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SIRPUR : A Goldmine of History

A view of the ancient Trading Centre in Sirpur
A view of the ancient Trading Centre in Sirpur
Superb sculpture at the entrance gate of the Buddh Vihara
Superb sculpture at the entrance gate of the Buddh Vihara.

History is quite eloquent in many places in India. However, it has not been so frugal in words as it was in Sirpur in Chhattisgarh. Thanks to the prying eyes of archeology, history of late has been speaking volumes about Sirpur, situated in the Masamund district of Chhattisgarh.

A Shiv Ling atop the Surang Tila temple
A Shivling atop the Surang Tila temple.

Ensconced in the lush-green vicinity of the Bar Nawapara sanctuary, Sirpur is located on the beautiful banks of the river Mahanadi, about 50 kms from capital Raipur. It was up to 1872 that history had been keeping itself mum when Lord Cunningham, the then Director General of Archeological Survey visited Sirpur and discovered the now famous Laxman temple. This was the beginning of the unraveling of the long journey undertaken by Sirpur in the dark aisles of time.

A large Buddh Vihara in Sirpur
A large Buddh Vihara in Sirpur.
A side view of the Laxman Temple
A side view of the Laxman Temple.

With this, Sirpur lay its body bare for continuous excavations since the creation of Chhattisgarh as a separate state in 2000. Spreading over an area of about 4x6 kms, the site in Sirpur has really proved to be a veritable gold mine for historians, archeologists and the common man alike. The discovery of diverse sites and objects like 12 Buddh Viharas, 1 Jain Viharas, monolithic statues of Lord Buddha and Mahavir Jain, 22 Shiv temples, 5 Vishnu temples, stone and copper inscriptions and hundreds of statuesque -- each narrating its own inimitable story of what Sirpur once was, easily collage into the consciousness of even a chance visitor.

A portion of this Budddh Vihara
A portion of Budddh Vihara

Sirpur or Shripur- the city of wealth, has been mentioned in ancient epigraphic records and dates back to a period ranging between the Fifth and the Eighth century A.D. It was then the capital of the Sarbhapuriya and Somvanshi Kings of Dakshin Kosala. It was an important centre of Buddhism from the 6th to the 10th century A.D. However, the recent findings in Sirpur have pushed the history of Sirpur further back by about one thousand centuries. Among the findings, while the 8 ft tall image of Lord Mahavir testifies to Sirpur having been a centre of Jainism, the Buddh Viharas point to its being a centre of Buddist learning. Mr. Arun Kumar Sharma, Director Archelogical excavations, Sirpur even claims that Sirpur had once been blessed with the arrival of Lord Buddha himself.

Surang Tilla
Surang Tilla.

The recent finding of a huge market complex is yet another bright feather in the crown of Sirpur. As per Mr. Sharma Sirpur as an economic centre precedes its becoming either a political capital or a religious hub.

A Buddha image
A Buddha image.

After being a famous trading centre for many years, Sirpur also played host to many regal dynasties including the Satbahanas, Sarvapurias, the Somavansies, the Panduvansies and finally the Kalchuries. Sirpur acquired the fame of being the capital of South Koshal ruled by the Somavansi king Mahasivagupt Ballarjun between 595 to 653 AD. The most exquisite Laxman temple was built during this period. It was during his reign that Sirpur attained the pinnacle of religio-cultural conviviality extending its warmth as much to Hinduism as to Jainism and Buddhism. The noted Chinese traveler Hieun Tsang has testified to this in his travelogue after visiting Sirpur in 639 AD as per Mr. Arun Kumar Sharma, Director Archeological excavations, Sirpur.

About 8 ft tall image of Mahavir Jaina
About 8 ft tall image of Mahavir Jain.

No body knew until recently that there could be so much cultural riches up in the long arms of Sirpur-- be it the Buddhist Stupa co-sanguineous with the famous Sanchi Stupa built by King Ashok, the sprawling trading complex dating back to the 6th century BC, the King's palace, the large Buddh Vihara, the Surang Tila temple built on a 4.65 meter high pedestal, or the marvelous Laxman temple made up of bricks.

And when all these with many more such mementoes of the hoary past did finally wriggle up to the surface, it is but natural for history to repent its reticence regarding Sirpur for so long a time.

Iron arrows found in Sirpur
Iron arrows found in Sirpur

Girish Chandra Dash, AIR Correspondent, Raipur

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