Lalitgiri lies between the valley of two rivers Birupa and Chitrotpala. Also known as Naltigiri amongst the locals, Lalitgiri is the oldest of the Buddhist Diamond Triangle triad as they are referred to in Odisha. The monastery built in the 1st Century AD is the oldest known Buddhist monastery in the state.
Though the site was discovered in 1905, it was excavated as late as 1985-1991, based on the chronicles of the famous Chinese Traveler Hiuen T’sang, excavations are still being carried out albeit sporadically at the site. The findings indicate the Monastery propagated both the Hinayana Sect of Buddhism (name for schools of the earliest Buddhist doctrine) and Mahayana sect of Buddhism (a path where a follower seeks enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings). Later on under the influence of Bhaumakara King’s it embraced Vajrayana sect of Buddhism (Tantric Buddhism). Thus the monastery survived till the 13th century AD.
The majestic ruins of the Mahastupa (Main Stupa) atop a hill, the Chaityagriha’s (prayer halls), the numerous Votive Stupa’s (stupa erected after fulfillment of a wish/vow) amidst lush green surroundings gives a magical feel to this ancient Buddhist complex.
Among the many noteworthy findings at this site is the relic casket which comprised of four containers made of Khondalite, Steatite, Silver and Gold. Its antiquity and the gold and silver contents have led to speculations that these are relics of Lord Buddha.
The museum located inside the monastery complex houses artefacts recovered during the excavation of the site. On display are spellbinding statues of Buddha,Boddhisattvaand statues of Tara, Jambhala amongst others. Interestingly, most of these sculptures contain short inscriptions on them. The Standing Buddha figures, with knee length draperies over the shoulders remind one of the influence of the Gandhara and Mathura school of art.