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Thứ Bảy, tháng 6 25, 2005

No. 0381

Holy Earth Rising
It's bigger than Nalanda and Bodh Gaya. A 4th century Buddhist/Shaivite site is discovered in Chhattisgarh.


A1,500-year-old city, complete with a palace, temples, houses and a Buddhist educational centre big enough to accommodate 10,000 students. This remarkable complex is slowly emerging out of the recesses of the earth at Sirpur, 85 km from the capital Raipur. Archaeologists, historians and even the Chhattisgarh government are excited by the find. For it promises to reveal what may arguably be India's biggest ancient seat of learning—far bigger than the world-famous Nalanda in Bihar—and one of its earliest temple complexes with dimensions that may dwarf other similar structures in the country.

Earlier a Buddhist site, Sirpur seems to have been taken over by the Shaivites subsequently.

There is even a possibility that Buddhism and Hinduism prospered simultaneously under a benevolent ruler here. To go back in history, Sirpur was the capital of the ancient South Kosala kingdom between the 4th and 6th centuries AD. Spread over an area of 25 sq km, the Sirpur archaeological complex is almost four times as big as Nalanda. Lengthwise, the Sirpur site extends almost seven km. In

comparison, Bodh Gaya, also in Bihar, is less than three km long.

"This is a fit case for UNESCO's world heritage site list," says Arun Kumar Sharma, an ex-superintending archaeologist with the ASI who's now been engaged by the state to conduct the excavations. The government has already declared an area of 100 acres around the site a "heritage zone" and has constituted a special task force, headed by the additional chief secretary and comprising historians, archaeologists and representatives of various government departments, to coordinate the effort. Chhattisgarh has sought Rs 8 crore from the Union government and a proposal for a grant of 450 million yen has been forwarded to the government of Japan for the development and preservation of the site.

Chhattisgarh now hopes to develop Sirpur as a major international tourist attraction, especially as a big point on the Buddhist pilgrim map. A botanical garden will come up in the area and a star hotel is also on the anvil.

Hemmed in by forests on three sides and located on the banks of the river Mahanadi, the Sirpur site has already revealed 256 mounds that include 100 Buddhist viharas, four Jain viharas and 108 Shiva temples. An east-facing palace, spread over an area of 60x40 metres, seems to be the site's epicentre. "It's a huge structure and to understand it properly, it needs to be completely excavated. What we already know is that the palace was at least three storeys and that teak was extensively used in the construction," says Sharma. A unique finding: a ramp connecting the kitchen with the main hall in the palace.

That Sirpur is an ancient Buddhist site was always known. The Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang, who visited Sirpur (then known as Shripur), wrote that it was ruled by a king who was Kshatriya by birth but Buddhist by religion. Hiuen Tsang talked of over 100 monasteries in Sirpur, inhabited by about 1,000 monks belonging to the Mahayana sect of Buddhism. Ancient Sirpur was also at the junction of two important trade routes, to Janakpur and Ajanta in the west and the Deccan kingdoms southwards.

In the early 1950s, the University of Sagar in MP conducted excavations in Sirpur, revealing the ruins of two large monasteries containing a colossal image of Buddha in Bhumisparsha mudra (a cross-legged Buddha seated on the ground) and three smaller monasteries. However, subsequently there was little effort to discover the true significance of Sirpur. "In undivided Madhya Pradesh, Sirpur obviously wasn't on the priority list of the government," says P.P. Pant, Chhattisgarh's director of archaeology and museums. Work began in right earnest after Chhattisgarh came into being in 2000.And almost five years of patient labour has brought to fore a sprawling subterranean complex.

The ancient Sirpur was a city of almost 1.5 lakh residents. The inhabitants were mainly agriculturists and there is evidence to suggest that they used bullock carts with solid wheels. They do not seem to have been aware of the existence of the horse. Interestingly, says Sharma, the principles of vaastu shastra seem to have been the touchstone for builders in ancient Sirpur. "There is not a single structure which is not in consonance with vaastu," he says. An interesting detail: pathways connecting the temples and residential units with one another.

Given the large number of temples, it's almost certain that religion had an important place in the lives of the residents. "It's an integrated multi-religious complex," says Indira Mishra, the bureaucrat who heads the task force on Sirpur. The fact that temples of Buddha, Shiva and Vishnu have all been unearthed here indicate a tolerant, harmonious society. The Shivalingas are in four colours—white, red, yellow and black—meant to be worshipped by the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras respectively. Many of the temple sculptures are also erotic a la Khajuraho. Others show depictions from the Panchatantra tales. Some display copulating animals.

