i3mainz, Institute for Spatial Information
and Surveying Technology,
University of Applied Sciences, Mainz, Germany
Monica Bordas Vicent
i3mainz, Institute for Spatial Information and Surveying Technology,
Institute for Prehistory and Near Eastern Archaeology
University of Heidelberg,
Renowned in the context of Ashokan India, Sisupalgarh, the early historic fortress in the eastern part of the Indian sub-continent, finds mention in virtually all discussions about this period. Its symmetrical plan and great size reveal an architectural ideal for its day. A research project has challenged the perceived subaltern role attributed to western Orissa relative to the coastal area from the Iron Age into early medieval history
Renowned in the context of Ashokan India, Sisupalgarh, the largest – at least partly – early historic fortress in the eastern part of the Indian sub-continent, finds mention in virtually all discussions about this period.
Its symmetrical plan and great size (1190m x 1150m measured at the top of the ramparts) reveal an architectural ideal for its day. A research project centred at the University of Kiel (Germany) and the University of Applied Sciences in Mainz (Germany) in collaboration with the Utkal University in Bhubaneshwar (India) has challenged the perceived subaltern role attributed to western Orissa relative to the coastal area from the iron age into early medieval history.
In this context, the fortress was mapped among other ones from 2000 to 2003 by means of photos and a hand-held GPS. An assemblage of 13 standing and 9 fragmentary pillars in an area of some 30 m x 30 m near the centre of the fortress were of special interest, and could not be recorded satisfactorily with simple measuring devices.
The columns are about 5 m high and 0.7 m in diameter. They are carved from laterite stone, vary in form and some show medallions. Laser scanning, an innovative technique for archaeological documentation, proved to be the appropriate method to provide a complete and accurate 3D documentation showing all surfaces of the structures as well as their positions relative to each other and to the surrounding topography.
The measurements were taken in December 2003 and the results were made available for further study after a few weeks.
Introduction and State of Research
Over a period of centuries, politically, economically, and intellectually coastal Orissa has overshadowed the back country. Early historic texts characterise what once was called Daksina Kosala (western Orissa and most of Chhattisgarh) as dominated by ‘forest people’, and therefore as backward. But was this always so, or is it merely a latter-day construct of historic conditions projected into the remote past? While Orissa does not generally dominate the history of the sub-continent over great timespans, it certainly was and is important as a watershed for local and regional kingdoms, as the breeding ground for Buddhism, as well as epicentre for the spread of Hinduism in South-East Asia. An exception to the undeveloped state of archaeology in eastern India was the excavation of Sisupalgarh carried out in 1948 and briefly in the following year by B B Lal (Lal 1949). The excavation report remains for all purposes the first mention and treatment of the site. Since the year 2001 this research situation has undergone a change. The Indo-German team set about collecting data on the early historic fortifications of Orissa. It became clear that theoretically all was known, but essentially no one ever really recorded properly.
In coastal Orissa, the Sisupalgarh fortress is by no means unique. It is slightly smaller than Jaugada (ancient Samapa) in the Ganjam district, some 170 km to the south-west, which is noted for its version of Ashoka’s rock edicts. Some 50 km north-east of Bhubaneshwar in the Jajpur district lies a third roughly contemporary ruined rampart. Turning to the north-west of Orissa, P K Behera of the Sambalpur University first tested the fort site of Badmal in the Sambalpur district in mid 2002. In 2000 the mapping of the little-known Kharligarh fort in district Balangir began, which turned out to be the largest early historic fortress known in western Orissa.