Ravan Chhaya rock shelter near Sitabinji
There is an unsightly gap between two giant boulders near Sitabinji – a small village with an exciting history, named after the Sita stream flowing nearby. This shelter is the famous Ravan Chhaya (or Ravana Chhaya) – natural shelter which contains unique artwork – some 1,300 – 1,500 years old tempera painting.
Map of the site
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Gap between boulders
The name of the shelter – “Ravan Chhaya” – can be explained in different ways – while direct translation is “shadow of Ravana” (a mythical, influential negative character in Ramayana), in Odisha, this means also a specific performance by shadow puppets.
The shelter has been formed by two giant granite boulders – the larger one leaning over the somewhat smaller one and forming a wedge-shaped gap between. This gap is up to 6.7 m high and 4.7 m deep. It provides a deep shade which certainly has helped to preserve the valuable artwork.
Values of history
This cave seems to be well known to people well before the painting appeared in it – thus, for example, it has been used by Shiva ascetics around the 4th – 6th century AD. Their object of worship was Mukhalinga (Mukha Linga) – linga with four faces of Shiva, still located in Sitabinji. This Mukhalinga is referred to in nearby inscriptions – these inscriptions serve as proof that Shaivism was dominant in Odisha already by the 5th century AD.
The site contains fragments of brick from an unidentified structure as well – these remnants contain Pali inscriptions. There are reported finds of Kushan coins and soapstone figurine as well – thus once upon a time, Sitabinji may have been a lively and active place.
Not too far from this site, there are rock shelters with much older drawings from the Mesolithic period. This artwork sometimes is referred to as “paintings of Sitabinji” as well.
The tempera painting of Ravana Chhaya was made around the 7th century AD in high artistic and technical quality. Before applying tempera (fast-drying color) the rough surface of granite was smoothened with a thin coating of lime.
This drawing seems to have rather little in common with the Hindu religion. It shows a royal procession – a royal figure seated on an elephant and with a sword in hand, followed by the attendant woman. A band of footmen lead this procession, then follow horsemen and dancing women.
The theme has led to the theory that this shelter was a royal hunting retreat.
Below the painting there is a line of painted writing in Sanskrit from the 7th century – it reads the name of the king as Maharaja Sri Disabhanja.
This king could be the earliest Bhanja king – the Bhanja dynasty started to rule in Odisha around the 4th – 5th century AD.
In order to protect the painting from the water, there has been chiseled a protective groove above the painting. Unfortunately, the lower part of the painting is lost – attesting that it was wise to locate such artwork well above the reach of general visitors.
- Paul Yule, Early Historic Sites in Orissa, page 17. Accessed on 23 May 2010.
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