Sisupalgarh is an early historic fortified city estimated to be of the period of 500 BCE – 400 CE. Historians differ over the origin of this city with some claiming that it is Toshali, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Kalinga while others say it is the city of Kalinganagara that was glorified by Maharaja Kharavela of the Mahameghavahana dynasty.
The first excavation done in 1948 unearthed rouletted ware that was indicative of a flourishing civilization between 300 BCE – 200 BCE. Subsequent excavations have however, revealed the existence of a defensive settlement that predates even the Mauryan empire. The last signs of habitation on this site is around 6th – 7th century.
The well-documented research and surveys have revealed that Sisupalgarh was a well-planned and densely populated settlement. The site is symmetrical in plan (approximately 1190 metres by 1150 metres measured at the top of the ramparts) enclosed within a perimeter with eight equally spaced gateways (two on each side around the periphery). An excavation at one gateway revealed a main passageway about 7 metres wide with well-defined entry points along with a flight of steps that lead to the top of the rampart. Geographical surveys have revealed that wide streets ran across the settlement connecting each of the eight gateways of the enclosure wall.
It appears that the fort occupied a large area and had a royal palace and attached living quarters. Gold coins and pottery found in the initial excavations suggest that a considerable part of the population lived outside the fort. An Orissa Kushana gold coin which imitates the Kushana motif of a king standing and offering oblations on an altar on its obverse and a Roman head on its reverse was discovered here and dated to be between 200 CE – 310 CE.
The fort appears to have been constructed on the jaladurga (water fort) concept which in Odia is called gadakhai. The idea behind this is it to place the fort within a water body like an island called sthala durga (fort on land) to make the access to the fort difficult. As traces of the ancient Gandhavati river was found recently which is now called as Gangua Nala very close to the site, it can be safely deduced that this fort was in fact built on the sthala durga concept with an artificial moat all round irrigated by this ancient river.
Water reservoirs with excellent drainage system has been unearthed on the site. A group of sixteen monolithic pillars called Sola Khamba were initially discovered in an area of 30 metres by 30 metres near the centre of the fortress though only thirteen are standing now with nine fragmentary pillars. The columns are around 5 metres high and 0.7 metres in diameter carved from laterite stone. Pillared mandapas were found near these plain pillars.
Several antiquities were found in a small pond near the site which have somehow been lost. A pillar recovered recently from the pond looks very much like a Shiva Linga and is revered by locals. On closer inspection, one finds images of elephants on the boundary of the small tank and well found in the pond meant for the Queen called Rani Gadhua. There are remains of a small temple-like structure within this pond. Rani Uasa (Queen’s palace) with its pillared structures has been excavated and is well-preserved.
There is a lot of information that is still unknown about the site, the civilizations that flourished here, the socio-cultural progression and the purpose of this fortified settlement. Historians and archaeologists agree that this ancient city was at some time the epicentre of cultural and architectural importance. This is a protected monument of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)