Of the 108 Shiva temples identified, two have been revealed in entirety. Both face west. One of them is a pancharatna temple with beautiful carved designs on bricks on the exterior of the garbh-griha (sanctum sanctorum). And it houses a one-metre tall, fully intact Shivalinga. The most outstanding feature of this temple is the presence of two huge stone slabs carved with Baiga figures. (Some 1,500 years later, Baiga figures continue to be carved in the same fashion today by the Gond-Maria tribals in Chhattisgarh). Some of the temples seem to have been constructed by the rulers while others were built by the people themselves.

In order to understand habitation patterns of the ancient site, two residences have been exposed. Both belong to Shaivite priests and are located just south of the temples. Both the houses are two-storied structures and have three rooms and a verandah each. Both face the temple and have a room each on the first floor that is without any entrance. These rooms, probably, served as a granary and were accessed through a hole in the floor. The size of the granary is a fair measure of the number of inhabitants of a house. Interestingly, grain is still stored in Chhattisgarh in exactly the same manner. Iron locks and stone-grinders have also been unearthed.

Sharma speculates that a mighty flood in the Mahanadi River probably swallowed the city, the cataclysmic event having traumatised the residents into abandoning the site. "It seems they locked their houses and escaped, never to return," he conjectures. Subsequently, a thick forest overran the site, burying the city. But even before the floods, forests were always close to the city and pugmarks of wild beasts have been discovered on stones unearthed from the site.

The excavation work at Sirpur will be suspended during the monsoons to resume after the rain ceases, says Indira Mishra. Experts opine that with Sirpur having so many Buddhist viharas, it surely must have had a stupa too. Hiuen Tsang has also referred to a stupa at Sirpur. Trying to locate and expose that stupa is also on the agenda. To know further about the ancient city and its dwellers, it is proposed next to disinter more residential sites, especially the residential complex of the royal entourage.

The work in Sirpur is far from complete. In fact, only a very small percentage of the identified mounds have been exposed. Till date, only 20 mounds have been fully excavated, eight of them within the last one year. But Sharma refuses to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task before him. "We will excavate and expose only as much as we can maintain," he says. The digging and discovery continue. The 4th century rises to meet the 21st.

No. 0380 (Chánh Hạnh dịch)
Tượng Tỳ Kheo Ni thế kỷ thứ 6 bị đánh cắp.

Raipur June 24, 2005 1:42:48 PM IST
Raipur, June 24 : Một pho tượng Tỳ kheo ni bằng đá hiếm có vào thế kỷ thứ 6, được khai quật tháng vừa qua đã bị đánh cắp từ Chhattisgarh’s, trung tâm Phật giáo của Sirpur. Vụ trộm đã ra ánh sáng sau khi cảnh sát địa phương cách 84 km từ Sirpur, đã tìm thấy pho tượng cao khoảng gần một mét bị đánh cắp Haritika còn gọi là Tara Devi.

Cảnh sát đã đóng cửa biên giới và cố gắng phong tỏa nghiêm nhặt để truy tìm bức tượng của vị tỳ kheo ni đã được nhiều kinh điển đề cập. Viên chức cao cấp của cảnh sát khẩn trương đến điạ điểm vào thứ sáu để điều tra sự kiện trong khi Bộ Trưởng bộ Văn Hóa và Du Lịch Brijmohan Agrawal đã biểu lộ cú sốc với sự kiện này. Các nhà khảo cổ đã tìm thấy bức tượng vào tháng 5 năm nay, và mô tả đó là một tác phẩm hiếm thấy. Đội khai quật, đứng đầu là Ngài Arun Kumar Sharma, nói rằng đây là lần đầu tiên thấy được hình tượng với kích thước trung thực của Haritika. Chính quyền Chhattisgarh tháng vừa rồi đã nói họ sẽ gởi bản kiến nghị đến chính phủ trung ương xếp tài sản Sirpur vào danh sách di sản của thế giới.

Sixth century statue of Buddhist monk stolen

Raipur June 24, 2005 1:42:48 PM IST

Raipur, June 24 : A rare stone statue of a 6th century Buddhist female monk that had been excavated only last month has been stolen from Chhattisgarh's Buddhist centre of Sirpur.

The theft Thursday night came to light after the security guard at the site, 84 km from here, found the three-foot statue of Haritika alias Tara Devi missing.

Police have sealed the border and have launched frenetic efforts to recover the statue of the monk, who finds mention in various Buddhist texts.

Senior police officials rushed to the site Friday to investigate the matter while Culture and Tourism Minister Brijmohan Agrawal expressed shock over the incident.

Archaeologists had recovered the statue in May this year and had described the find as a rare achievement. The excavation team, led by Arun Kumar Sharma, said that it was the first time that a full-size image of Haritika had been found in Asia.

Haritika used to abduct and kill children and was converted by the Buddha himself who kidnapped her child.

The Chhattisgarh government had last month said it would send a proposal to the central government to press for Sirpur's inclusion in the world heritage list.