Colorful Sikhara in Sirpur Town
Home of one of the oldest brick temples of India, east facing 7th century Laxman temple, Sirpur is a sleepy village on the right bank of Mahanadi and some 84 km east of Raipur. After facing a long haul of negligence from ASI, Sirpur has astounded archeologists by the rare findings retrieved during excavation in last decade. Among archeologist fraternity, Sirpur is very often referred as "Goldmine of Indian history" and considered much more developed than Harappan Township. During 6th to 10th century BC, Sirpur was an important center (perhaps bigger than Nalanda) of Buddhist education accommodating more than 10000 students from all over the world. Recent excavations also unearthed a 6th century AD statue of Buddha. Archeological remains, relics, excavated temples and ruins are strewed around the village and sign boards are adequate enough to navigate you through these sites. So far a very small fraction of Sirpur's gem has been unearthed and excavation is currently going on. River side and Ghats of placid Mahanadi are complementary charm of Sirpur and added to the aura of the town.
Ghats at Mahanadi Sirpur
Archeological remains on the bank of Mahanadi establish the presence of a port and trading route to East India. Sirpur would have been an important trading town well connected with other Buddhist center of Orissa via waterways. Famous Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang who traveled to Sirpur in 7th Century AD highlighted the grandeur of Sirpur in his travel memoir. As per his travelogue, Sirpur was once home of nearly 100 Buddhist monasteries and 10000 priests. Exquisite stone carvings of Sirpur’s temples are often compared with those in Khajurao and Ellora. With its Buddhist root, Sirpur became the latest entrant in the Buddhist circuit of India and even surpassing its counterparts.
Road to Sambalpur
Dreary night on the shore of Mahanadi
Day on the crossroad of Sirpur
Archeological wonders of Sirpur
Teevardeo Buddhist Monastery
Exposed during excavation in the year 2003, this monastery has two mandapas in the central part and the entrance towards west. The shrine on the eastern end contains stone image of Buddha flanked by standing Padampani on either side. Dwelling chambers have been provided on northern and southern arms. Later on the monastery got expanded towards south. Most attractive is its doorway as it depicts sculptural skill and variety of subjects’ scenes of Buddha's life and Panchatantra stories viz. friendship of crocodile and monkey, the snake catching frog, fighting bison, honey bees, birds, erotic couple and animal figures are few examples beautifully carved on the doorway. According to an inscription found during excavation, the monastery seems to be constructed during the time of Somavasi King Teevardeo which continued to remain in use during reign of his nephew Harshagupta and grandson Mahashivgupta Balarjuna also period 7th-8th centuries A.D
Balesvara Mahadeva Temple Complex
This twin temple complex has been brought to light by excavations during the years 2003-04. Two main Shiva temples names as Balesvara and Udaisvara Mahadeva are stellate on plan. West facing twin temples are erected over a high raised platform (Jagati) approachable through the flight of steps. Plan of these brick built edifices consist of Garbhigriha, antarala, mandapa and verandah having octagonal pillars.
The corners of the platform have remains of subsidiary shrines suggesting panchayatan form of temple. The complex is assignable to 7th century AD on the basis of terracotta sealing and inscriptional records found in excavations. In accordance with the traditional vastushashtra the residence of the priest was constructed on the southern side of the complex.
Rama Temple Complex Sirpur
This east facing Rama Temple is one of the twin temples constructed over a raised platform built of dressed stones. The special feature of this temple is that it represents an early example of the regional tradition of temples of south Kosala having stellate (star shaped) plan for construction. Remnants of only one of the twin temples are surviving whereas other one can be seen on the plan only. It seems to be constructed during seventh century AD.
In accordance with the tradition of Vastusastra the remains of the priest's residence can be seen towards the south of the temple. Excavations (2003-04) have revealed three underground chambers on the back portion of priest's residence, probably meant for granary. Another structure towards east is supposedly a workshop of conch bangles as evident by conches and conch bangles including unfinished ones recovered from a cell in abundance during excavations.
Laxman Temple, Sirpur ( 5 INR for Indians and 100 INR for foreigners)
An inscription retrieved from the temple premise records that the edifice was built by queen vasata, the widow of king Harshgupta, daughter of Maukhari king Suryaverma of Megadha and the mother of Panduvamsi king Mahasiva Gupta Balarjuna. The temple is datable to circa 625-650 A.D.
Details: The brick temple dedicated to lord Vishnu stands on a prominent platform and consists of a Garbhagriha, Antarala and an enclosed pillared Mandapa. The Garbhgriha is approached through on an ornate stone doorway adorned with a reclining image of Seshasayi Vishnu on the lalatabimba. Both the jambs are embellished with panchasakha motifs namely the patrasakha, ratnasakha, mithunsakha, again patrasakha and another one bearing depiction of various incarnations of Vishnu like Matsya, Varaha Narsimha, Vamana, Rama etc. Besides, Hayagriva and mythological narrations like Kesivadh, Kansavadh etc are also depicted beautifully.
The temple is pancharatha on plan and roofed by a Nagara (Curvilinear) Sikhara decorated with imposing chaitya arches in the central ratha and prominent Amlakas in the corner rathas. The Mandapa is enclosed by two side walls and has remnants of two rows of pillars, eight in each row with corresponding pilaster on side wall.
This structure which is known as "Rajmahal Complex" excavated in the year 2000-2001, is located in the right bank of river Mahanadi. After excavation a beautiful monumental structure was retrieved, the foundation of which was dressed stones whereas the super structure was constructed by burnt-bricks. Open Verandas in three sides of this structure and so many rooms were constructed where there is a possibility of use of wooden pillars. The excavator assessed the cause off possibility of destruction of this structure due to conflagration because during excavation large number of burnt brick, burnt soul, utensil and charcoal were recovered from the site. From one of the rooms of the said monumental structure, one clay seal written with "Shivagupta Rajas" in Brahmi script of 7th century AD was recovered based on which it was decided that this structure was of 7th century AD
Buddhist Stupa Sirpur
2.5 meter high colossal image of Buddha in the Bhumi-Sparsha-Mudra is housed in the Garbhagriha of the temple. Pedestal is adorned with a refined image of Padamapani. Recent excavations also discovered a red sand stone sculpture of Hariti. Proximity to the bank of Mahanadi and its environs adds an extra charm to this complex.
Situated in the middle of Sirpur village, having 4.65 meter high pedestal, Surang Tila is a humongous pyramid sort of structure made of blocks of white stones. While shuttling between the temples of Sirpur, I came across this site but visited it in the last. Stairs connecting to the open courtyard are unique in its design with uneven height of each case. The courtyard on the top of the monument has got several half broken pillars and smaller shrines of Lord Shiva. There would have been 32 pillars arranged in 4 rows. For me, Surang Tila was the most fascinating archeological site of Sirpur. ASI is yet to plant an information board about the monument.