Ravan Chhaya rock shelter near Sitabinji

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There is an unsighty gap between two giant boulders near Sitabinji – small village with exciting history, named after 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.

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 hero in Ramayana), in Odisha, this means also a specific performance by shadow puppets.

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 in nearby inscriptions – these inscriptions serve as a proof that Shaivaism 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 Mesolithic period. This artwork sometimes is referred to as “paintings of Sitabinji” as well.

Tempera painting

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 royal procession – royal figure seated on an elephant and with a sword in hand, followed by attendant women. A band of footmen lead this procession, then follow horsemen and a 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 – 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.

Ravan Chhaya rock shelter is included in the following list:

Cave paintings in India
Cave paintings in India

References

  1. Paul Yule, Early Historic Sites in Orissa, page 17. Accessed in 23 May 2010.

Ravan Chhaya rock shelter on the map

Location, GPS coordinates:21.5999 N 85.6151 E (mistake up to 4000 m)
Categories:Hindu shrines, Caves, Petroglyphs and rock art
Values:Art, Architecture, History, Archaeology
Rating:2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)
Where is located?Asia, India, Odisha, Kendujhar district, near Sitabinji
Alternate names:Ravana Chhaya, Ravanachhaya, Sitabinj, Sitabhinji
Age:around the 4th – 6th century AD, painting around the 7th century AD
Religion:Hindu

Video of Ravan Chhaya rock shelter


Handy Rider, March 2019

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