era of Kalinga. Furthermore, the remnants of pottery and terracotta unearthed in the vicinity further validate the historical importance of the region.

    Their efforts brought to light the fortified city of Tosali, the royal headquarters of Kalinga, at Radhanagar village in Dharmasala. This discovery was a momentous breakthrough, as Tosali had long eluded identification. The Asoka rock-edicts near the Dhauli hills confirmed that Tosali served as the capital of Kalinga during Asoka's reign. A medallion found at Tosali, also mentioned ‘Tissa’, which another indication that Ashoka’s brother stayed back in Jajpur, after the Kalinga War.

    Today, the Tissa’s Elephant at Kayama Hill is protected by the Archeological Survey of India.It is vital that these archaeological discoveries be preserved, protected, and showcased to the world.

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